Taking student accommodation off site

Here, Andy Smith, Head of Business Development at Caledonian Modular, looks at why off-site and modular construction are helping meet growing demand for high-quality student accommodation.


Off-site construction has continued to grow substantially in the last few years due to its ability to deliver significant efficiencies compared to a traditional build. At the same time as reducing the schedule by around a half, off-site and modular construction ensures consistently high build standards. Manufactured off site and then assembled on site also creates a safer workplace, because it is a more controlled environment. It is for these reasons and others that off-site has grown in popularity over the last few years. Education at all levels – primary, secondary and further – has been one of the sectors to recognise and embrace these benefits both inside and outside of the classroom.

Take higher education establishments, for example. Purpose-designed, flexible modular building systems create an environment that meets the needs of higher education providers and offer students the added comfort and quality that they look for when choosing a university, which can be just as important to them as the teaching facilities.

So with today’s students having higher expectations of their educational experience – and that includes where they live, the majority of universities are turning to off-site construction as part of their ongoing estate investment programme in order to attract more students.

Examples of best practice

We have worked on several projects within the higher education sector over recent years; including a £13m turnkey contract to build an extension of the existing boarding facilities at ACS Cobham International School, which was designed by Broadway Malyan. We were responsible for the manufacture and construction of the modular components of the new facility, which provided an additional 113-bed spaces, all in premium single and double rooms. It also incorporated supervisor accommodation, study areas and common rooms to complete an eye-catching four-storey building.

Prince Consort Village in Hammersmith chose modular construction, too, for the 539-bedroom development that was designed to meet the specific needs of Royal College of Music students, as well as the wider student population. It incorporates acoustically treated bedrooms, communal lounges, 24-hour music practice rooms and private study spaces.

The main contractor on the project was Balfour Beatty, and we worked as a specialist sub-contractor, delivering the modular bedrooms in a virtually complete state. During the early stages of the project, we created a full prototype study bedroom in order to finalise the specification with the college. The college also used it as a marketing vehicle to demonstrate the quality of the final finish and attract new intakes of students.

Due to our success and long track record in supplying high-quality student accommodation, we recently secured a £10m contract for the development of a new student accommodation block at Station Approach, Hereford. The project will provide Hereford College of Arts and the city’s new NMiTE University with 178 student bedrooms each with its own study area and en-suite bathroom, along with other areas of accommodation.

All the modules will be manufactured off site to ensure consistently high build quality, whilst reducing the build schedule by around 50% compared to a conventional build. This is achieved, for example, because it enables infrastructure and groundworks to progress at the same time as the accommodation is being manufactured. Each room will be delivered to site 95% complete, which will result in a significantly faster site inspection and handover. Once completed, the accommodation will be indistinguishable from a conventional build and will be ready for occupation by students in September 2020.

Herefordshire Council is carrying out the project with development partners, energy and regeneration specialist ENGIE and Cityheart Partnerships. Hereford College of Arts (HCA), which has a proven need for good quality student housing to support its growth plans, will be the main customer of the new accommodation. There will also be the need for rooms for students of NMiTE, supporting its development.

Councillor David Hitchiner, Leader of Herefordshire Council, said: “The new student accommodation will provide high-quality purpose-built facilities, making Herefordshire an even more attractive proposition for young people looking to study here. We are delighted that this will support our local higher education providers and promote Herefordshire as a great place to study and live.”

He added: “Station Approach is a key project within the council’s Development and Regeneration Programme (DRP) which will support economic development in the county.”

The answer?

Research shows that student accommodation is becoming more design-driven and less of a functional space to sleep and study. That means there’s an increased emphasis on creating social spaces, such as combining kitchen, dining and seating areas. Practical trends include slightly larger furnishings, and we have already responded with a number of bespoke design innovations.

Shorter build schedules, assured levels of quality and an ability to attract students means off site is becoming the preferred route forward for many decision-makers in the primary, secondary and further education sectors. Forecasts indicate that off-site will continue to grow in 2020 as quality, time and labour pressures make alternatives to conventional construction methods more attractive.

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