A 12-week geotechnical survey in the preconstruction period for this replacement school merger brought Atholl Mckay the most dispiriting of news. Despite being in an urban area, the greenfield site was in fact a peat bog. Not only was it entirely covered in peat – up to 4.5m deep and never less than 50cm – but the subsoil was poor and there was substantial groundwater.
The proposed school footprint, sports pitches and car parking layouts were shifted around the site on four separate occasions to reduce the quantity of soil that would have to be removed – and the multimillion expense of doing so. But with the authorities demanding that 36,000 cubic metres of peat be relocated to an area that already had peat present – and the nearest site was 60 miles distant – the prohibitive cost put the whole scheme in jeopardy.
Atholl found the way forward by persuading the environmental regulator that the peat could be satisfactorily relocated in and around the existing site. The resulting elimination of 6,000 lorry trips brought a cost saving of £4m and allowed the works to proceed. He bolstered his earthworks gains by using remediated peat for the topsoil rather than importing material.
More substantial savings came from his reorientation of the roof lights, reduction in trimming steel and simplified roof light design. He made big M&E savings by introducing natural ventilation through a redesign of the opening mechanism of the classroom windows. His on budget, on time handover in a first leadership role of a project from tender to delivery was a resounding success.