13 May 2013

The Biggest Estates Issues Facing Independent Schools This Year

We asked bursars at the Independent Schools’ Bursars Association (ISBA) 2013 conference last week, what the biggest issue facing them and their estates this year is. Having analysed the many replies we received, there are a small number of issues that are frequently mentioned.

Perhaps expectedly, given the heritage of most independent schools, many bursars are facing issues involving outdated buildings that are requiring refurbishment or refreshing – “maintenance of old buildings” and “Balancing cost of new buildings with maintenance of existing” were consistent themes.

Allied with this, many respondents mentioned issues involving listed building status, either Grade I or II, and the associated difficulties in receiving planning consent for the alteration of listed buildings; “obtaining grade 2* listed building consent for repairing walls” and “refurbishment of a grade 1 listed mansion and various listed building small projects” were examples.

Another major issue mentioned by bursars was money - variations on the theme of the cost of maintaining and developing their estates. Many respondents mentioned a difficulty in raising funds for specific projects. More generally, one respondent mentioned that they had found the “recession beginning to hit interest in school places” effectively reducing the funds available to maintain their existing estate, let alone develop it further. Conversely, one bursar, who was faced with a lack of funding, was required to put into action “expansion plans to accommodate our increased roll.”

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, a significant issue for bursars is a lack of space - either for additional buildings or parking. One was facing the question of “whether or not to sell our last piece of land” in order to raise funds for maintaining their remaining estate. Another mentioned a lack of space has meant that their biggest issues over the coming year will be “space optimisation – going up, not out”, effectively adding additional space on top of their existing buildings, rather than expanding their estate outwards. 

Other important issues  mentioned include; an increasing emphasis on sustainability as a result of spiraling energy costs, problems with services – in particular water mains leaks, and a need for infrastructure planning or masterplanning in order to enable schools to deal with their maintenance or expansion issues strategically.

See the word cloud above for a visual representation of our conversations.