Top of class for Cranleigh Abu Dhabi project

New facility for junior school pupils at Saadiyat Island opens

At over 70,000m2 Cranleigh Abu Dhabi will be the biggest school in Abu Dhabi.
At over 70,000m2 Cranleigh Abu Dhabi will be the biggest school in Abu Dhabi.

After a long summer holiday there was always an element of excitement about the return to school. New clothes, new shoes, new pencils, erasers, sharpeners, a colourful new pencil case, and a brand new rucksack to carry them all in.

For a number of Foundation Stage 1 to Year 9 pupils in Abu Dhabi, however, that level of eager anticipation has cranked up a notch or two as they prepare to attend the brand new Cranleigh Abu Dhabi School, situated on Saadiyat Island.

Built over seven hectares of land, Cranleigh Abu Dhabi will become the largest school campus in the UAE’s capital.

In time for the start of the new session next month, the junior school, estates management building, irrigation tank, science block, sports hall (including a 10m swimming pool) and large sports pitches have all been completed and are awaiting the first intake of youngsters.

Designed by Godwin Austen Johnson, the project has, very much, been a lesson in how to get a job done within a tight timeframe. And for that, main developer Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) and everyone else involved deserve to take a seat at the top of the class.

It is hard to believe the construction contract with Tafseer Contracting & General Maintenance was signed less than a year ago – on 22 September, 2013.

And even when Construction Week visited the site during the middle of Ramadan in July, with MEP works, external finishes and roads infrastructure still to be completed, it would have been easy to have doubted whether the ambitious deadline would be met.

However, the tight timeframe has always been at the forefront of the mind of the developer.

Jassim Al Hammadi, director of buildings and infrastructure at TDIC, said: “As with all school projects there is no room for movement with respect to the completion dates due to the commencement of the school year in September.

“From the outset, this has been a fast-track project in terms of the procurement of the contractor through to the construction phase. The project has had to plan very carefully and proactively as many of the key finishing works had been taking place during Ramadan and summertime.”

“The truly collaborative approach that has been taken with this project has seen organisational name badges set aside to form a ‘Cranleigh Project Team’ to instill ownership and the most efficient working environment,” he added.

Although time has been of the essence, this has not come at the expense of worker safety, which has always been paramount. In July, there were some 2,000 people working on the site and a total of 2mn man hours had passed without a single lost-time incident.

In order to get a head start on proceedings, piling and enabling works were carried out by Abu Dhabi-based contractor NSCC and began in May 2013 during the procurement phase for the design and build project.

The new facility is a partnership between Cranleigh – an independent school based in Surrey, near London, in the United Kingdom – and TDIC.

The school will sit at the entrance to Saadiyat Island’s cultural district, soon to be home to the Zayed National Museum, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Louvre Abu Dhabi museums – all in keeping with Cranleigh’s motto, ‘Ex Cultu Robur’ – ‘from culture comes strength’.

Its location, however, has thrown up additional challenges.

Raj Hanspaul, associate project manager at Aecom, explained: “The external utilities have proven to be the most challenging areas to construct due to the large number of excavations required and their associated impact on the site logistics.

“These have required very careful planning, coordination and communication to ensure that it has not impacted on the construction program.”

And there has also been the procurement of materials, which have come from all over the world.

The vast majority come from the United Kingdom, with the MEP goods predominantly from Europe – the vitally important pieces required to ensure the initial opening deadline was met have arrived in Abu Dhabi via air freight, with the rest being delivered by sea.

The 70,000m2 school campus has been built using a phased handover process. The aforementioned junior school and associated buildings have been completed in time for September, but the senior school will not complete until the end of the year.

As of at the end of June this year, the development encompassed 2,500 tonnes of steel (including rebar and structural steel), 14,000m3 of concrete and 852 piles. More than 4,500m3 of recycled material has been used in the school’s construction, representing around 80% of the total waste.

Al Hammadi said: “The superstructure is a cast insitu concrete frame with precast, hollow core slabs. This construction technique was designed to suit the fast track approach to the project.”

The building has a lightweight blockwork façade, which serves as both an exterior insulation and finishing system. It also has an insulated render which helps with the overall temperature control.

While the final touches are being put on the senior school, large hoardings will be erected to separate the newly-opened section from the ongoing construction site. Both the junior and senior schools will house their own classrooms, faculty offices, administration offices, dining halls and library. Once the entire complex is complete, it will contain specialist facilities for music, science, art, design and technology, drama, dance, sports and IT suites.

It will also house a 650-seat auditorium, 3,500m2 sports centre and 19,300m2 of outdoor fields with recreational areas that will include two grass pitches, an Astroturf pitch, four tennis courts and two swimming pools. The indoor arena will have two full-sized courts that can be used for basketball, football, badminton, gymnasium, dance studios and a drama suite.

A staff accommodation building is being constructed by Tafseer although on a separate building permit, while a further contract will be awarded at a later date for phase 2 works, which includes an arts block, student accommodation and additional sports fields.

The school will be able to comfortably accommodate 2,300 pupils, but a decision was taken early on in the construction process that there would be a maximum of 1,550 pupils; no more than 18 pupils per classroom, which are, on average, 50m2.

Headmaster Brendan Law, who is also director of education at TDIC, revealed there had been 900 applications for the initial 650 places available in the 8,565m2 junior school and 1,800 applications for 64 teaching posts.

For him, the project has been something of a labour of love. Clearly excited about the impending opening, Law, who has been with TDIC for the last two years, said: “I’ve really been involved from the concept stage, carrying through to the value engineering, ensuring the money is spent where it is needed most for the children and that the project is cost-effective.

“Sometimes architects run away with clever ideas and what the project looks like outside. I’m really more interested in how it looks from the inside out rather than the outside in.” He added: “Everything is brand new. I know the school inside out. I’ve walked around it in my head 1,000 times, I know every classroom, hallway and cupboard space.”

Cranleigh Abu Dhabi has been designed to reduce water consumption by over 20% and energy consumption by over 35% when compared to a typical school building. It is currently aiming towards achieving a prestigious Two Pearl Design Rating under the Estidama Rating System created by Abu Dhabi’s Urban Planning Council (UPC). If it achieves this once all accreditation work has completed, it would be the first school in the region to do so.

Environmental consultancy Hilson Moran was responsible for coordinating the project’s sustainability initiatives while also delivering mechanical, eletrical, public health (MEP) fire protection and acoustics designs for the new school.

“With Cranleigh Abu Dhabi set to become the largest school campus in the Emirate, as well as the first to offer boarding facilities, it is particularly important to ensure a high-quality environment for students,” said Tony Morris, Hilson Moran’s international director responsible for its Middle East operations.

“We have helped to achieve this through careful selection of interior finishing materials, the provision of natural daylight and a sophisticated fresh air delivery system controlled by carbon dioxide sensors within the classrooms,” he said.

Plans are also in place for the staff accommodation building to attain a Pearl One rating.

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