SILVER MEDALLIST IN 2021 Schools Under £20 M

Andy Mitchell MCIOB
Willmott Dixon
All Finalists2021 Winners

Willmott Dixon

Ropemakers Academy, Hailsham, East Sussex

On a difficult site, Andy Mitchell meticulously planned a fine success. He visualised the entire build in his head – from the piled foundations and concrete raft to the steel frame, composite floors, single-ply roof and brick cladding. He engaged the supply chain with collaborative leadership, and had thoroughly detailed the design before ever getting to site. It all went so well to plan that he finished two weeks early, delivering budget savings and a level of quality that delighted the client.

About the Project

Construction of two-storey school, completed in 66 weeks.

Client: East Sussex County Council

Contract: JCT 2016, design and build

Value: £13m

If planning is the motor that drives project success, then Andy Mitchell has a Rolls in his garage. Not content with devouring every scrap of project documentation, engaging the supply chain and meticulously detailing the design, he also visualised the entire build in his head – every single stage from the piled foundations to the concrete raft, steel frame, metal decking and concrete floors, single-ply roof, brick slips and aluminium windows.

With the ground only too obviously slipping down the site’s 13-metre-high hill, exacerbated by a high water table, stability was fundamental. Andy achieved this by reducing the hill with a bulk dig, installing counterfort drainage at the slip plane to channel groundwater into an existing culvert, and building a large foundation and gabion retaining wall at the bottom.

After carefully reviewing the drainage, he reduced the number of drain runs and raised invert levels so there was less excavation, ground support and backfill. He also shifted the attenuation tank to ensure it would not extend under an electricity substation on site.

He changed the design of the roof upstands for the ventilation ductwork to simplify the detail and speed up work. And he swapped out an in-situ concrete staircase from the build for a precast equivalent, saving further time and money.

Amid it all, Andy even found time and resources to put a newt barrier around the site, redesign the counterfort drainage so it came no closer than 25 metres to a badger’s sett that had been discovered, and installed a dormouse bridge across the access road.

Andy proved what he had set out to demonstrate: that a properly organised and managed project requires no more than a nine-hour site day without weekend or evening work. He stuck to those guns and still finished two weeks early, despite the lockdown effect. Indeed, he would have finished six weeks early if legal difficulties had not held up the landlord’s agreement with the substation operator. The client was clearly delighted with the programme and budget savings, as well as the excellent quality.