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Site visit: Springdales School, Dubai

Having its own contracting arm to finish a school project has been a boon for Goldline

The site has been barricaded to keep children from the existing school out.
The site has been barricaded to keep children from the existing school out.

Demand for school places in Dubai is incredibly high, but the group behind Springdales School has one advantage over competitors – a contracting arm that can build at lightning speed. Michael Fahy reports.

As Dubai’s population continues to swell and expats remain in the Emirate for longer, so the demand for school places continues to rise. Ashwin Assommul, a Mumbai-based partner in management consultancy Parthenon Group, recently told Bloomberg that Dubai needs around $1.5bn of private sector capital investment to help fund school building programmes.

He forecasts that Dubai will need 110,000 new school places by 2020, which is a 50% increase on current provision.
As a result, existing operators like GEMS Education are finding that venture capitalists and other funders are beating a path to their door, and a number of canny developers are getting into the market by teaming up with private schools from elsewhere in the world.

PNC Menon’s Sobha Group, for instance, announced the first of its education projects, Hartland International School, last month.

The firm knows that it stands to gain two-fold from building a top-class educational establishment at its $4bn Sobha Hartland site – the school itself will be profitable, while also serving as a magnet for families to its development (and to the neighbouring Mohammed Bin Rashid City District One, which it is jointly building with Meydan).

However, Menon is not the first Indian developer to realise the value in building top-class educational facilities. Dr Navjit Singh Anand, chairman and founder of Goldline Group, opened the first phase of the Springdales School in the Al Quoz 4 district in Dubai almost three years ago.

His own contracting business, Goldline Contracting, is now in the final stretch of a fast-track project that will see the school’s capacity more than double – from a 1,000-capacity facility to 3,500, with enough equipment and shared facilities to take numbers to more than 5,000 once a third phase completes.

The first phase of the $30m (AED110m) project saw a 110,000ft2 school facility built in 2012, which opened in April at the start of the Indian academic year. Dr Anand chose to partner with Springdales, which operates private schools in several cities in India – because it was where he was schooled prior to building his own business empire in Dubai.

Dr Farooq Wasil, who is CEO of the Goldline Education business, said that once commitments were in place to go ahead with phase one, the project was built in just over five months, “which was a record”.

“We have all of the completion certificates to prove it,” he told Construction Week on a visit to the site last month.

“People can’t believe it. When I sent the information and the documents to DEC (Dubai Education Council) they couldn’t believe it.”

“We started in October and by the academic year starting in April we had all of the approvals in hand,” adds Anish John, senior project engineer for Goldline Contracting, who has overseen construction of both phases.

The first phase primarily consists of a kindergarten block and a primary school block. John said that its first priority was to get the kindergarten block finished in February 2012, ahead of open days for parents in late February. The primary school block was finished by 10 March.

The school is already running at full capacity, which Dr Wasil attributes to the facilities on offer. For instance, the school has separate rooms for elite and Special Education Needs (SEN) classes, a general science laboratory, multi-purpose hall, outdoor play areas, indoor activity centres, a fitness gym, splash pool and AV facilities for dance, music and other requirements.

He also says that classrooms and corridors have been designed to be spacious, and to let lots of natural light in.

“One thing Dr Anand has always said is that if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing well,” says Dr Wasil.

“That’s why, when you look at the size of the school, the scale of operations, the quality of construction, resources and facilities….on half of this parcel of land, you could build a school. We are next to a neighbouring school where a complete school is built on less than half of this land parcel.”

The school sits on an 11-acre plot, and the current phase will be almost twice as big as the first, at 210,000ft2. It will contain a secondary school and many common facilities for the entire project, including a semi-Olympic swimming pool, a large, multi-purpose sports hall, outdoor pitches and dining halls with the capacity to house 3,000 pupils at any one time.

“The major infrastructure inputs will come during the second phase,” says Dr Wasil. “The third phase is a very small one.”

Phase two contains a single building of around 170m in length which, alongside the specialist sports facilities and dining halls, contains 45 classrooms and a series of more advanced laboratories for subjects including sciences, information technology, mathematics, robotics, photography and other specialist areas.

John explains that careful consideration was given at design stage for these needs as it impacted the placing of classrooms and the provision of services. Some classrooms needed a gas supply, for instance, IT labs need more power points and photography labs built in areas with no windows. Areas around the pool and changing facilities also required more drainage points.

Mohan Chacko, executive director of Goldline Contracting, says the second phase is being built to deadlines that are almost as tight as the first.

“The entire project is being built in fast-track mode,” he said.

Work started in February last year, with preparatory works involving the re-routing of water and other utilities.
An existing substation serving the first phase is being retained, but a much bigger one has been put into place to increase capacity.

In terms of floors, although there is a small basement area containing a pump room and an underground tank serving domestic, fire and irrigation systems, the bulk of the building consists of a ground-plus -three upper floors, although both the pool and multipurpose halls in the western wing have been built to double height.

Construction work started in June. Four slabs of between 1,000-1,400m2 were cast on the ground floor with expansion joints between them.

John explains that post-tensioned slabs were used for two reasons. Firstly, it was the quickest method of construction but secondly, it allowed for the creation of large, column-free areas – not only in the sports hall and pool, but also in classrooms. The four slabs took a month to cast, with each one completed in seven days.

The eastern half of the building housing the classrooms and laboratories are built to a height of around five metres per floor.

These are separated at the beginning of the western half by a pair of 1,000m2 dining halls – one above the other – while on the far western side of the building, the semi-Olympic swimming pool and diving area takes up the first two storeys and the multipurpose sports hall sits above that.

Including the roofspace, John says the hall has a clear height of approximately 12m so it can be used for basketball, tennis, volleyball, badminton and other sports.

By December, structures in three of the four floor slab areas had been completed, with work still ongoing in the section containing the pool and indoor sports facilities. John explains that the pool area has been the most difficult, because the diving facility means it needs a depth of four metres at one end, which is not typical in schools and required permission from the municipality.

“Right now, I have got 350 people working on site,” John says. “It will increase to more than 500 as we try to finish by the end of February. It is peaking now. A lot of work fronts have opened up.”

Goldline has been carrying out both the civils and MEP works, leaving only finishing works for subcontractors. Pre-mixed plaster has been shot onto blockwork walls and then levelled off – again, to save time on application.

During CW’s December site visit, most of the MEP works in classrooms was finished and was well under way in the dining areas. Finishing work such as false ceilings and tiling was underway in classrooms and laboratories, and John was forecasting that the final structural work would finish by New Year so that blockwork and plastering could finish this month.

Once again, work needs to complete as far in advance of the start of the Indian academic year in April as possible. However, despite the speed of the project, Dr Wasil makes clear that it has been completely isolated from the adjoining primary and kindergarten schools, whose operations have been unaffected.

The site has been well-barricaded, the main access point is on the opposite side of the site to the school and no access is allowed for anything other than construction vehicles.

“There has been complete supervision and a very high levels of alertness and monitoring by the team,” he says. “There are no loose ends or corners.”

Once phase two completes, a smaller, third phase will begin. It will house more classrooms and laboratories that will help to push capacity from 3,500 to 5,000, as well as a large auditorium.

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