Bringing real-life construction projects into the classroom with John Sisk & Son
A group of York College & University Centre apprentices have been pitching their ideas to build a new communal garden for the Friends of Leeman Road Community Group.
The Construction Support Technician apprenticeship course students presented their proposals during a visit to the head office of construction and engineering company John Sisk & Son, where they were accompanied by their tutor Ian Walker.
Back in May, the students had paid their first visit to the communal garden site to conduct surveys and research.
Ahead of the presentation process, Construction tutor, Ian Walker said:
“Our Construction Support Technician apprentices study at college one day a week over a two-year period. As part of their studies, it’s beneficial to bring real-life projects into the classroom such as this one – we really appreciate the opportunity John Sisk & Son have given to our students.”
The students broke off into three groups following their initial visit to what will be the new home for the Friends of Leeman Road Community Group’s garden. A key aspect of the project was to ensure that the proposed plans for the garden would be easily accessible, particularly to wheelchair users.
In presenting to the group, they explained how they began by looking at the dimensions of the site they were working with and then how they started to consider the materials that would be required.
The group’s design proposal included six raised planters and the option of installing benches to add a seating area to the garden. When working on measurements, they wanted to ensure the planters could be accessed all the way around by a wheelchair user and how they incorporated enough space so that two wheelchair users could be side by side.
The group presented 3D plans to the community group to demonstrate how the garden could look and to give an idea of scale, before later sharing a GANT chart to illustrate how long each process of the build would take. When considering timescales, they included the hours required for the site in its current state to be stripped, how long it would take for levelling and then the number of days for the installation of the new materials and planters.
When considering materials for the walkways in between the planters, the students thought about how they would make the surface wheelchair friendly and also the optimal height of the planters so these could be easily accessed.
When deciding on materials, Shaun, Dan and Laura thought about how they could make the build sustainable by using reclaimed sleepers to create the raised planters, from the York Central site.
For the ground surface, the students wanted to give the Friends of Leeman Road Community Group options for them to consider and presented the benefits of decking, composite and resin. While providing different solutions, the students’ recommendation was resin as, despite this being more expensive, it is long-lasting, weed-resistant and frost-proof.
In addition, the group shared considerations to use bark in the planters to reduce weeds and to keep as much moisture in as possible as well as to potentially use topsoil from the York Central site to reduce costs, if the quality was to standard.
The Friends of Leeman Road group shared that they had concerns that the planters may start to rot as they had at their previous site, but were reassured by the students that the installation of lining would eliminate this problem.
The second group to share their proposals began by presenting the research they had gathered on the Friends of Leeman Road Community Group. They saw it as important to have an understanding of their client and what they wanted to achieve from the community garden project.
The students’ design proposal incorporated a range of different sized planters; a large L-shape, a large rectangle and a smaller rectangle, to give the users of the garden a variety of spaces to work with. The placement of the planters would also be carried out in a way that they could be accessed 360 degrees around.
After considering the planters, the group moved on to share their views on the materials they would choose for the ground-level surface. They wanted to create something different to what the other groups might have and thought about how they could make the space both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
Their suggestion of paving would bring a modern feel to the community garden and, due to the chosen colour pallet, a lightness into the area. They also shared that, once down, paving would provide them with a low maintenance surface that would be firm with a smooth finish - ideal for a wheelchair user.
Like the first group, Luke, Theo and Louis paid careful consideration to how accessible the space could be for a wheelchair user and decided that the height of the planters should be 800mm high.
From the surveys that took place during their initial visit to the site in May, the students noticed an established tree and how the design could incorporate this without any removal needing to take place.
Putting their computer skills to good use, the students used design programmes to create CAD (Computer Aided Design) drawings to illustrate how the garden would look, including a bird’s eye view.
With sustainability and the environment being of high importance, the group wanted to make the community garden attractive to wildlife, and in particular insects. The York College & University Centre joinery students have offered to help with bug boxes should they wish.
Like the first group, when mapping out costings, the students considered what materials they could obtain from the York Central site such as sleepers and topsoil, which would not only be a more sustainable option, but also a cheaper one.
The Friends of Leeman Road group asked the students why they had chosen the option of paving and whether this might have any issues with drainage. The group said that the paving could be run right up to the already fixed container, giving easy access and explained that they would use a mortar and grout that moisture could filter through.
The final students to present expressed that they wanted to get to know their client better before starting to work on their designs. They wanted to know what was important so they could incorporate this into their proposals.
They then looked at photographs they had taken during the site surveys and considered the levels of the ground and the work that would need to take place prior to the build.
For their design, they wanted to include a variety of sized beds, which could house different produce, and took into consideration what may be grown during different seasons. They decided on two L-shaped beds at each side of the site with two further rectangle beds and one large rectangle bed.
When creating CAD drawings, the students ensured that the planters could be accessed by a wheelchair user from both sides and considered the width of ground surface that would be required, before settling on 1.5 metres.
When considering the materials for the raised beds, like the other two groups, they wanted to consider reclaimed railway sleepers which would not only be more cost effective but have a more positive impact on the environment.
For the ground surface, the students also liked the low maintenance material of resin, which would be slip and weed resistant. From research into different providers of resin, they shared that this was also a material that could be recycled and, thus, lower in cost.
On knowing the concerns that the Friends of Leeman Road group had with the beds at their previous site rotting, the students looked at a damp proof membrane which would also bring the advantage of weed reduction.
As an alternative to the resin, the students proposed a consideration for paving, but explained that, as it would need to be specialist paving due to the different levels of the ground surface, this would be more labour intensive.
The two students also shared how there were various options in terms of colour for the resin and how this could enhance the aesthetics of the space.
On asked about their chosen layout and how they settled on their design proposal, the students explained that they wanted to ensure the planters could be accessed from all angles and the variety of sizes meant that they would have options of what fruit, vegetables and herbs would grow well in each.
On reflecting on their presentations, the students said how much fun the project had been so far. They said that the experience of being involved in a real-life process had been motivating, particularly as they could see how beneficial the new community garden would be to the Friends of Leeman Road group.
Amy Hoskin, Stakeholders and Social Value Advisor at John Sisk & Son Ltd, said:
“We were so pleased with the presentations that the students gave today. I loved seeing how they’d done research into the client, the project background, and relevant standards and materials.
“The presentation content was high quality, and we could really see their personalities shining through while they spoke.
“The Community Garden volunteers and Sisk team were all really impressed with the innovative ideas and designs. The support from York College tutor, Ian Walker has been incredible, it’s great to see staff so committed to setting their students up with real world experience.”
The team at John Sisk & Son Ltd and the Friends of Leeman Road Community Group will now review the design proposals presented by the students, before deciding which elements they would like to take forward into this real-life community garden project. Watch this space!