Standardization: Build better within your budget

Standardisation, it might sound like ‘boring and uniform’. But it is not, Mariken Brink and Thera Verdam emphasize. They are members of the ‘Pædagogisk Boligledergruppe’, where housing policy employees from nine school organizations exchange knowledge about building schools. ‘Standardisation ensures that you achieve better quality in a smarter way.’

The Netherlands faces a huge task in terms of educational housing: a large part of the buildings for basic education (primary and secondary education) are very outdated, poorly ventilated and not sustainable. Research shows that school organizations and municipalities have too little money for renovation and new construction. A minimum structural investment of around 730 million euros per year is required. With rising inflation, the amount is even approaching one billion. Mariken Brink was for a long time head of facilities affairs at the Lucas Education Foundation, and she now carries out this work at SCOPE Scholengroep. Based on her role, she is part of the ‘Pædagogisk Boligledergruppe’ (see box). Especially now, when construction budgets are under pressure everywhere, she says it is important to build smarter, with more quality for the same money.

As the chief police constable residence at KPOA, Thera Verdam is in the leading group. ‘Big or small, all organizations encounter the same problems. Sharing knowledge and experience prevents you from reinventing the wheel. That motivation brought us together.’ In the beginning, it was primarily about innovative forms of tendering, where a board could bind parties for a longer period of time. So that you don’t have to sit around the table with a completely different construction team for each project. Brink: ‘We noticed that we were doing things twice in our construction projects. Couldn’t you standardize certain parts of such a process? Take the installation for example. In practice, this often turns out not to meet the requirements. If you can end up with an installation that works correctly, we will buy it again and again.’

More quality

The PO Council sees many advantages in standardization. This ensures, for example, transparency and affordability, also during the operational phase. You can reduce the lead time on a construction project through shorter tendering processes. And it helps you as a school organization to achieve at least a good basic quality in terms of financing, with a functional building that is at the same time sustainable and spacious. Brink and Verdam recognize these benefits from their leading group experiences. At the same time, do they also recognize the negative image that some people have of standardization, namely that the schools would then get ‘the same (cheap, bad) construction’?

Brink: ‘That image is really vivid, but for me it is based on a misunderstanding. Standardization is not a cut, it’s actually a way to achieve better quality within your budget.’ Verdam adds: ‘You set up a school for forty years, and often even longer. It would not be smart to compromise on quality. A high-quality building is ultimately much more sustainable, also in terms of maintenance, management and operation.’ Take that installation again, she says. If you choose one that is guaranteed to work well, it will cost you much less in the years to come.

A shell for itself

How does standardization take concrete form? It starts with the form of requirements (PoR), explains Brink. “It used to be that each organization hired its own consultant for this. But all things considered, 80% of a PvE is always the same. Everyone wants hanging toilets, for example, so why not include them in a standard PvE already?’ The idea is to make the building process much simpler at its core. Once that foundation – including the technology – is in place, the school’s team can focus on translating their educational vision to the final finish.’ The latter is relevant, Verdam continues, because standardization certainly does not lead to the same ‘box of blocks’ everywhere. The profit is in another interpretation of the development costs. ‘Of course the architect just has to draw something new. But the basic structure is already established, and you create your own shell around it.’

In the meantime, Amersfoort, home base for KPOA, is gaining concrete experience with standardization. Verdam: ‘Four new schools from four different boards are being built in one neighbourhood. We have mutually agreed to standardize this by basing each of these schools on a uniform basic building, a UBG. The first will be delivered in November 2022.’ European procurement rules prevent an entire construction team from moving on to the next project. But UBG also comes in handy there. Verdam: ‘We gave the architect of the next building UBG. As a result, he can offer a design for a lower fee. So there is also profit in standardization there. You have more money left over, which you can put into the quality of the building.’

Get savings back

Amersfoort is, in a sense, a pilot for the management group. But it would be nice to test the concept more widely and be able to cover any risks of the experiments. Brink: “We are lobbying to get money from the National Growth Fund, which the government uses to invest in initiatives that ensure long-term economic growth. It could be interesting to investigate whether other cities can also realize what Amersfoort is doing now. Then we can roll out standardization much more widely. Suppose you save 10% this way. With the annual construction task of 730 million, you get a nice amount back, which can benefit education.’

The leadership group is initially a knowledge network of nine school organisations. But it is certainly intended that others should also benefit from the knowledge and experience gained. We have now teamed up with Ruimte-OK, a knowledge center for financing and adapting education. The market parties are also involved in the further refinement of the standard SoR, which includes practical experiences within the leading group. The experiences are already being applied in concrete practice, says Brink. In Rotterdam, for example, good process agreements have been made with the municipality with standard documents, with which a school organization can quickly deliver the right documents for a housing project.

Update at a faster pace

And just like the leading group did, it starts with just doing it, Verdam concludes. ‘It is exciting how things will develop in our city. But once we have four fantastic schools here, everyone can come and see what the added value of standardization is.’ Start working together, is her message; that’s how it started in Amersfoort. And the payoff? For Brink, it is clear: Through standardization, we can renew more schools in the Netherlands at a faster pace. Ultimately, all children benefit from this. ‘Standardisation enables us to build faster and better within the available budgets.’

Do you know more?

The ‘Educational Housing Lead Group’ is formed by policy staff from Stichting BOOR, Stichting Carmel (vo), Innoord, KPOA, Lucas Education, PCOU Willibrord, Stichting RVKO, SPO Utrecht and SCOPE Scholengroep. These organizations represent approximately 10% of the total number of schools in primary education. All the ins and outs of standardization have been summarized on a fact sheet in collaboration with Ruimte-OK.

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