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Blog: Sweyne Park School, a case study in sustainable collaboration

Blog: Sweyne Park School, a case study in sustainable collaboration

Embedding close collaboration and clear communication into a construction project is essential to meeting the demanding net zero targets that have been set in the public sector. Without all parties being aligned, it’s impossible to achieve the synergies and streamlined processes necessary for truly sustainable construction.

But what does that actually look like on the ground? Sweyne Park School in Essex is the perfect example of how being clear on your targets, positive in your conversations and forward-thinking in your approach can lead to the best outcomes for all stakeholders.

Located in the town of Rayleigh, Sweyne Park School has recently been proven to be the first school in the county to be net zero in operation. Getting to this point required a lot of careful thought about not just the planning and construction stages, but also to maintaining the teamwork between our project team and the school following completion to ensure the site’s daily activities were conducted in a sustainable, measurable manner.


Green building in action

The brief from the school was to build a new £2 million standalone teaching block to provide 150 extra teaching places for children of high school age. Handed over in late 2022, the new block contains six general teaching rooms, a toilet, staff rooms, innovative support for hearing impaired students and an access route to the main school building which sits adjacent to the 57-acre Sweyne Park.

The first step in creating a net zero environment was the initial engagement with the school. Prior to starting on-site, we had preliminary discussions with the school’s team and even at this early stage it was clear that they were willing to commit to modern sustainability solutions and for going ‘all-in’ on net-zero.

This commitment very much aligns with our Intelligent Solutions approach to construction, and thanks to this a number of green energy and sustainable design innovations were built into the project. This included installing three air source heat pumps that would provide the entire construction project’s heating and hot water, ensuring that the new teaching block at Sweyne Park School would be entirely gas-free. In addition, 80% of the roof is covered by photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, all the internal lighting is LED which uses less energy than traditional bulbs, and low energy ventilation systems were installed.

The building was also designed with superior insulation, thermal efficiency and air tightness properties. This resulted in it having very low U-Values, ensuring that it would be able to effectively minimise heat loss and energy consumption.

During the build, prefabricated modular units were used to ensure that the work was delivered quickly, efficiently and to a high standard while minimising disruption to the live school site. This offsite approach further reduced the project’s environmental impact by cutting down on the number of deliveries required and speeding up the project’s overall timescale. These benefits have inherent CO2 saving advantages, as it avoids a lot of the extra emissions, resource use and waste that would otherwise be incurred during the traditional construction process.

Measuring success

However, all this work was just the start. Since the doors opened and the pupils have been learning, we’ve been liaising with Sweyne Park School to accurately measure and analyse the site’s sustainable design parameters.

This was possible thanks to metering systems that were added to gather detailed data on electricity, light and water usage. Our team went back every month to look over this information and discuss it with the school to continually improve how it operates.

After doing this for 12 months, we could tell that the site was not just net zero in operation, but that it was in fact going above and beyond even this high standard! This was illustrated by the fact that the school’s PV generation was 149% relative to consumption, meaning that the new building generates a significant surplus of ‘clean’ power. These findings have been independently verified by K2N, a cloud-based data aggregation and reporting platform.

Over the course of its first year, the building generated 866 kWh from the PV panels on the roof. In total, Sweyne Park School used 54% of the 71 kWe/m2 allowed – proving that the site has been operating very efficiently. By breaking down the metrics, we can dig into the details of how power was consumed, providing valuable insights into the sustainable technologies and use of the building. For example, small power and lighting accounted for 38.5% of the total energy use, with the rest being used by services such as heating, cooling, fans and hot water.

A key part of the post-construction collaboration has been to empower Sweyne Park School to measure and assess the building’s performance. We’ve worked closely with the school to familiarise its team on the building’s technologies and monitoring system so that they can review its sustainability features moving forward and ensure that it continues to achieve net zero in operation.

On the collaboration between the Morgan Sindall and team, Simon Smith, the Leaning Environment Leader at Sweyne Park School, said:

Quality of communication is essential to a successful project. The school’s views and needs were listened too and interpreted into the design at an early stage, avoiding the stress of post construction adaptions. It’s great that the building itself, its performance and construction can be used as a teaching aid!”

Problem-solving innovations

The extent of the close working relationship between the Morgan Sindall team and Sweyne Park School was illustrated in other key aspects of the project. This included developing innovative design features that would help hearing impaired students in the classroom – an area in which the school wanted to be at the cutting edge.

This saw us rethink aspects of the learning space to solve common classroom problems and make it a truly student-focused environment. The rooms were made with significant acoustic enhancements, such as internal panels in the walls, roof and doors, to keep as much noise in the room as possible. This would stop the teacher’s voice from being muted while also avoiding outside noise from entering the classroom. On top of this, the lighting was changed from 4,000K to a daylight 6,000K so that the students can more clearly see lip movement and interpret non-verbal communication.

Thanks to these design enhancements, when tested to the British Association of Teachers of Deaf Children and Young People (BATOD) standards, Sweyne Park School’s new classrooms were rated as among the best in the country.

The journey to net-zero

Achieving net zero is no easy feat, but as this blog has outlined it all starts with collaboration and ensuring that the principles and values of the parties involved in the design, construction and operation of a place are driving them in the same direction.

At Sweyne Park School, the team’s passion for creating a sustainable community is something that resonates greatly with the Morgan Sindall ethos. Because we had the trust of the school, we were able to enter productive conversations and apply our expertise in a way that matched their goals. Now, the school has the capability to produce its own energy supply, with a staff roster equipped to make sure that the building can continue to be optimised for sustainability.

The Sweyne Park School project is a reminder to us that true net-zero isn't a distant dream but an actionable reality. It's an embodiment of purposeful collaboration, intelligent design, and a dedication to ongoing environmental improvement.