Whatever stage you are at in the process of refreshing your school building, it’s important to consider these factors on how to choose a school refurbishment contractor: cost, availability, expertise, preferred suppliers and their respect for your building, staff and learners.
It’s a fact of life for 99% of schools and colleges, that what holds them back from constantly upgrading, refreshing and refurbishing their building is the cost. There is only so much capital available and you understandably need to prioritise teaching and learning resources.
If you have decided to go ahead with a refurbishment (read this blog post if you want to work out whether you are ready for a refurbishment), it is likely that budget constraints are still going to be an issue.
This is why a thorough tender process is vital to ensuring you get the best value for money. The golden rule of a tender process is to get a minimum of three different quotes to compare. Ideally, you should also get a couple of “cost planning” stage quotes – very rough prices, used for pre-sign off budget planning – and then get these formalised and compared against additional quotes once the project is live.
Here’s some things to look out for whilst comparing your quotes;
- Are all quotes a full and fair comparison? It’s no good just choosing one contractor over another if their price is cheaper but you haven’t found out why. They could have missed something out of their price – and are likely to charge a premium for it to be added in at a later date.
- Lump Sum or Measurement Contract Price? Be sure to check whether the contractor is pricing based on a fixed lump sum or a measurement contract. The latter needs a lot closer management and costs are hard to accurately predict; but the former is simpler, locked in and agreed, until something in the design changes. The pay-off for a Lump Sum price being simpler is that it often means contractors will sometimes factor in a bit of extra cost just in case they have missed something. There are pros and cons to both – just be sure that the prices you compare are based on the same system.
- Are Time Schedules The Same? Make sure that both contractors are pricing to complete the work in a similar amount of time. A basic rule relating to costs of construction projects is that the the faster it is completed, the more it costs. Also, one contractor might not even realise that work cannot take place during term time. Make sure all tender contractors know when they can access the building to undertake refurbishments.
It’s important that you try to establish that the contractor you end up using is actually available to work at the times you need them to. It’s common for the construction industry to go through what they call “shut-down” at the times that your building will be most accessible for maintenance and refurbishment work.
Summer holidays and the Easter Break are still operational for 99% of construction businesses, but in years gone by, the industry would come to a standstill for a week or two at these times. In today’s era, however, the industry keeps working but companies may be short on staff at peak holiday times.
The other ideal time, from an educational point of view, for work to take place would be over the Christmas holidays. But the majority of construction firms won’t be able to operate at full capacity over the Christmas holiday season. Many of them close in line with school holidays or work with only skeleton staff. This means you shouldn’t be expecting a wholesale refurbishment project to take place at this time, unless you want to pay a premium.
Money does talk – but you might need a lot of it to be heard at certain times of the year.
Expertise You Can Trust
Another thing you need to establish when choosing a school refurbishment contractor is whether you can trust them in a few key areas. Here’s what to look out for:
- Ability to comply with Health & Safety requirements: ask for their operatives’ Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) documents, for example.
- A company being a member of the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) is another way of vetting companies before letting them work around your students and within your building. This is a voluntary accreditation scheme which aims to change the image of the construction industry in the local community wherever it operates – a company which signs up to this is ideal for schools and colleges.
- Ability to deliver on time and on budget is paramount. Do checks in the press on the companies which tender for your project to see that they have completed previous projects on time.
There is also another option you could use and that is to employ a Quantity Surveyor or Project Manager on a consultancy or freelance basis to do all this for you. They will know which companies are reputable and trustworthy – but will come with a (sometimes hefty) fee for doing so. But, on the flip side, an old adage in the industry is that “a proper Quantity Surveyor pays for themselves in the money they save you”.
Looking to County Hall and your Local Authority for guidance is an obvious port of call. Your school may already be tied to a specific selection of preferred suppliers. You don’t want to accidentally fall foul of contractual agreements which are already in place before you arrived at the school and have to renege on a project once new contracts have been awarded.
A Respect For Your Learners And The Teaching Environment
And, last but definitely not least, is that whoever you let into your school building to undertake refurbishment work needs to have respect for the fact they are working in a place of education and not on an ordinary building site.
Although things have improved, thankfully, since the by-gone days of a building site being pretty neanderthal in terms of attitude, there are still some times where choice language or behaviour does return. Having a meeting at the closing stages of the tender process is a great way to ensure that the company you go on to employ is fully understanding of the environment they will be working in.
It’s not just minding their coarse language and remembering to dress appropriately. It’s absolutely vital that, if work is taking place in the afternoon and evenings between school days, everything is returned exactly as it was found and nothing hazardous or untidy is left behind. Your staff have enough on their plate without having to make the corridors and classrooms safe for teaching and learning to begin in the morning.
A reputable contractor should be able to showcase the similar projects they have completed and be more than happy for you to contact their former clients. For example, look at the educational projects we have completed.
Start Planning Your Project
If you think that the time might be coming for a refurbishment of your school, college or university, check out this free guide to help you get the full lowdown on what to look out, what to expect and how to avoid common mistakes. It will also help you get inspiration and sign-off from whoever holds the purse-strings.
Press the yellow Download Now to get your free copy.