Knowledge Building is planned as AECOM to deliver 10,000 new schools in KSA are programmed for the next 3 years.

Saudi Arabia’s government has pledged almost $22bn towards an aggressive building programme set to deliver 10,000 new schools.  AECOM’s Thomas Donovan explains more about the new agency set to deliver this.

Thomas Donovan, the executive director of the Tatweer Schools Programme, has one of those jobs that simultaneously seems to be both amazing and incredibly daunting.

He is leading AECOM’s $21mn, three-year programme to provide consultancy services to Tatweer Building Company (TBC) – a new agency that has been given direct responsibility to project manage the construction and maintenance of Saudi Arabia’s schools.

“It’s an incredibly aggressive programme with very, very high expectations,” he says. “There is a tremendous amount of money allocated to this and I think people around the Kingdom will share the reality that it’s much needed.”

AECOM’s role is to help create the structures and network that will grow TBC effectively from scratch into a project management organisation capable of delivering 10,000 new schools over the next 10 years – using a similar model that the Kingdom introduced when creating National Water Co as a dedicated agency to take over responsibility for projects from the Ministry of Water and Electricity.

However, alongside this, AECOM has had to concurrently introduce an entirely new generation of school buildings and oversee a roll-out programme that is set to deliver more than 4,000 schools within three years.

An initial SR40bn ($10.7bn) was pledged to Tatweer’s building programme, which was then supplemented with a further SR42bn ($11.2bn) from the King Abdullah Education Programme.

Schools being built under an existing model by contractors hired directly by the ministry have been deemed to be too low quality and have taken too long to build – typically four years.

“If anyone has had the opportunity to go and see some of the existing schools, they’re not in the best condition,” Donovan says. “The Ministry of Education clearly has an agenda to change that.”

The current school stock stands at around 18,000 permanent buildings and more than 8,000 temporary facilities.

“We are under construction with a couple of hundred schools as we speak,” Donovan explains. There are 600 schools being developed under improved designs of the existing model. The first 41 of these are in Riyadh, with five fast-tracked projects nearing completion and the remaining 36 due to complete next year.

Added to this, contractors are currently mobilising to deliver a further 111 in Riyadh, 32 in Jeddah and 26 in Makkah. Tenders for the remaining 300, plus the first wave of schools to be built under the King Abdullah Programme, are due to be issued early next year.

Designs for the new schools have already been created by HOK, and the disparity of geography and density that exists in the Kingdom means that there is a varied range of different school models. These range in size from just four to 58 classrooms on sites of between 2,000m2 to 12,000m2.

There are models for elementary, intermediate and secondary schools and the average value of a project ranges from $3.7mn-$8mn (SR14-30mn), although some schools with educational needs facilities can cost up to $13.3mn (SR50mn).

The main difference with the new schools relates to architectural improvements to make them a more open learning environment in line with international standards. This includes better facilities like science labs, biology labs, sports facilities and new sports halls.

Tatweer’s initial programme was to build around 600-900 schools each year, but the $11.2bn King Abdullah Programme calls for the delivery of a further 3,200 within a five-year period.

“There is a lot of pressure on the programme to compress that to a three-year period,” Donovan says. “That would be more than 1,000 schools per year.”

As it stands, the programme involves a spend of SR8.5bn ($2.26bn) per year to deliver 640 schools a year.

“But I mentioned there is a lot of pressure to do that over three years, so that will change to probably SR12bn ($3.2bn) next year and SR18bn ($4.8bn) the year after. We’re looking to ramp up this programme significantly, dependent on our ability to align ourselves to contractors who can deliver.”

It is currently delivering each school to a two-year timeframe but is looking to shorten this to 12-18 months. This will mean moving away from traditional building methods to precast and other modular systems.

Contract methods are also being changed, with the international FIDIC standards being adopted, and Tatweer is looking for larger contractors to bid for places on framework agreements. Contract sizes will range from SR15mn ($4mn) to over SR1bn ($266mn).

“We’re evaluating now the first phase of a framework strategy for 1,050 sports halls spread across the Kingdom.  We’ve pre-qualified a good suite of contractors.”

Contracts for these are expected to be tendered this week. Donovan said some bidders plan to use design-build methods and others want to adopt innovative methods, such as a structured insulation system that is new to the Kingdom. Tenders for the first new school frameworks are likely to be issued early next year.

“Our expectation is to come out with a framework contract for 300-500 schools,” he said. “All of the healthcare, housing and rail projects are competing for the same contractors. We have the same problems… Unskilled labour, not enough labour and the good contractors are all incredibly busy.  “It’s certainly our biggest challenge.”

by Michael Fahy on 6 December 2014