Tomorrow’s FM Maintenance at Height Spotlight – Education

Tomorrow's FM - Access North Structures

Maintenance at height spotlight – education

Educational establishments have a pressing need to keep their facilities both safe and attractive, if they are to provide inspiring surroundings for students and staff to succeed. But maintenance work can prove particularly tricky when the ‘site’ is several metres above ground level. This was the very subject we spoke to industry journal Tomorrow’s FM about recently, with the help of The Bulwell Academy in Nottingham.

If you missed the double-page article you can catch up and read it in full, here…

Tomorrow's FM Article - Access North Structures

Like most schools and academies, The Bulwell Academy has been designed to provide a safe and secure environment for staff to teach and students to learn. A new building completed in 2010, the design brief was to create a facility fit for a 21st Century education. And construction consultancy Faithful+Gould appears to have done just that.

Part of the Building Schools for the Future programme and sponsored by Edge Education Foundation, the 11,500m² school now accommodates over 1000 11-19 year old students. Learning zones are located in a striking two-storey structure, accessible by all regardless of any special needs, with the glazed architecture and angular lines now widely recognised.

But the heart of the academy is an internal courtyard, reached via the main entrance plaza. Inverted-conics constructed from tensile fabric provide a sheltered canopy for this communal area. With a typical lifespan of 20 years, this PVC structure should maintain its integrity and appearance long into the future. However, up to 10 metres tall at its highest point, and with such an unusual shape, these ‘peaks’ are far from easy to keep clean.

Planned preventative maintenance

With any facility, the preparation of a planned preventative maintenance schedule helps to uphold the quality, safety and appearance of a building or structure, with minimal financial investment and disruption. Minor issues are identified and rectified before they can evolve into larger problems, which avoids the need for costly repairs.
So, when caretaker James Logan came into position at The Bulwell Academy, this was the approach he wanted to take for the upkeep of the tensile fabrics.

Discussions unfolded with Access North Structures – a team he identified as having specialist expertise designing, installing, inspecting, cleaning, maintaining and enhancing PVC, PTFE and ETFE structures. A site visit was then scheduled.

The inspection report

Following an audit of the site, a quote was supplied to conduct a full inspection of the structure, from which a detailed next-step schedule of maintenance work could be planned. It was evident that a full clean was also required, so this was similarly quoted for.
Impressed with the knowledge and approach of the team, James called on their expertise for a small, urgent repair, before the order was even placed. Storm Doris had caused one of the shackles holding the canopy to the building to break away, so the maintenance experts acted fast to fit the crucial replacement.

A team of three ANS engineers returned just days later to carry out the inspection. The entire canopy was assessed for signs of degradation and a maintenance schedule was devised as a result. Some work, such as the installation of a replacement turnbuckle at the end of the roof was identified as a minor task that should be tackled in the short term, whereas other routine maintenance regimes were recommended at future intervals to maximise the condition of the structure.

The programme was recorded in the proactive cloud reporting tool – Acqudo© – to provide the client with a live, detailed log of upcoming actions and progress.

Cleaning the PVC

An 8-day deep clean of both the steelwork and fabric was carried out during the Easter holiday. Using only rope access techniques, two IRATA-trained technicians were able to reach even the most restricted parts of the canopy, without the need for heavy plant or scaffolding.

A special PVC cleaning fluid was used to break down the excessive build-up of dirt and reveal the bright white canopy underneath. The result was not just a more aesthetically pleasing structure when the academy re-opened for the new half term, but a better condition tensile fabric that will now maximise the longevity of the asset if maintained.

Like most areas of business, there is no prescriptive answer as to how frequently a PVC structure has to be cleaned. Recommended intervals are always influenced by a number of factors including the location and use of the structure, plus the maintenance regime that has been adopted to date.

Using rope access techniques

Rope access is becoming widely regarded as the safest way to maintain tensile fabrics – even at significant heights – providing it is carried out by highly trained and experienced technicians. Risk assessments and method statements must be carried out for every individual job, and necessary insurances must be in place, but the technique itself is the safest way to work on complex structures and eye-watering heights.

Once the team is rigged into position using two connection points, they can easily navigate their way around a facility, without the need for any powered access equipment or scaffolding. This keeps costs down, minimises on-site disruption and significantly reduces the environmental impact of the work. Jobs can even be carried out safely at night, should the situation dictate.

Praise for PVC

PVC is a great all-round, economical membrane, which ticks the recyclability box too. It is a tensile fabric that is built to last, however, adverse weather conditions, accidents, misuse and poor upkeep can all contribute to the deterioration of these tensile fabric canopies over time. Steps should therefore be taken to enhance the life and appearance of the architecture, and facilities managers should rest safe in the knowledge that the work can be carried out safely, cost-effectively and with minimal disruption, if the rope access technique is adopted.

If your building or structure is ready for some routine maintenance – or emergency TLC – please don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss your requirements. We can even carry out a site inspection to help you decide what to do next.