We are proud to have been awarded the Retrofit Project of the Year at the Middle East MEP Awards for Al Karamah School. Based in Abu Dhabi, this is the first school in the United Arab Emirates for pupils with Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC), creating a safe, inclusive environment for up to 260 children.

The project comprised of an existing school development that had been unoccupied for several years. The building is span over 2 levels and a total of 86,000ft2 building area including specially designed classroom ‘hubs’, therapy rooms, a multi-purpose hall and dining space as well as a large oasis-style garden in the courtyard.

For the project team the implementation of creative design to establish and facilitate easy navigation of the school building was critical. Specialist teaching clusters were designed to be adaptable to suit the needs of the young people throughout all stages of their education.

Within the school there is ample space for student movement and spaces are light, airy and comfortable. The school environment provides good-quality natural and artificial lighting as well as excellent sound insulation and acoustics supporting student’s sensory difficulties. Small 1:1 and group rooms have been created both within and near to the class base. These spaces are used for focused individual learning or small group work and are a valuable resource for supporting individual pupil needs. Quiet spaces have been included for when students may need to withdraw or retreat to a safe place for a break. The Oasis garden within the school provides a low-sensory-stimulus, non-distracting, calming environment which can assist focused individual learning.

The project had many issues with the engineering systems left within the existing school. Many of the services had been installed for over 20 years and were found to be no longer suitable for the project or in an unacceptable condition. Black & White were able to develop a clear scope of works to be taken forward for the engineering, with a pragmatic approach in line with the project time constraints.

With the school being a first of its kind in the region, the team were able to call upon their extensive knowledge of the education sector and work closely with the client team to achieve the aspirations of the school. This included paying attention to the thermal comfort, acoustic, communication, lighting, public safety and health requirements of the end user.

Due to the fast track nature of the project, and to meet budgetary requirements, Al Karamah became a hybrid of new and existing systems. For example, fresh air systems were not suitable for the project. New energy efficient and code compliant ventilation systems were installed, paying heavy consideration to the existing building, not to compromise the integrity or project delivery. A BMS system was integrated to the school, allowing both new and existing systems to be monitored and/or controlled from a centralised point.

The project had a challenging duration of only 17 weeks from site mobilisation to fully operational status for teachers and pupils. Early access was also facilitated after week 15 to allow client procured furniture installation and teacher training to be undertaken.

Everybody involved brought a massive amount of motivation and enthusiasm into this project, and together the impossible was achieved; the project was conceived in July 2018, works commenced in September 2018 and the school opened its doors to the students in January 2019. Hurdles were overcome as all stakeholders shared a common vision; to complete the project on time to create a critical enhancement to the education sector in the UAE.

The MEP systems were designed to meet local regulations and aspirations of Abu Dhabi. This attains to dedication towards best practices and sustainability. The school is now a place of true balance between all aspects true to sustainability and will transform the education sector in the region, to create a more sustainable community.

Black & White were also awarded the Highly Commended MEP Consultancy of the Year on the night.