Language school chain, EC English, has opened seven new schools since January 2011 the latest being its London school, opposite the city’s Euston Station. During this time, most of its existing locations have undergone renovation, refurbishment or a move of premises, and, as Marketing Administrator, Tara McCallum, explains, all this is part of a drive to ensure that each location incorporates the EC brand and offers the same experience in terms of facilities and resources.
“All schools are open-concept and modern. The design incorporates glass walls and the use of ‘EC orange’ to guarantee each school feels airy, comfortable and familiar,” she expands. And, contributes Chief of Operations, Maurice Rizzo, “Our buildings and modern, comfortable facilities are strategic to our success.”
At Spanish language school chain, Babylon Idiomas, growth of over 30 per cent year-on-year means that new classroom and office space will be needed. Its current project of adding 450 square metres of ground-floor space to its existing set-up in Barcelona will meet this need and also serve to update the organisation’s brand image, as Director, Steven Muller, explains.
Due for completion between June-September this year, “This space will contain 12-to-14 classrooms and will serve as the flagship and model for the new, fresh and modern look and feel for our chain of language schools,” he comments. “We started in 2003 in Barcelona, and currently own four schools [with shares in a further two centres]. This construction project for us heralds a new phase in our development...The idea is to remodel and expand all our other locations in the same vein over [the next five years].”
Brand image was also a major consideration for Le Cordon Bleu in the setting up of its latest school in Wellington, New Zealand. “As one of the world’s premium providers of culinary arts and hospitality management training, it is essential that we have a building that reflects our brand,” states Guy Pascoe. Due to open in August 2012, and housed in a “completely refitted, strengthened and modified” old cinema building in the heart of the city’s dining and entertainment district, he says the new school “will provide the best culinary facilities available”. These will include specialised cuisine and patisserie kitchens, a 100-seat lecture theatre with demonstration kitchen, training restaurant, student lounges, resource centre, as well as classrooms and learning commons.
Clubclass Language School is also branching out, with a new school in London, UK, due to open this month. After an estimated 12 weeks to convert the building from a shell, the result will be a modern school with 10 classrooms. “Having operated a school in Malta for many years, we felt that the next obvious step for our organisation was expanding abroad,” explains Sales & Marketing Director, Alex Fenech. “It is our opinion that the most ‘sellable’ European location for an English language school is London especially [central] Zone 1 hence our selection of location.”
Again in the UK, Cambridge Education Group’s investment and growth plan has seen the opening of a new CATS College, and Stafford House School of English expanding from its original base in Canterbury, with new centres in London and Brighton a move which, as Principal, Jackie McGuire, points out, makes the schools more attractive to its agents. In addition, her own involvement in the London project, influencing the layout of rooms, has been important in helping create an inclusive atmosphere, which is comfortable, but with a focus on learning, she notes.
Also investing in new locations of late has been Kings Colleges, as part of a strategic plan by owner, Prime Education, to build the business into an international group with colleges across the most popular destinations for international study in both the US and UK. In the US, Kings Los Angeles opened in April 2011, and its Boston school in January 2012.
Renovation and refurbishment
Following a significant increase in student numbers over the past two years, Kings has also been expanding provision at existing locations. Recent projects include a completely new additional building opened in April 2011 in central Oxford, UK, to complement its existing campus, which has also been renovated. “This involved the complete refurbishment and reconfiguration of a historic building in order to create 11 state-of-the art classrooms, a computer learning centre and a spacious student reception/common area,” explains Director, Andrew Green.
Kings London has also been renovated and refurbished in 2012, and the company has also been investing heavily in its Bournemouth centre to provide new student residences. Building development is set to continue over the next 12-to-18 months, according to Green, who adds, “Developing new facilities and capacity has underpinned our growth, and will continue to do so.”
Accommodation has been the focus of improvements at both Australia’s Shafston International College and South Africa’s Good Hope Studies. “Shafston’s research has shown international students are becoming more demanding and looking for a home-away-from-home living experience,” reports the college’s Gold Coast Manager, Reece Kiemander. This, as he explains, means living in a ‘normal’ apartment, rather than studio-style or shared houses.
In response, Shafston is to start work this year on a 20-storey accommodation tower at its Kangaroo Point campus, which, due for completion in 2014, will accommodate over 600 students in more than 150 two-bedroom apartments. The ground-floor plaza will contain restaurants and shops targeting student needs, while there will also be four floors dedicated to education facilities. Shafston intends to sell the apartments to investors, in order to plough the profits back into the college and maintain its heritage-listed Shafston House building, Kiemander explains.
Meanwhile, at Good Hope Studies in Cape Town, South Africa, a recent move of its student accommodation into a newly refurbished house was motivated by the desire to increase its appeal for students, according to school Principal, Craig Leith. Leith explains that the school was previously renting a house, but the opportunity arose to renovate its own property. It now benefits from bigger grounds, with a swimming pool and paved deck area, and, says Leith, the result is that students now spend much more time outside enjoying the African sun.
Better learning environment
Various other language schools have also been upgrading their premises, in order to make them better suited to modern teaching needs. In November 2011, ELC moved into a new Boston school, which now occupies 10,152 square feet on the second floor of a 10-storey building in Beacon Hill. Group spokesperson, Vanessa Navarro, relates that the space was completely gutted, rebuilt, and customised. “In this space, we have more classrooms, two executive conference rooms, a large computer lab...and a student lounge.” Not only do the new premises provide more space, but, also, “Our facilities are better suited for teacher cohesion and preparation,” says Navarro. “Our new computer lab allows for teachers to hold lessons in the computer room, which gives students the opportunity to learn using our state-of-the-art technology.”
In Bristol, UK, newly rebranded as BLC, Bristol Language Centre has undergone a complete refurbishment, as well as taking over additional space. Bright, new classrooms and a new computer suite were added, plus a new reception area and administration office. “This has added to our reputation as a dynamic, innovative school,” comments Marketing Manager, Jennifer Jackson.
At International House, London, meanwhile, recent improvements are just part of a gradual evolution that has taken place since the school’s beginnings more than 50 years ago. As Sales & Marketing Executive, Sarah Annoh, explains, having started out in a classical building in famous Piccadilly, it has moved twice over the years, updating facilities along the way, and installing its first language laboratory in 1964.
In its latest development project, the school has increased its office space and created some state-of the-art classrooms through its recent acquisition of two floors of an adjacent building. This space has been completely renovated and redesigned in a project which took almost a year to complete, being officially opened in January this year. The purpose, says Annoh, was to be able to have all staff working within the school itself, rather than in external buildings. “We also extended the social space for students, and created several large training rooms, equipped with the very latest technology,” she comments.
Canadian language school chain, ILSC, has also been busy recently, developing two new buildings in Vancouver, as well as developing a new campus in Toronto. The additional Toronto campus can accommodate 300 students in 20 classrooms, notes School Director, Don Mackenzie, and facilities include a computer lab, while each of its two floors comes equipped with an Internet café and kitchen.
In Vancouver, its 5440 Seymour building provides a larger space, with 26 classrooms and three computer labs, spread across two floors. It also includes a teachers’ lounge area, and two well-equipped student lounge areas. While ILSC already had a large number of campuses within close proximity of one another, this larger space allows it to accommodate more classes in the same building, as well as the chance to design according to its needs, as spokesperson, Mara Muller, explains. A second development in the city, at 525 Dunsmuir, has provided new marketing headquarters, as well as additional classroom and bathroom facilities and a boardroom.
Not only do the new spaces boast enhanced amenities and a modern look that reflects ILSC’s brand image, but, “More importantly,” says Operations Manager, Richard Novek, “we are building a better learning environment.” This means larger classrooms with better acoustical properties and energy-efficient lighting, larger washrooms, with energy-saving taps, and larger staff lounges, with more amenities. “All-in-all,” he sums up, “the learning environment for our students is leading-edge for our industry.”
Many education providers rely on third-parties to meet some or all of their students’ accommodation needs, and enable them to offer up-to-date options that meet current student demands without the need for substantial investment on their own part.
The UK has been a hotbed of development recently in this respect. In two of the UKs most popular student destinations London and Brighton current projects include those by London Nest and Britannia Student Services.
Given the trend away from host family accommodation, and many students no longer willing to share facilities, says London Nest Director, James Herbertson, there is a shortage of the right type of accommodation, which calls for new builds or complete renovation projects.
In the early part of 2012, London Nest has been working on two projects the first in the Kentish Town area of north-west London (see news) and the second at Aldgate East, where, at the time of writing, it was in the process of acquiring a UK£1.2million (US$1.9) grade two-listed property for conversion to high-specification executive accommodation. The latter is positioned to fill the gap between high-cost hotel provision and standard host family/houseshare, and Herbertson identifies typical clients as directors, senior executives or MBA students, coming to study English. The company has also acquired sites in the central Edgware Road/Marble Arch area of London.
Britannia Student Services is also looking to capture unmet demand with its most recent venture. Founded in 1997, it initially focused mainly on providing host family accommodation for students in London. However, with demand for residential accommodation on the rise, it soon diversified its London offer, and, says Sales & Marketing Director, Michele da Silva, its most recent venture takes it into the popular Brighton student accommodation market, with the acquisition of a 25-year lease of a building, which it plans to redevelop into a student hall of residence, to be known as Britannia Study Hotel, Brighton. The completely remodelled premises will also provide classrooms, which, da Silva explains, are to be let to an English language school, while Britannia will manage the residence itself.
One of the major attractions of new building development is the chance to influence their design and implementation. In order to do so, institutions work closely with both architects and contractors. Wider staff input may also be sought.
At ELC in the USA, Vanessa Navarro says staff input was invited at all levels in the planning and implementation of its recently-opened new schools in Boston and Santa Barbara. Its Vice-President worked directly with the team of architects and contractors throughout the whole process, via weekly meetings, while staff feedback and suggestions were taken into account throughout the process. “This was extremely important,” she underlines.
Senior Vice President, Jennifer McEleney, who was the most involved in the Boston project, explains how having staff work hand-in-hand with the architect helped to make the most of the opportunity presented by the new build. A prime example was the student lounge. “The staff knew it was important that the student lounge be given the most natural light, which includes six full-length windows overlooking Beacon Hill. We designed it this way to ensure the students could enjoy the beautiful views of Boston.”
It is not just a question of getting the design and layout right, but also a question of staff relations. At Kings Colleges, “We have been very careful to involve all staff in the development of new facilities,” says Director, Andrew Green. “This is vital for both logistical reasons ensuring that all perspectives and needs are catered for but also for general morale and goodwill.”
He adds, “We have circulated building plans to staff, organised site visits, and held regular progress meetings. It is important in any project of this nature to build a sense of anticipation and excitement within staff and students alike.”