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Root Partnerships talks to Melinda O’Brien about innovation in the tertiary education sector

Root Partnerships has long partnered with the tertiary education sector, during which time the industry has grown rapidly with new developments and refurbishments required to keep pace with changing student learning and teaching needs. While the industry is facing challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic, for Melinda O’Brien, Root Partnerships’ Tertiary Education Lead in Victoria, a key characteristic of the sector is its drive to be at the forefront of innovation.

“The tertiary education sector is having to respond to significant changes due to Covid-19,” says Melinda. ““But as some of our recent projects show, this sector is adept at innovation, which will be essential as we continue to adapt to the post-Covid world.”

“Working with our top universities has given me the opportunity to work on some very interesting and innovative projects,” she says. “From new procurement methodologies to environmental sustainability, state-of-the-art technology to future-focussed learning pedagogies, the projects have incorporated innovation at many stages.”

Root Partnerships has provided project management services for such leading institutions as RMIT University, Monash University, the University of Melbourne, Deakin University and La Trobe University.

Recent projects Melinda has led include:

Deakin University: Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation (IISRI) – The project achieved excellent cost and time outcomes due to a new procurement and delivery model devised by Root Partnerships specifically for the challenges faced on the project. This new model allowed the university to progress through early initial design and project scoping to having the selected Construction Contractor mobilised onsite with an agreed design and fixed price within sixteen weeks.

University of Melbourne: Science Gallery Melbourne – As part of Melbourne Connect, Root Partnerships is project managing the fitout of the new Science Gallery Melbourne, which will be a “living lab” for exhibitions and ideas exploring the intersection of art, science and innovation. The Science Gallery will showcase the work of artists, scientists, researchers, and industry, with a global network of collaborators.

Drawing on her extensive experience delivering innovative tertiary education projects Melinda is also managing the delivery of the new Fishermans Bend Secondary School for the Victorian School Building Authority. Due to open in 2022 the school will have a strong emphasis on science, technology, engineering, arts, and maths – STEAM. There will be a high-tech robotics workshop, digital technology and fabrication lab; an environmentally sustainable design; and an array of arts, food technology and sports learning spaces that can be shared with the community.

“With our significant experience in tertiary and secondary education projects, our team has a comprehensive understanding of how to create successful education precincts for students of all levels,” says Melinda.  “We can advise our clients on how best to incorporate key functionality and design principles into their projects to ensure their vision is realised within their program and budget parameters.”

TAFEs and private colleges are one area of the tertiary education sector that may need to increase or rethink their capital works programs to respond to a boost in demand, as greater numbers of mature age students seek to retrain in employment fields that are more resilient during a pandemic.

And with social distancing measures likely to be required on and off for some time, all tertiary institutions need to consider how their current and planned facilities can adapt to accommodate changing safety requirements.

However, despite the recent state and federal funding packages to assist with continued research and innovation, universities are still needing to make difficult decisions in regards to capital works.

“Root Partnerships can provide assistance to our clients across a range of functions,” says Melinda. “From feasibility studies to strategic and functional planning advice; from design reviews to procurement methodologies and delivery strategies, we’re here to support our clients as they assess their infrastructure options through these challenging times.”