Armstrong Ceilings set to help focus on delivering hundreds of new schools

With just a couple of months to go before the start of the summer holidays, latest research by public sector procurement specialist Scape Group shows 640 new schools will be needed over the next two years.

In that time an additional 385,000 pupils are expected to join England’s school system, with every region in the country experiencing at least a 3% increase on the current number of pupils.

To handle the demand, Scape Group is asking for focus on delivering a strategy and solutions which not only provide high-quality, modern spaces for teaching and learning but also offer local authorities cost certainty, value for money and timely delivery.

But buildings for education are among those which have particularly onerous design requirements in the areas of acoustics, natural light and fire resistance.

Elements for consideration for the design of ceilings are:

Any room will have an optimum reverberation time (RT) requirement depending upon its use and size and whether the main activity is speech or music based. Providing too much sound absorption, and hence having a very low RT, can be just as acoustically damaging and undesirable as having insufficient sound absorption when an excessively long reverberation time will result. Office workers improve their focus on tasks by 48% when speech privacy is improved.

You can calculate the reverberation time of space by using a mathematical model based upon the “Sabine” formula which takes into account the significant surfaces of a room, their respective sound absorption coefficients and the room dimensions. An acoustic module available from some manufacturers enables a simple indicative calculation to be made. Once the total sound absorption present in a room (from both planar surfaces and objects) has been calculated, an estimate can be made of the room’s probable reverberation time. The installation of clouds and canopies in a reverberant space can significantly reduce the reverberation time and contribute to the reduction in background noise.

Fire resistance in a suspended ceiling can only be achieved by a combined tile and grid system as there is no such thing as a fire resistant tile or a fire resistant grid. Depending upon national legislation, the type of structure to be protected (wood, concrete or steel) and a manufacturer’s product offer, ceiling systems can typically provide at least 30 and more than 60 minutes’ protection. Full details of the ceiling type and construction, protected structure and tested time are given in fire reports available from the manufacturer.

The increased use of concrete thermal slabs as heat sinks rules out wall-to-wall ceilings. But not having an acoustic ceiling will mean higher reverberation times and unacceptable noise levels. The installation of canopies in a reverberant space, in sufficient numbers and layout to satisfy both technical and aesthetic considerations, can significantly reduce the reverberation time and contribute to the reduction in background noise and occupants’ comfort and well-being.

According to a Brinjac Engineering study (2006) on the environmental effect of high-light reflectance ceilings, the use of a 90% light reflectance ceiling tile combined with indirect lighting can provide cost savings of up to 20%, equating to as much as an 11% reduction of the energy buildings use, compared with a standard 75% light reflectance tile. Canopies installed over an individual working place can improve the light reflection over that space and provide improved user comfort without affecting other areas.

Standard ceiling tiles can not only be used to hide or integrate service elements such as lighting fixtures, loudspeakers, air diffusers, chilled beams and sprinkler systems, but provide minimal grid visibility for a clean and monolithic ceiling finish. The system can also be integrated into canopies to offer design solutions for thermal mass and is flexible enough to allow the re-configuring of room layouts and service element positions without moving ceiling panels.

It is now possible to calculate (according to ISO 14021) exactly what degree of recycled content a ceiling tile comprises, and recycling schemes such as those for the off-cuts from new installations and end-of-life tiles from refurbishment and strip out projects, both of which divert waste from landfill, will increase this ratio exponentially. Some ceiling tiles comprise more than 70% recycled material and some ceiling systems are capable of achieving an Ecopoints rating of 0.16.

For more information on how to specify ceilings for education, download Armstrong Ceiling Solutions’ education brochure.