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Gold winner

Employer: ISG Construction

Project: Temple Learning Academy, Halton Moor

James Fryer invested time, energy and passion to deliver a high-quality teaching academy, within budget, on time and with zero defects.

He demonstrated superb leadership. He ditched the planned budget-shattering concrete retaining walls for dealing with the site’s 13-metre ground drop in favour of slope stabilisation through cost-effective geotextile membranes and geocells. And he dealt brilliantly with the requirement for variations despite a capped budget by omitting or reviewing the design of other elements while maintaining the original design.

During a lifetime in an industry where he started out as an apprentice carpenter, James Fryer has gone all the way from minor refurbishments to £100m multiphase schemes. For this three-storey academy, he invested time, energy and passion to deliver a high-quality scheme, within budget, on time, and with zero defects or incidents, for a client with little experience of major projects.

His determination to understand the client’s vision and values was the key to ISG winning the contract. He attended meetings with local feeder schools to harvest their best practice ideas, and visited similar schools in the area to identify the issues staff had with their own schools and work out what he could do differently to prevent them from occurring.

James demonstrated superb leadership. The steep slope of the site had originally been addressed with a series of concrete retaining walls; when costed, these were far too expensive for an already overstretched budget. By working with the school to understand how the outside spaces would be used, James was able to propose a more cost-effective slope stabilisation solution to create space for play and social gathering.

Where the slopes were too steep for geotextile membranes to limit subsoil slippage, his introduction of geosynthetic cells allowed the earth to be stepped back and planted up with shrubs and plants. His use of gravity wall blocks gave speed of installation from a standard product and built-in drainage.

Likewise, the need for a new roof on the former leisure centre also threatened to be budget-shattering. By employing a drone to survey hard-to-access areas of the existing roof covering, James was able to propose an overroofing solution – avoiding the expense of removing the existing roof. Similarly, he suggested that the existing cladding, which was structurally sound but looked tatty, could be treated and painted to match the new roof buildup.

He dealt brilliantly with the immovable budget. The client’s wishlist naturally grew as information became available on how the school needed to function, and James managed a process to omit or review other elements as a funding trade-off, while always keeping the original design intact. With the final account being the same figure as the agreed tender sum, this process clearly worked very well.

James also found ways of zoning areas so the building could be used by the community too. He made spaces that were flexible in their use and had moveable furniture and equipment. Locking and access strategies were developed to allow different access levels to different parts of the building.

As a result of his efforts, this scheme has helped regenerate the whole area. A disused, vandalised piece of land has been turned into a vibrant new school that has been a catalyst for a dramatic rise in local house prices. Derelict properties have now been demolished and new housing built in their place.

He even helped the client solve the big challenge of getting pupils to sign up for the new school before it was built. He arranged site tours – at night! – during the construction phase, making safe routes and walkways to allow parents and prospective pupils to see what the school would look like, and giving them assurances that the works would be completed on time.