The particular demands of development in the educational sector require building systems which maximise safety and efficiency. Whether new build or refurbishment, the familiar pressures which contractors face are intensified when a development involves a school or college. Schemes of all types are subject to tight deadlines and invariably fall behind schedule, but there is no such flexibility with educational establishments: it is ideal, and often essential, to carry out work within restricted holiday periods, and term time obviously cannot be shifted to accommodate delayed handovers.
Minimising construction time and on-site activities is therefore a high priority when planning a build schedule for a school development. With this in mind, pre-engineered building systems offer a clear advantage, but they represent an even more practical option when designed for easy assembly for a quick installation on site. Over many years this has consistently proved to be the case with Neaco’s Spectrum modular balustrade systems – angles are calculated and lengths are measured at the earliest possible stage within our in-house design and manufacturing facilities, taking much of the workload out of the installer’s hands. The modular connection system is designed for simplicity with cast components connected by internal split-sleeve ferrules, providing a straightforward construction and fast assembly.
On-site disruption is similarly kept to a minimum. As so much of the work is completed off-site, the impact to an existing site and risk of accruing fabric damage is significantly lower. In comparison to traditional construction methods, there is a reduction in noise and dust, whilst pre-measured components eliminate waste surplus and off-cuts at the supply stage. In Spectrum’s case, we also apply the finish prior to delivery – our aluminium handrails and balustrade are nylon powder coated in a wide choice of solid or metallic colours, so no painting is required.
Health and safety is, of course, especially important in school refurbishment when a site’s proximity to children is a critical consideration in cases where contractors cannot avoid scheduling work during school hours. It is therefore preferable to use building systems with standardised connecting joints and fixtures that avoid messy, noisy and hazardous building practices like welding. The risk of accidents and ill health is minimised within clean, well ordered sites and reduced use of vehicles. Precision engineered modular systems also offer a reliable, uniform quality because they are rigorously monitored in the controlled environment of the factory, guaranteeing a high standard of workmanship and avoiding snagging or callbacks.
All of these benefits are limited if, in the refurbishment of a school building, a pre-fabricated system is unable to adapt to the existing fabric, but today’s most sophisticated modular products have the versatility to meet these demands. Our Spectrum balustrade offers a range of components vast enough to suit the most unusual design permutations, awkward layouts and structurally restrictive environments. We utilise advanced forming technology to incorporate bends at any point on a tubular component. Virtually any turn can therefore be achieved to meet bespoke requirements whilst minimising the number of visible seams, and cast elbows can be used when necessary to negotiate the tightest corner or steepest tread. The system is also adaptable to DDA requirements – we often incorporate a double-handrail into stairwells to cater for the varying heights of users.
Once complete, any construction work must meet the peculiar demands of a school, especially one which serves to educate younger age groups. As any parent will acknowledge, children have a tendency to damage less sturdy objects, whether accidentally or otherwise! Durability is therefore a key quality and construction should minimise the need for external fixtures which can be loosened. With its internal connection system, our Spectrum handrails offer smooth, clean lines that are safe and comfortable to the touch without screws that can be tampered with by children. The powder coating also forms a non-chip surface which provides the hard-wearing qualities required to cope with the intense traffic of day-to-day life in a school or college.
Spectrum’s versatility, durability and easy installation are qualities that Neaco sought to emulate with the development of Clearline, a structural glass product has become an equally popular specification for educational developments. In recent years we have seen a growing preference for architectural solutions that maximize visibility using a predominance of glass requiring only minimal support from lateral or vertical components. In response Neaco designed Clearline to combine smooth, clean lines and minimalist looks with the strength and safety to cope with high traffic areas. Suitable for both external and internal use, its free-standing balustrade requires no supporting uprights – continuous glass is fixed in place by aluminium floor channels. Integrated rubber seals insulate the glass and eliminate the need for the more traditional messy mastic detail.
Clearline glass is toughened in accordance with BS EN12600 class 1 with options including clear or tinted grey, bronze, green or blue with the option of acid etching or an applied emblem/logo. The range also includes a low Iron glass option offering a noticeably clearer panel than the inherent green cast of standard clear float glass used in balustrade applications. The glass is capped by an aluminium top rail which is comfortable to the touch with the same internal connection system and hard-wearing nylon coating used for Spectrum.
The emphasis on safety, so critical within schools, is further magnified when designing structural glass applications. The development of Spectrum has given our technical team a broad understanding of what is required when considering children’s safety on staircases and landings, and Clearline’s design certainly reflects this experience. The system is very difficult for children to climb and there are no gaps through which they could pass.
As an alternative to Clearline structural glass, Neaco have also developed a semi-structural glass option with our Elan system (pictured below). Most balustrade designs secure glass infill panels in place by attaching them to the stanchions with a clip, but Elan’s glass panels are secured by a top rail above and a subtle floor channel below. The result is a sleek appearance, an economical use of materials and an easy-to-install solution.
Clearline and Elan offer the primary qualities which characterise the best pre-fabricated modular systems – these attributes are hugely advantageous not only for the educational sector, but for any type of building project. Standardised quality brings peace of mind and a higher degree of predictability which reduces the risk of time and cost overruns. Speedy installation saves on labour costs and economical use of energy and materials is environmentally desirable. Any contractor in any sector will appreciate the value of those benefits.