In limits, there is freedom. Creativity thrives within structure. Creating safe havens where our children are allowed to dream, play, make a mess and, yes, clean it up, we teach them respect for themselves and others.” These are words by American teacher, author, poet and playwright, artist, filmmaker, composer and journalist, Julia Cameron that provide inspiration for creating a positive learning environment.
Located across four campuses, three around London and the other in Qatar, and spanning 65,000m2, Cameron’s words seem tailored to the ACS International Schools experience. Founded in 1967, ACS International Schools educates more than 3,700 students, aged 2-18 day and boarding, from more than 100 countries, in a non- sectarian, co-educational environment.
The school is proud of its international community and its ‘commitment to inspire all to make a difference’. It boasts a world-renowned curriculum with impressive academic results, such as a 96% International Baccalaureate pass rate, with many students going on to the world’s top universities, including Oxbridge and the Ivy League.
Oren Gershon, the facilities and project manager, joined ACS International Schools just over two years ago with a clear passion for transforming space into place, supporting the direct influence that the physical environment in academic buildings can have on academic work, and the organisation’s culture and sustainability goals.
Gershon initially trained to be a teacher, but chose a career in FM after a university holiday job with a local county council FM team, followed by further FM experience in the US, and taking a Masters in FM on his return to the UK. “I was told I had a talent for the work and recognised I could make a real difference in a school by creating the best possible learning environment for students.”
Based at the school’s largest campus in Cobham, with more than 1,500 students, Gershon manages the facilities on the 128-acre site, and has responsibility for strategic FM across the school. The 110 strong Cobham facilities team delivers most services in-house, and includes landscapers, cleaning, catering and security staff, engineers, caretakers, and maintenance engineers. The campus has its own sewerage plant, which processes around 120,000 litres of water each day, a Rocket food waste composter, and each building has its own plant room to control the heating, hot water, air conditioning, and water treatment tank.
State-of-the art sports facilities include an international-sized basketball/volleyball show court, with sprung beechwood flooring and seating for 280 spectators; a 25-metre competition-class swimming pool, with a height-adjustable floor and a seated viewing gallery; an all-weather Olympic track; tennis courts; and a nine-hole golf course.
The newly-opened Performing Arts Centre has three music classrooms and a music technology suite; practice rooms with a room that can house a full orchestra; two drama studios; performance spaces; and a 500 plus seat auditorium, complete with fly-tower, where at least six theatre productions are staged annually from Greek tragedies to children’s theatre. Each day, 1,500 students are fed in the 420-seater dining room over a two-hour lunch period, and 13,500 organic and locally-sourced meals are served every week from the restaurant-scale kitchen.
Gershon has overseen a transformation in the performance of the facilities team and has laid the foundations for culture change within the organisation, supported by the FM software solution, QFM from Service Works Group (SWG), which the school purchased two years ago. The software is hosted by the school and maintained by SWG.
Previously, maintenance requests were logged through emails and phone calls, and the facilities team had to pick up work orders from the office, resulting in lack of visibility, wasted time, and failed orders. One staff member, who has been with the organisation for over 30 years, says that the change in work trends has been remarkable; from a time when 80 per cent of the electrician’s day used to be spent changing light bulbs.
“We needed structure for a quality of work that was conducive to creating a quality learning environment,” says Gershon, “with clear KPIs and SLAs to measure the FM performance against stakeholder expectation and customer satisfaction. Creating an excellent customer experience is key to FM, and QFM helpdesk technology has provided a dedicated customer-focused service that acts as the central point for school staff to make enquiries, report faults, and log maintenance requests.” And about 11,000 helpdesk requests logged in the first 18 months of QFM installation revealed the scale of the FM task across the campuses.
The system is intuitive and comprehensive so that the administration team for each campus, from the school secretary to the department manager, can access the QFM helpdesk via the web, where they can quickly and easily enter the details of their required maintenance works. These jobs are processed by the facilities team, which prioritises the request and assigns the activity to the FM team on their iPads, wherever they are on site.
The system end-users have increased transparency through the automatically-generated updates that are emailed to them, and specialist requests, which need to be carried out by an external contractor, can be accessed directly by them, optimising service levels and ensuring effective communication.
The school needed the system to be configured without large amounts of development time or additional cost. Within just six months, the helpdesk was up and running, having been implemented on time and within budget. The system is in operation at each of the UK campuses, and is awaiting full roll-out in Doha.
Key to the successful adoption of the helpdesk was the training provided for staff, as Gershon, who was responsible for the implementation of QFM across the organisation explains: “It was essential that QFM could fit smoothly into our business and that our staff could quickly feel confident using the system, to ensure that we reaped maximum benefit from day one.”
Training for key users was provided by SWG at the company’s dedicated training facility, with supplementary end-user training delivered at each ACS campus, supported by Service Works’ consultants.
As well as enhanced service delivery, the reporting capabilities of the software provide essential insight to inform key decision-making and FM resource requirements. “We now have critical insight to create a deeper understanding of the FM function across the school and to gain support for key financial decisions as to where our investment will be best placed,” says Gershon.
“For example, QFM gave us the evidence we needed to double the size of our boiler maintenance team; and with 25% of maintenance requests coming from one dormitory alone, we were able to assist the justification of building a new dormitory. We deal with around 600 helpdesk calls each month, and now have a clear picture of how our buildings work which we can show to our board and head of finance.”
He has already scheduled in 90% of the £2.5m capital works programme for this summer. And his QFM system has enabled him to be more prepared than ever for planned and preventative maintenance to ensure that the students are not disrupted by non-essential maintenance and capital works.
The effective scheduling of reactive and planned maintenance works at the most appropriate and economically viable time, through QFM, also plays a vital role in creating a profit centre for ACS Schools through commercial hire. The Cobham campus is an official training ground for the 2015 Rugby World Cup and regularly plays host to GB Basketball and England Volleyball, while the swimming pool is rented out for parties, and a range of civic, club and corporate events are held at the site.