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Wates research concludes Abu Dhabi schools and colleges should open doors and offer facilities to local communities

United Arab Emirates: Tuesday, December 15 - 2009 @ 12:56

These were the thoughts of Steve Yazdabadi, director of award-winning construction services firm Wates, who was speaking at the Building Schools Exhibition & Conference at ADNEC on Monday, 14 December.

“Schools and colleges ought to be embraced as community facilities. Currently a lot of schools in Abu Dhabi are only open from 7.30am to 3.30pm. But it is a shame to invest such a large sum in a building that is only open one-third of the day and is closed throughout the summer,”

Yazdabadi told the audience at the conference.

“Instead of doubling up and building, say, two swimming pools or two libraries within a community or neighbourhood, you can invest all that money in building just one, but better. It forms part of the school but is shared by both students and the local people,” he added.

Wates has recently opened an office in Abu Dhabi. As part of its stakeholder engagement approach it undertook a survey asking questions about educational requirements and discovered that 80% of respondents felt that schools should provide community facilities, although currently many in Abu Dhabi remain closed to non-students.

Yazdabadi suggested that schools and colleges could share many facilities with their local communities and Canterbury College in the UK is a proof that it can work and delivers real value to the school and the community.

Wates has been working with Canterbury College since 2003 to rebuild the college, Alison Clarke, Principal and Executive Director of Canterbury College in the UK, explained that local people are able to use the sports facilities; amenities such as shops, a hairdresser, a café, florist and a travel agent, which are all run by students; and use the college to study adult education courses. Canterbury College also offers ‘Gifts of Knowledge’, where local people come to the college for half day courses on subjects from car maintenance to flower arranging or CV writing.

Clarke explained that sharing Canterbury College’s facilities with its local community had helped to raise the standing of the college among local people and businesses.

“Sharing our facilities has helped us to engage with the local community. This has inspired more students to want to study at the college and assisted with building relationships with local businesses, which has helped us to find jobs for our students,”

said Clarke.

Sharing facilities can also help to increase enrolment figures; raise funds through charging for some shared activities; encourage parents to engage more with the school and their children’s education; and provide an opportunity for some former students to re-engage with education, especially those who have dropped out of studies.

However, Yazdabadi recognised that the usage of the facilities need to be sensitive local community practises and culture and need this needs to be factored into any designs. For instance, it must ensure there is sufficient separation between school-only facilities and community facilities and that there are adequate male and female private changing areas.

“Design is critical to that success. It is difficult to retrofit community facilities into a school, especially features such as separate community entrances,” added Yazdabadi

Wates has a strong track record in the design, construction, funding and operation of new schools, with a reputation for always completing projects on time and on budget. It is one of the leading developers in the education sector in the UK and has built schools and colleges to accommodate 35,000 pupils. It is currently running the day-to-day operations of 26 UK schools.

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Tuesday, December 15- 2009 @ 12:56 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.

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