Batemans Bay HS, installing new pad mount substation

Smart management of electrical designs saves $26 million in Cooler Classrooms rollout

More than 800 schools in the warmest parts of NSW now have sustainable air conditioning and heating. This is thanks to the $500 million Cooler Classrooms Program delivered by Schools Infrastructure NSW in partnership with NSW Public Works (NSW PW).

The five-year program provides thermal comfort and improved air quality to learning spaces and libraries in NSW schools where the average maximum temperature in January is over 30 degrees Celsius. Schools under this threshold were also able to apply for funding and ranked according to need.

At the start of the program in 2018, Schools Infrastructure NSW (SINSW) engaged NSW PW to project manage the program, and the 17 NSW PW regional offices were tasked with procuring the design and construction of air conditioning works. This included the installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems to offset additional energy consumption.

A key responsibility was managing all required electrical design works, which NSW PW delivered for $26 million under budget.

“The significant savings assisted the program to reach an additional 100 schools, benefiting more school students of NSW,” said Gavin Rea, a Project Director on the SINSW CCP team. “NSW PW Electrical Services Team Leader Brad Fisher [and his staff’s] perseverance and determination ensured the high voltage upgrade costs were minimised while still providing all aspects of the high voltage needed for the program.”

Delivering better outcomes

Under the program, a typical room received new air conditioning to provide thermal comfort, an air extraction system to improve ventilation, and a carbon dioxide sensor to monitor air quality. In addition, ceiling fans were added where necessary, and existing unflued gas heaters were removed.

To deliver these works, more than 200 of the 800 schools required upgrades to the high voltage electrical network. The high voltage upgrade costs were estimated to be $90 million, accounting for 20 percent of the program budget.

“For each of these 200 schools, we reviewed and closely scrutinised the power requirements,” said Brad Fisher, CCP Electrical Team Leader, NSW PW. “We achieved tens of millions in savings by optimising high voltage designs, collaborating with supply authorities to negotiate reduced scopes, challenging design assumptions, and minimising variations.”

For example, at Baradine Public School in central NSW, the supply authority originally required 14 km of high voltage lines be augmented as part of a network upgrade.

“After negotiating with the supply authority, this requirement was revised and greatly reduced,” said Andrew Cruckshank, Director of Construction Procurement and Social Benefit, NSW PW. “This saved millions of dollars and significantly reduced the delivery time.”

In the case of Coffs Harbour high school, the supply authority initially requested the installation of a new pad-mount substation onsite, costing around $1 million.

“NSW PW challenged this need for a network upgrade and proposed an alternative solution,” said Mr Cruckshank. “After extensive negotiations, the supply authority agreed that only minor modifications to the network were needed. The resulting simple works cost less than $50,000 and were delivered in the space of weeks instead of months.”

In many other instances, like with Canobolas Rural Technology High School and Forbes Public School, NSW PW proposed alternative solutions to the supply authority’s initial requirements, for significantly reduced cost.

Batemans Bay HS, preparing ground for new substation install.
Batemans Bay High School preparing ground for new substation

Upskilling electrical consultants

The NSW PW electrical services team working on the program consisted of seven electrical project managers.

“We provided assistance and technical advice to nearly 50 NSW PW project managers working on the program,” said Mr Fisher.

Fifteen electrical consultant companies undertook the electrical designs for the program.

“Developing more efficient solutions that still met supply authority requirements has helped to educate and upskill the design consultants, who would have otherwise accepted the determinations,” he said. “This will lead to ongoing savings for their other clients in the future.”

Woolgoolga PS, installing high voltage overhead cabling and poles
Woolgoolga High School - Installing high voltage overhead cables

Standardised processes support future work

Over the five-year project, running from June 2018 to June 2023, the electrical services team developed a range of templates and processes to deliver the huge volume of work.

“At the start of the program, for example, there was no standard easement document for SINSW to use for installing new pad-mount substations,” said Mr Fisher.

An easement document sets out the terms for a supply authority to construct and install an easement on private property, enabling customers to connect to the electricity distribution network.

“We spent three months working with the supply authority’s lawyers and SINSW property team to negotiate and agree on a deal.”

This document was subsequently used more than 25 times in the program, enabling a smooth easement process so supply authority certification can occur. “Beyond this program, SINSW is now using this document in all their projects,” he said.

In addition, the team established the NSW Government Essential Energy Supply Agreement up to 630 amps. “This allows pole top substations to be installed up to 630 amps, rather than the higher cost option of pad mounted kiosk substation. The cost saving between a pad mount and pole top is more than $100,000,” Mr Fisher said.

“This was a great outcome that benefited many schools across the Essential Energy regions.”

Outstanding work

The work of Mr Fisher and the electrical service team on the program has won much praise. Mr Fisher took out the Think Differently (Individual) award at the NSW PW Staff Awards 2022.

“His ingenuity and passion have saved clients considerably in time, cost, and he has enhanced the quality of project,” said Drew Varnum, Executive Director, NSW PW, at the awards night on 17 May 2022.

Parkes HS installing new pad mount substation

The team’s success on the program has led to new work, such as management of the electrical network augmentation works for the North Coast Temporary Housing Accommodation Program, providing electrical advice for the Belmont COVID 19 Mass Vaccination Hub, and Wagga Wagga and Parkes Special Activation Precincts.

In addition, SINSW has engaged NSW Public Works to manage their solar and battery audit programs.

“Working state-wide and with being involved with hundreds of electrical projects across the state has enabled me to build relationships with key supply authority personnel,” said Mr Fisher. “I am in a position now where rapport has been built and I can readily escalate or negotiate great outcomes for NSW Government agencies.”

To learn more about the NSW Public Works electrical services team, contract Brad Fisher at or 0400 919 022.