What has become apparent, and many of us in our industry have known for a while, is that different sectors of our industry are at very different stages in their RAAC journey.
At RLB, we have been working with one of the NHS’s ‘RAAC Five’ hospitals supporting them with their failsafe and risk mitigation works, part of the NHS’s 2019 strategy and investment in RAAC as part of its commitment to eradicate RAAC by 2030.
Public sector stakeholders know much of their infrastructure is ageing and that with this infrastructure there needs to be a more holistic approach to the way they monitor and manage their estates. My colleague, RLB’s Head of Education, Stephen Scott, talks about this holistic approach within education too in an article here. What we know from working with healthcare and other public sector estate managers, is often the immediate risk and remediating of this risk often isn’t the big cost – so in RAAC’s case the failsafe support structures themselves – but the bigger picture around these works. What constraints are there? When can the works be undertaken? What support is required in being able to access and undertake the works in a safe and controlled environment? What else needs to be done to support the works or in consequence? What will the impact be on any operational environment? These are all questions that need to be asked and factors that can contribute to the overall cost.
However, it is not just the financial implication of the works around RAAC that needs to be considered, but often how RAAC sits within a structure and by identifying it, what else might present itself and consequentially whether there is then a larger, more comprehensive statement of works to be undertaken which RAAC is one element of and that need priority and budget aligned to them. There are a few examples of how this cascade could look and some considerations that we know estates managers are now facing:
- Due to the timing of the original RAAC construction, it often goes hand in hand with asbestos. Obviously if this is the case, full intrusive R&D surveys and asbestos clearance may be required in advance of any failsafe works and safety measures factored into the works, both from a financial point of view as well as a timing one.
- RAAC degradation is accelerated when it is wet, due to corrosion of the reinforcement bars. Due to the aeration in RAAC allowing ‘invisible’ expansion of the rebar, problems may not be immediately apparent. In parallel with failsafe works, it is therefore prudent to ensure that waterproofing measures are working correctly, in other words, re-roofing becomes a parallel action with failsafe support works.
- Where roof coverings have failed, saturated insulation can add significant load to a roof, so as part of any re-roofing requirement insulation should be replaced. Similarly, checking and rectifying roof falls and associated drainage can be of benefit as any pooling on roofs can impose additional load.
- RAAC plank roofs should only be carrying a minimum of load, so roof top plant should ideally be relocated to more suitable areas. Obviously, this would need to be done as an enabler to re-roofing.
- From the soffit side any services or equipment hung from RAAC planks should also, if possible, be relocated. This may become a necessity to facilitate the failsafe structures and can result in substantial works to MEP installations.
- Depending on the nature of the environment, premium time working may add to the cost. Some establishments may be accessible for piecemeal works during evenings, or in the case of educational facilities, for longer periods during holidays, whereas 24/7 environments such as hospitals are more likely to require vacating and need decant accommodation. Income generating buildings, such as retail or performing arts spaces will also need to consider loss of revenue.
However, there is some good news. Some RAAC remedial work, and any consequential works such as re-roofing, could be offset against ongoing maintenance costs, or if there is an opportunity to bring forward spend and take advantage of, for example, temporary access plant and scaffolding, or to utilise having cleared work areas to do other works and maintenance. And of course, once a full picture of the state of the property is known, then there might be a discussion around whether it is worth creating short term interim solutions or being able to access money for total refurbishment or new builds.
As with all projects, the key is to understand the cost involved, hidden or otherwise and how the works fit into the larger maintenance plans for the estate. Digital dashboards, like those described by the RLB Digital team in their article here, can help estate managers interpret the wider picture and help prioritise work. And as we have found working with an NHS ‘RAAC Five’ hospital, a measured, thought-out approach can keep our estates safe, while we work to make them future fit.