School buildings are in crisis. With many UK school buildings in poor condition and requiring urgent attention, funding for schools to refurbish and rebuild is also in short supply. But modular construction using structured insulated panels systems (SIPs for short) offers a fast, efficient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly solution.

Quick construction

Usually prefabricated in a factory and delivered fully-formed to the school site, classroom buildings constructed using modular SIPs panels are ideally suited to busy schools. Although the factory line approach suggests a rigid and uniform construction process, SIPs panel construction is in fact a flexible method – schools don’t have to stick to a one-size-fits-all template but can work with architects to design a classroom building that will meet their needs.

Importantly for schools requiring urgent refurbishment, the off-site construction method has several advantages that can help schools to get their new buildings up and running speedily.

Classrooms prefabricated using SIPs panels can be constructed and installed in a matter of weeks, because the site preparation work and off-site construction stages can be carried out simultaneously. With the prefabrication process taking place under cover, the project can go ahead whatever the weather. And by reducing the amount of time spent on-site, noisy and disruptive building work that might interrupt the school day can also be kept to a minimum.

Cost savings

A building project that is quick to complete and does not involve intrusive construction work translates into cost savings for the school – a vital concern in these cash-strapped times. Modular buildings are likely to provide a better return on investment than traditional builds. With excellent insulation properties, construction using SIPs panels also results in lower energy bills, because the classrooms retain warmth well and require only minimal heating.

For schools looking to the long term, durability is an important concern. Built using high quality, sustainable materials, modular SIPs panel classrooms can be expected to serve the school for as many as 50 years – providing a solution that offers real value for money and can be relied upon to last well into the future. (Modular buildings can even be uprooted and installed at another site, if the school relocates).

Comfortable learning spaces

Why is the state of our school buildings such an important issue? As well as being a potential health and safety concern, constructing comfortable learning spaces is vital for both teachers and pupils. According to a 2016 RIBA survey reported by Building Specifier, as many as 1 in 5 teachers have thought about leaving a school because of the environment they have to work in. So, creating a pleasant teaching space is high on the list if schools are to improve staff morale and retain valued teachers.

Learning environments can have a big impact on outcomes for children, too. From issues like lighting and air quality to factors like natural light and classroom structure, pupils do better in well-designed classrooms built from high quality materials.

Classroom construction using SIPS panels helps to address some of these issues, resulting in comfortable learning spaces that promote better engagement from all classroom users. Due to their structure and composition, SIPs panels offer excellent thermal performance, eliminating draughts and keeping out the cold and damp. The slimline profile of a SIPs panel also means thinner walls – and therefore more space inside the classroom. Finally, modular buildings constructed from SIPs panels have an aesthetically pleasing, modern appearance.


Author biography

Steve Warr is the Director of Green Modular, a company which supplies unique and environmentally-friendly outdoor modular buildings as effective space solutions. Each modular building can be tailored to suit every space or budget and they are perfect for school buildings, mobile classrooms, meeting rooms or offices. Steve is passionate about the environment and creating sustainable and stylish solutions for extra space.

Dry-lining panels by Fermacell feature throughout the new IGMM complex building in Edinburgh.

Gypsum fibreboard partitioning by specialist building panel manufacturer Fermacell was specified for a redeveloped research facility for a quadruplet of reasons at least, its fire and acoustic properties, robustness and weight bearing capabilities to name just a few.

Some 5,000m2 of 12mm square-edged fermacell was used throughout the University of Edinburgh’s £11 million development of the Institute for Genetics and Molecular Medicine (IGMM) at the city’s Western General Hospital.

It was specified by the city’s Oberlanders Architects LLP for the five-storey building which links three existing buildings in the complex – the Medical Research Council’s Human Genetics Unit, the Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine, and the Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre – to form a world-class research facility.

Frequent Fermacell specifiers, Oberlanders’ brief was to repurpose existing laboratories to enable expansion of IGMM research programmes. The project included dry-lab computational research space linked by a spiral stair within a dramatic south-facing, double-height space, dedicated lecture facilities (including a 180-person lecture theatre) and a social hub and café.

The Western General Hospital campus in which the IGMM complex is located is an amalgamation of medical buildings built in the hospital grounds over the past 140 years, beginning with St Cuthbert’s Poorhouse which opened in 1868 and subsequently renamed a “hospital”.

In contemporary contrast, the new IGMM building uses a steel frame allowing large clear spans internally. The main façade is essentially single aspect and has glass curtain walling to maximise natural daylight and create an appealing working environment. Brick is used extensively to provide solid book ends to the curtain walling. A spacious roof terrace with overhanging canopy is provided at top floor level, affording stunning views of the Edinburgh skyline.

There were many landmark stages for the build in a live research/hospital environment with complex existing services to contend with.

Oberlanders senior architect Rob Bunworth said: “Certainly the ability of the contractor to get the build wind- and water-tight against the sometimes harsh Scottish climate was a milestone, allowing the fermacell internal walling systems to progress apace.”

The fermacell panels were installed by specialist sub-contractors ORR Fire Protection and Alexander Gatey for phase one main contractor BAM Construction and construction, refurbishment and maintenance contractor Clark Contracts.

Rob Bunworth added: “The building has been an unqualified success. Key to this is delivering connectivity to the previously separate institutes as well as delivering on the client’s aspirations for bright, well-lit and appealing working environments. The building also delivers on the client briefing requirements by offering many informal study and breakout environments to help foster interdisciplinary crossover and synergy.

“Our previous positive experience with fermacell on several education projects in the UK led us to use the range of partition products again due to its robustness and fire/acoustic properties. An additional benefit is fermacell’s weight bearing capacity without the requirement for additional lining or support, thus providing flexibility in locating shelving, fixtures and equipment internally during the fit-out phase of the project.

“The project uses fermacell partition and independent wall lining systems extensively – all internal walls are fermacell. The large spans of fermacell partition systems are particularly visible to the large 17m-high central atrium linking the reception and foyer to the upper circulation areas.

“The fermacell systems as utilised in the build allowed Oberlanders the flexibility to specify many different variations on partition types dealing with myriad fire and acoustic issues. Its robustness and severe duty rating, in addition to its loadbearing capacity, allowed for flexibility in our design response across the project.”

He emphasised: “The internal wall components have stood up well alongside the other finishes on the project. Fermacell was able to achieve the height, performance criteria (fire and acoustic), surface finish and robustness characteristics to several demanding environments within the project.

“10mm deflection joints required for movement within the fermacell partition system have been specifically set out to provide a coordinated and ultimately pleasing grid pattern within the highly-visible four-storey atrium space located at the heart of the building.”

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Even the smallest buildings can be of critical importance to their users, especially in relatively isolated communities. The performance and reliability of Advanced’s MxPro fire alarm panels has seen them installed in another remote coastal location, the Atlantic Islands Centre on Luing, off the west coast of Scotland.

Situated south of Oban in the Firth of Lorne, the largely unspoilt 5.5 square mile Isle of Luing is one of the Slate Islands. The Atlantic Visitor Centre, in the village of Cullipool, is set to revitalise the island’s economy, raising awareness of Luing as a tourist destination and offering a range of outdoor activities. The Centre will also provide a community hub for the island’s 200 residents, providing workshops and office space. It also has the capability to be used as an emergency refuge.

The contract for the installation was awarded to the team at Adam Fire, who specified the latest MxPro 5 panels from Advanced. MxPro 5 is the leading multiprotocol fire panel range, renowned for its world-beating quality, reliability and flexibility.

Graeme Bruce, spokesperson for Adam Fire, commented: “We had already installed MxPro panels in Iona Abbey, one of the oldest and most important religious centres in Western Europe and they were an obvious choice for this new development on Luing. In remote locations quality and reliability are paramount, which is why we felt that the reliability and longevity of the MxPro panels were crucial attributes when specifying this system.”

The centre is now being protected by the latest MxPro5 single loop panel from Advanced, offering high performance fire detection and alarm control across the entire site. MxPro 5 panels can be used in single loop, single panel format or easily configured into high speed, 200-panel networks covering huge areas. Advanced’s legendary ease of installation and configuration and wide peripheral range make it customisable to almost any application.

Neil Parkin, Advanced’s sales manager for Scotland, said: “Advanced fire systems are renowned for their quality and ease-of-use, which makes them ideal for a project such as this. Our panels do not only protect large buildings and networks but also small building such as the Visitor Centre which is an important part of the island community. With Luing being in such a remote location it is even more important to offer the reassurance of a high quality system and our MxPro panels offer all the key attributes required for this type of installation.

MxPro is Advanced’s flagship range of multiprotocol panels, offers customers a choice of two panel ranges, four detector protocols and a completely open installer network that enjoys free training and support.

Advanced’s MxPro fire systems support the TouchControl touchscreen repeater and AlarmCalm complete false alarm management system. TouchControl is a 10″ HD touchscreen that offers dynamic reporting and control via a unique interface that includes Active Maps and zone plans. AlarmCalm uses Advanced’s fast hardware, updated config software and optional loop verification devices to deliver a system that allows the false alarm strategy for any building to be quickly and easily programmed and managed, increasing safety and reducing false alarms.

Advanced is a world leader in the development and manufacture of intelligent fire systems. The legendary performance, quality and ease-of-use of its products sees them used in prestigious and challenging locations all over the world, from single panel installations to large multi-site networks. Advanced products include complete fire detection systems, multi-protocol fire panels, extinguishing control and fire paging systems.

More details can be found on the website at

If it wasn’t for column casings and interior wall lining solutions, building interiors would be considerably less attractive environments, which is as true for academies, schools and universities, as it is for the commercial or retail sectors.

Yet, as they are usually designed to integrate as part of the fabric of an educational building, their importance can often be overlooked or taken for granted by the building’s occupants.

Very few people stand back to admire a laminated plywood column casing at a school or brushed stainless steel wall cladding in a new university, yet they are key elements in interior design and integral to the aesthetics of the learning environment.

For column casings, at least, their role has been transformed from being a purely functional device for concealing structural steelwork to one of visual and decorative importance. While initially used by a relatively small number of architects in the mid 1980s, column casings are now commonplace, with their aesthetic values and appeal being a key consideration alongside size and material during the specification process.

The demand for wider choice and increased aesthetics from architects, educational design teams and specifiers have been key influences on Peterborough based casing and interior cladding company, Encasement, whose range has continually expanded and diversified during the past ten years to become the most comprehensive available in the UK.

Alongside the company’s six individual ranges of column casings, its ‘Vecta’ system provides a high quality solution for interior wall linings, bulkheads and reveals. Launched just a few years ago, the system has been used in a diverse range of key retail and commercial projects with Tesco and Prêt a Manger, as well as its extensive use for a new extension at South Bank University, London.

While Vecta has already gathered significant momentum, it is for column casings that Encasement is perhaps best known. The company’s extensive range not only includes pre-formed plywood and glass reinforced gypsum (GRG), as well as a specialised fire resistant solution for use with mezzanine floors, but also aluminium, stainless steel and glass reinforced polymer (GRP) casings for use on exterior applications due to their inherent weather resistance.

Interestingly, Encasement’s ‘Forma’ metal casings and ‘Polyma’ GRP range are also widely used in educational building interiors, where the wide selection of finishes coupled with their durability, make them an ideal solution. In particular, the Forma range provides specifiers with an even greater scope of options and can be specified with diameters from 250mm up to 1000mm or as square, rectangular or even hexagonal forms.

Recent projects, such as Winchester College, Birmingham University Dental School, University College London, Farnborough Sixth Form College, Shenley School and Liverpool University’s Donnan Laboratories have all exploited the practical and decorative properties of Encasement’s ‘Forma’ metal casings, as well as its ‘Circa’ and ‘Quadra’ products manufacturer from pre-formed plywood.

Alongside Forma, the Circa’ and Quadra ranges were the first to be launched by the company and are still arguably the most popular, as they provide specifiers and contractors with an unrivalled selection of finishes, which includes plain, laminated or real wood veneers.

In addition, as Encasement is the UK’s only supplier and manufacturer of pre-formed plywood pipe boxing and decorative casing products that holds an FSC® ‘Chain of Custody Certification’ from the Forest Stewardship Council, both Circa and Quadra are manufactured from FSC® certified plywood. This makes them compliant with sustainability codes and environmental procurement policies, which is key consideration on educational building projects.

Designed solely for interior decorative applications, Circa and Quadra casings are used in an extremely diverse range of projects beyond the education sector, which underlines their versatility, ease of specification and the immense range of decorative finishes available to complement or contrast with a building’s interior design scheme.

While Circa and Quadra are available from Encasement as a plain casings for on site painting and decoration, by far the most popular casings are those finished with decorative laminates, which not only resist damage, scuffs and scratches, but also provides the specifier with a diverse palette of finishes from plain colours, wood grain and metallic, as well as textured and real wood veneers, to name but a few.

The choice of sizes available is also wide, allowing specifiers to choose not only circular and square shapes, but also extended circles and rectangular profiles, which use additional infill panels to give greater design flexibility while ensuring they are still easy to install.

Encasement’s Managing Director, Martin Taylor, commented: “Column casing provide a perfect mix of practicality and aesthetics, which are essential considerations for all educational buildings, whether they’re schools, colleges or universities. We’ve taken a lot of care to ensure our range meets both of these key criteria while ensuring that we always remain competitive and deliver high quality products, which are probably key factors behind why we have undertaken so many projects in this sector.”

“The Vecta interior cladding system enhances our educational building interiors offer and allows specifiers to source a range of specialised interior finish products from a single company with high levels of expertise and experience in this sector. We also have our own contracting arm, which enables us to offer a full supply and install service to support contractors.”

Encasement’s latest ‘column casing solutions’ e-brochure is available for download from the company’s website and covers every product in the range as well as providing details on materials, sizes and finishes available alongside an extensive technical information section. Further information is also available from their website at or by calling 01733 266889.

The library roof at the Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) had surpassed its natural life expectancy and been experiencing considerable water ingress, requiring urgent remedial work to prevent disruption to students.
In order to determine the most appropriate remedial solution the 2,000m2 roof area was surveyed by flat roof specialists Bauder, who proposed stripping the existing roof covering down to the structural metal deck and replacing it with a high quality and long lasting bituminous system. The client also decided to use this opportunity to make a positive and visible contribution to the university’s carbon reduction programme through the addition of energy producing solar panels. The library is the core study area for most students and is unsurprisingly one of the highest consumers of electricity out of all the campus buildings, so it seemed extremely appropriate that the PV would be situated there.
The main library roof and three connecting tank rooms were all waterproofed with Bauder’s premium bituminous system, BTRS, which is capable of withstanding permanently sited loads of up to 2000Kg/m2 and has a life expectancy in excess of 40 years. The system build-up included a highly efficient 120mm PIR FA-TE insulation for superior thermal performance, achieving the required 0.18 U-value. Tapered insulation was also used around the perimeter of one of the tank room roofs to effectively provide drainage falls without having to incorporate them into the structure.
Roof areas totalling 1,000m² were fitted with 126 monocrystalline PV modules, set at a 10 degree angle to optimise energy generation. The panels are expected to generate 32.43 MWh of energy within the first year and deliver CO2 savings of 17.155 tonnes, equal to 8,358 kg of coal burned. The PV system was installed using a unique drill-free technique that ensures the integrity of the roof is completely upheld; and the simplicity of this method also meant that roofing contractor, R T Roofing Services, could install the entire array in just two days.
One of the major challenges for this project was performing the required works on a busy campus and keeping noise levels to a minimum. To overcome this challenge the project team worked closely with the client to develop a work and delivery schedule; with many of the materials brought to site and unloaded at the weekend. Bauder also provided ear plugs for all library users to make sure that they weren’t disturbed from their work. Despite these logistical challenges, all roofing works were completed in time for the start of the new academic year and were undertaken as part of the university’s long term maintenance and regeneration programme.
Jennifer Raagas, QMUL Project Manager, stated her delight with the finished works at the university, “We are incredibly pleased with the work performed by Bauder and their approved contractors on the library roof. They have been extremely accommodating during an eventful summer period at the university, and their service has been of the absolute highest quality. Our new BauderSOLAR PV panels will not only help us generate our own solar energy but will also provide excellent research and learning opportunities for our students. With Bauder delivering a single source solution of roof renewal with PV install we have complete peace of mind over our roof’s guarantee and long-term future performance.”