Five years ago, the Municipality of Frederikshavn merged three schools and built a large, new school in a public-private partnership (PPP). The PPP model ensures that operations and maintenance of the school are covered for the next 25 years. And this means that the school will always be in good condition and well-maintained.

By Søren Ditlev Monrad

The state-of-the-art Nordstjerne School and the three former schools in the Municipality of Frederikshavn are worlds apart. Not in geographical terms but in concept and design. In 2011, Frederikshavn Municipality had three run-down city schools – Ørnevejens School, Munkebakke School and Hånbæk School. Should they renovate the schools or merge them and replace them with one, completely new and larger school? Denmark's northernmost municipality ended up building a new school for almost DKK 200 million in a public-private partnership, and a mere 16 months after they broke ground the first children crossed the threshold for their first day of school in January 2013. Today, Nordstjerne School has four classes per year group with almost 1,100 students, after-school care and special needs classes.

The philosophy behind Nordstjerne School is one of ‘total economy’. This means that the Municipality of Frederikshavn and a private consortium – consisting of contractor MT Højgaard and service operator DEAS – have been involved from the very beginning, after the public tender for the project was completed. The Municipality of Frederikshavn financed and owns the school while the consortium is responsible for operation and maintenance of the school for the first 25 years. Frederikshavn Municipality pays an annual fee to DEAS for operation and maintenance of the school.

Two pupils working.

The school looks completely new

Kristian Kjærgaard Larsen works as a project manager at Frederikshavn Municipality’s Property Centre, and he has been part of the project from the beginning. He is very pleased with the process:

“The process was trouble-free. MT Højgaard and DEAS were particularly helpful – they’re both incredibly professional. The municipality was able to leave a huge imprint on the project given that all of the tender documents were drawn up either by the Property Centre or by Children’s and Cultural Services. The Property Centre set out requirements for the materials and the various facilities, whereas Children’s and Cultural Services handled the educational approach.

He adds:

“One of the clear advantages of this constellation is that the finances are locked into the school. Finances are included in the budget and are therefore defined for the entire term. Any wear and tear is handled on a continual basis, and in 25 years the municipality will receive a building in the condition that was agreed on.”

Hans Knudsen is Service Manager at Nordstjerne School and is employed by DEAS. He explains that there is never any doubt about the service duties at the school.

“Our overall responsibility is clearly specified in the contract with the Municipality of Frederikshavn. The municipality has set out some standards for energy, ventilation, general operations and maintenance. We handle these in the interest of the municipality, in our own interest and, not least, in the interest of the school,” says Hans Knudsen as he points out three huge operations and maintenance folders.

“In principle, you should be able to visit the school at any time and it will look as good as new. We have a very clear operations and maintenance schedule in the folders for each year for the next 25 years, and it came into force the on the first school day.”

Kristian Kjærgaard Larsen adds: “Of course, we’ve calculated with a certain amount of wear and tear, but the municipality already knows that a completely maintained school will be handed over after the 25 years. All of the major maintenance tasks, such as a new roof and maintenance of the ventilation system, are structured. This means that we won’t need 25 million kroner in our wallets when we take over the school. We’ll get a fully operational building – of course, corresponding to the age of the school.”

Pupils gathered in the centre of the school.

Multi-coloured school

As indicated by its name – Nordstjerne or Northern Star – the Frederikshavn school is shaped like a star. Each of the points of the star houses two year groups with their own teaching team. Each point of the star also has its own colour. One is green, one is orange, another is yellow. This makes it easy for both young and older students to work out which point is theirs. The corridors also have areas and niches where students can work together in small or large groups.

Each point of the star has its own topic, according to the corner of the world to which it points. For instance, if you enter the school from the north, the first thing you will see is a wall with a Greenlandic landscape and mountains, fashioned from perforated plates. If you continue from the landscape along the northern corridor, you will see the wildlife of Greenland on the walls – polar foxes, seals and musk oxen. Further in, you will see the names of Greenland’s towns on the walls: Paamiut, Narsaq, Uummannaq, Nanortalik, Narsarsuaq. The heart of the school beats in the centre of the building where you will find the main entrance and the library. A large red bull’s eye indicates that you have reached the pulsating centre of the school, the point from which life is thrust out into the points of Nordstjerne School’s star.

In the heart of the school you will find the library.

Just like leasing a car

Hans Knudsen compares the continual operations and maintenance programme with leasing a car.

“It’s not so very different from leasing a car and buying a service package. If anything’s wrong with the car you simply go to the garage and have it fixed. The same applies to this building. The municipality doesn’t need to consider whether they have enough money if the school’s ventilation system breaks down and needs a frequency converter and a motor for 35,000 kroner. This is the consortium’s responsibility – not the municipality’s. The municipality is actually entitled to withhold payment if the consortium doesn't comply with the operations and maintenance agreement.”

During the school’s first five years, Frederikshavn Municipality has had no need to withhold payment to DEAS. Instead, the municipality and the operator maintain close dialogue about daily and weekly challenges.

Hans Knudsen, Service Manager at Nordstjerne School.

Fully automatic school

It’s immediately obvious that this school is only five years old. The premises are in good condition – airy and light – and it is the municipality’s most digital school. In the classrooms and elsewhere in the school, everything is fully automatic. The sun shades are controlled by sensors and lower automatically when the sun shines directly in through the windows. The lights in the rooms are also controlled by a sensor, so when the shades keep out the bright sunlight, the lights automatically switch on if the sensors register a need for more light. The top windows in the classrooms are temperature-controlled and open automatically if the temperature in the room reaches a pre-set limit. Finally, CO2 content in the air is constantly monitored to ensure that the indoor climate is ideal for students and for learning. A ventilation system starts and stops automatically if the rooms need fresh air.

It is clear that there is a structure to operations and maintenance at Nordstjerne School. So I asked whether the school will be better than other schools at retaining its value due to the operations and maintenance plan in the public-private partnership?

“Definitely,” says Kristian Kjærgaard Larsen. “When we take over the school in 20 years, it will not cost the municipality anything. In the same case as in a housing association, DEAS continually saves up to cover expenses. The municipality can’t save up in the same way – for example, for a new roof for the school. We have to spend our yearly budget. If we need to spend one million kroner on one of the municipality’s buildings, we need to earmark a million kroner in the budget – and then, of course, we can’t spend that on maintenance of other buildings. The PPP constellation ensures us that the operations and maintenance of the building are always covered.”


Greenlandic town names in Frederikshavn.