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Identifying the Right Partner for K-12 School Projects

By Antonis Slicher | November 9, 2022

Investments in the Middle East and North Africa’s (MENA’s) education sector have risen exponentially during the last six years. As populations grow, so does the need for new community infrastructure. One of the most prevalent examples of this is the rising number of new international schools.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a total of 725 international schools, 333 of which are located in Dubai. In the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of international schools across MENA grew by 14.7 percent. Between 2019 and 2021, construction slowed, but the number of schools still increased by 4.7 percent. It’s likely that these numbers will regain momentum as students return to in-person or hybrid learning models, enrollment numbers rise and school boards continue to develop new international campuses.

Preparing for the future

With Saudi Arabia opening its borders to new residents, schools – particularly quality K-12 international schools – will be one of the factors that encourage families to plant roots in local communities. International schools across the MENA region are some of the most recognized, respected and forward-thinking institutions in the world. Even before the pandemic, many of the region’s top international schools had established online learning platforms that have now become an industry standard.

As you consider your next K-12 campus project, it’s essential to define a clear vision for the future. From future-proofing campuses to programming and amenities, putting together a project ‘wish list’ can help you communicate your expectations and goals clearly to potential project partners.

If you’re new to capital projects or unsure where to start, you may decide to engage an advisor to help with tasks like conducting an infrastructure assessment, helping define your vision for the project, providing financial forecasting, identifying a strategic procurement model, and/or establishing a list of both mandated and desired project requirements.

Bringing the items on your wish list to life in addition to governing an existing campus, or developing a new curriculum, can be challenging. A project partner or owner’s representative can support you and provide you with the capacity, experience and tools to deliver a project successfully.

Finding the right project partner

But what makes a good project partner? Although there are several qualities that make a good project manager, those who specialize in a specific sector will best understand and align with your project goals. Preparing to expand or develop a new school involves many factors, including classroom layouts, aligning operational and design goals, complying with local authority requirements, accommodating hybrid learning models and more. It’s important to have a partner who will advocate on your behalf and understands your project goals both from an operational and design standpoint.

When seeking the support of an owner’s representative, you can identify the right, or strongest, project partner as someone who:

  1. Understands how schools operate
    By clearly understanding your project from an operational perspective, a project partner can better advocate and support you throughout the design and construction process. From delivering quality programs, to meeting parent expectations and adapting to new ways of learning, it’s important to develop a project plan that will support student body growth and academic developments over the next 10-20 years and beyond. A knowledgeable project partner will take the time to understand why you need certain amenities and how they’ll be used. Whether it’s a new parking lot, gymnasium, pool or observatory, a good project partner can help you identify improvement strategies that align with your operational goals. They can also work with other consultants and contractors to help you ensure your new space is functional, flexible and feasible.

  2. Has experience delivering different types of school projects
    Every international school is unique. A project partner with a breadth of experience can draw on previous lessons learned and bring added value to your project. Having worked with school boards and other institutions in the region, an experienced project partner can support you as you identify your requirements for the project. If engaged early, your owner’s representative can help you identify and mitigate risks or gaps that might otherwise hinder the project’s delivery.

  3. Understands education timelines and approval processes
    Every sector has regulatory bodies that govern different aspects of capital development and school operations. In the education sector, approval timelines can be especially important as construction schedules will correspond with the academic school year. An experienced project partner will have relationships with these regulatory authorities, understand the approvals process, and proactively align approval procedures, project milestones and the project’s timeline with your academic schedule.

  4. Offers advice on procurement methods and delivery methodologies
    With several delivery models to choose from, it can be challenging for project owners to know which methodology is best suited to execute a new campus. Engaging an owner’s representative provides you with a knowledgeable ally who can answer questions and help you procure a skilled team of consultants and contractors able to bring your project to life.

  5. Guides you throughout the project
    Last, but not least, the right project partner is someone you can trust to guide you through the entire process – from project planning to the opening day. They will be highly communicative, work with you to define the project and keep you updated throughout the process. As your advocate, they will have the experience and insight to drive your project forward on schedule, leaving you free to direct your focus toward delivering a quality academic experience.

As you envision the future of your establishment, ask yourself, “How can the design of our building support our academic goals? Will our plans accommodate rising enrollment numbers and hybrid learning models during the next 10 or more years? Do we have the capacity, time and experience to dedicate to managing a capital project?” If you’re unsure of your answers and want to move forward more confidently, it may be a good time to consider reaching out to a project partner.

Regardless of whether you’re new to capital projects or already experienced in construction, all institutions can benefit from engaging with the right project partner. A partner can support you throughout each phase of work or simply help alleviate capacity constraints where needed. The right project partner will align themselves with your goals to deliver a customized level of care that will ensure your project’s a success.