Arcadia Secondary School gets the acoustic treatment

Godwin Austen Johnson delivers lesson on the systems that will support learning.

Christer’s task is made slightly easier by the fact he and GAJ are working with a client that has clearly done their homework.
Christer’s task is made slightly easier by the fact he and GAJ are working with a client that has clearly done their homework.

The sound of silence in a school is not just a desire for teachers.

Indeed, while it is the men and women at the front of the classroom striving for order and tranquillity throughout the academic year, for the months leading up to a school’s opening that burden falls on the MEP team putting the building’s vital systems into place.


At Arcadia Secondary School in Dubai’s Jumeirah Village Triangle that responsibility is current shouldered by Godwin Austen Johnson’s (GAJ) senior associate MEP Paul Christer.

However, Christer’s task is made slightly easier by the fact he and GAJ are working with a client that has clearly done their homework.

Mohan Valrani, senior vice chairman of the Al Shirawi Group of Companies and the founder and chairman of the Arcadia Preparatory School – based just over the road from the site of the under-construction secondary school – has been a vocal supporter of sustainable building methods.

The bar has been set exceedingly high, but Christer says this has been a positive thing for him and his team. He said: “From the offset and the initial kick-off meetings we’ve had with our client they have been completely proactive with wanting to be sustainable, wanting to develop their schools green building-wise, and that is why they have aspired to obtain LEED certification.

“They’ve done a nursery school which has LEED, the Arcadia Preparatory School is LEED, and the secondary school is going to be LEED, too.”

Innovation has helped mould both GAJ and Arcadia into a notable case study for school building.

“They are very innovative in their attitude to how to achieve it,” said Christer.

“We are using turbo core chillers, oil-free with magnetic bearings, super efficient.

“And every time we see our client they sing the praises of the technology which was effectively their initiative and we are happy to go along with it.”

Amazingly, the building has been designed to LEED certification despite not utilising solar hot water heating, a technology which has become almost a pre-requisite to sustainable building projects across the GCC.

Christer and his team have thought outside of the box to recuperate this loss of green credentials.

He explained: “Instead of solar hot water heating we are using a water-to-water heat pump solution which provides a very efficient way of achieving what would have been achieved. 

“The municipality accepts that and we do it on many of our projects, particularly in the hospitality sector.”

Central to quality learning environments is the classroom, and Christer knows full well that the classrooms he studied in bear little resemblance to the classrooms of today.

It means constructing a place for learning has become much more technical over the years, with MEP functions addressing much of the additional demand.

Christer said: “A lot of it is what the school wants and how they are going to teach their children.

“We have used interactive TVs in this school (Arcadia Prep), and in the secondary school the proposal is to go with short throw projector systems, but to have four of them in the classroom so they can get the benefit of multiple displays and different teaching methodologies.

“Technology advances, it evolves, and we capture that where we can. It really is fairly simple in a way, its a screen one way or the other with the input coming from the teacher’s laptop.”

Another significant element to providing a conducive environment for learning is noise management.

Given the negative affects that poor MEP fittings can have in terms of vibration and noise, the acoustics of the school topped the agenda for Christer and GAJ.

“Acoustic treatment is paramount in a school environment, you want to keep the noise down,” said Christer.

“All of the plant rooms and equipment within them are acoustically isolated, and much of the plant is located on the roof or in the basement, away from the teaching areas.

“You obviously will have noise in a school – that is part and parcel of being in a school environment. But from an MEP point of view we do our best to mitigate that.”

Arcadia Secondary School has announced its intentions to provide vocational courses for students. And Christer notes that the building they study in would serve well as an on-site field trip destination.

When asked if he thought the school’s plant rooms and MEP facets could be used to encourage students to take a greater interest in STEM subjects, he said: “I think the school promotes that.

“They are quite proactive with engaging with parents and others, and there is a vocational element to their teaching.

“I think for sure engineering influences is going to come through from their teaching methodologies.

“I would like to think some of the children get to look around the plant rooms, maybe it is something I should suggest.”

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