They’ve barely recovered from the impact of Covid and now, right at the start of the new school year, 100 schools are closed down and teachers and pupils face remote learning, upheaval, and temporary classrooms once again. This time it’s not because of a virus in the air but something literally more concrete – evidently not concrete enough, though.
It does seem, however, that the reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) crisis was entirely avoidable. As Cemfree’s Group Commercial Director Tony Sheridan points out in his recent article on building.co.uk,
“A crucial consideration should have been the acceptable design life of the structures. If these buildings were originally designed for a 30-year lifespan, it was unrealistic to expect them to last 50 years without issues.”
We need not be concerned with the inevitable ‘blame game’ here. That, after all, is for the central and local governments who made the decisions. However, Tony Sheridan points out that the crisis presents the wider construction industry with an opportunity not only to learn lessons – but literally to build those learnings into the design of new projects from the earliest stages. He goes on to describe the difference products such as Alkali-Activated Cementitious Materials (AACMs) can make – not just by building back stronger and better but also by massively reducing the new buildings’ carbon footprints.
The fact that Mr Sheridan, as Cemfree’s Group Commercial Director has “skin in the game” doesn’t change the facts, which are compelling to say the least. Concrete’s carbon footprint is enormous: 850kg per tonne (according to MPA). AACMs, on the other hand, have all the qualities of traditional concrete while shrinking the footprint by up to 85% (according to Portland Cement).
Tony Sheridan advocates closer collaboration from the earliest stages of planning to the finished build between clients, specifiers, contractors, and material providers to ensure structures are environmentally friendly as well as structurally sound. He concludes with something of a challenge – to seize this moment of crisis and turn it into an opportunity!
“The situation with schools in England serves as a pivotal moment, highlighting the importance of responsible design, sustainability, and material selection in construction projects. It offers us a choice – to rebuild with materials that are both resilient and environmentally conscious or continue to use very carbon intensive materials. Could this be the catalyst for a transformation in our commitment to constructing safer, greener, and more sustainable educational spaces for generations to come?
“As we rebuild our schools, let’s not just reconstruct buildings but also reshape the future. The opportunity for change is now, and together, we can pave the way towards a more sustainable tomorrow for our schools and beyond.”