Home    AECOM    Insight

AECOM Building Surveyor Sarah Crowley discusses school design

AECOM Building Surveyor Sarah Crowley discusses school design

 February 26, 2024

 Read time

AECOM's People Spotlight series gives an inside look at the company's technical experts around the world.

Meet AECOM Building Surveyor, Sarah Crowley, from AECOM's Buildings and Places business line in Leeds, UK. Sarah is the Client Account Manager for the UK Department of Education and, as the leader of AECOM’s School Technical Advisory team, advises internal teams and clients on best practices for delivering new and refurbishment school projects.

Learn more about how Sarah and her team are reshaping how schools are designed, providing innovative guidelines for equal access and support for students with special needs, and gain an insight into Sarah's inspiration and role with AECOM.

Passion for the built environment

Sarah explains that she remembers drawing a house when she was a child, one with a typical window and door on the ground floor, two windows upstairs and smoke coming out of the chimney.

"As I drew on the brickwork, stacked one on top of the other, an adult explained to me how and why bricks are coursed and not stacked. It was this moment that sparked my interest in the built environment," says Sarah.

"Growing up, I aspired to be an architect. However, my drawing skills didn’t improve from that six-year-old drawing of a house, so studying architecture wasn’t an option. Instead, I studied architectural technology, and ultimately, I realised my interest was for existing buildings. I decided to pursue a second degree in Building Surveying and was elected to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in 2007."

Supported in her career progression at AECOM

AECOM women in construction

When Sarah first started her career, she says that there were very few women in the construction sector, particularly in building surveying. This, she says, often resulted in gender discrimination for women, both through career progression and derogatory comments due to often being the only woman on site. Thankfully, this is changing both on site and in the workplace, suggests Sarah." I joined AECOM as an Associate Director eight years ago and have been fully supported in my career progression to director and school sector lead and balancing being a mum."

Importance of team morale and wellbeing

Although Sarah has worked on several great school projects during her time with AECOM, she has a fond memory of a particular project that showcased the value of teamwork, not only in terms of project outcome but also team morale and wellbeing.

"In early 2020, AECOM was appointed to undertake the RIBA Stage 3 developed design for the UK Department for Education on behalf of Newham Collegiate. The project consisted of the remodelling of two historic listed buildings and the creation of a new teaching wing for the Newham Collegiate Sixth Form Centre. Receiving planning consent for this project was expected to be challenging, so we appointed a local architect who had previous experience with this particular local authority to work alongside our internal multi-disciplinary teams," Sarah explains.

"Unfortunately, COVID-19 had other plans, and we had to use technology to deliver a fully coordinated Stage 3 design without ever meeting as a team in person. I loved the team spirit. So many different disciplines came together, leaving their egos at the door, to develop the best solutions under new and difficult working conditions. The coordination of mechanical and electrical design was a particular challenge, especially considering the space constraints and requirement for mechanical ventilation over natural. Our structural engineers worked closely with the architects to ensure the maximum use of space while maintaining the structural integrity of the building, and our cost manager challenged each design decision to ensure the project returned value for money."

"What made this project special was how the team supported each other through this unprecedented time. Each meeting was an opportunity to check in on each other’s emotional well-being, to share a funny story or a frustration. It helped to break down some of the social isolation that working from home and social bubbles had created," adds Sarah. "For me, this project demonstrated teamwork at its absolute best."

Positively impacting the delivery of schools

AECOM positively impacting community

Sarah and her school teams are developing two design guides for delivering new mainstream schools and Special Educational Needs (SEN) schools for the Ministry of Education in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), which will positively impact the delivery of schools across the region for generations to come.

"I am particularly excited about developing the new SEN schools design guide, as it will help support KSA’s vision of providing equal opportunities to educate and care for people with special needs — allowing them to develop skills to reach their full potential," Sarah shares.

"In the UK, we have seen central government, private companies, and charities research and develop a set of best practice design standards. It’s extremely rewarding to contribute to this collective effort. We know how great buildings complement the efforts of staff, enabling students to experience the best learning environment and ensuring the most vulnerable have access to education."

AECOM providing equal opportunities

Salient career advice regarding self belief

Sarah believes that success is dependent on resilience to challenges and to work hard and develop new skills despite setbacks.

"Rather than becoming discouraged, accept the emotions that come with a setback and explore why things went wrong and how you can improve in the future. Career progression is founded on hard work but underpinned by self belief rather than entitlement. If you can demonstrate your capabilities but are not recognised for them, do not be afraid to move on," says Sarah.

"Learn from a mentor or senior colleagues — chances are they have also experienced the frustration, setbacks or imposter syndrome you are experiencing," concludes Sarah.

AECOM Sarah Crowley career

Inspired by Sarah's career at AECOM?

AECOM believes infrastructure has the power to uplift communities and improve people’s lives.

Bring expertise, skills and unique perspective to help AECOM solve its clients’ biggest challenges.

Search AECOM's latest career vacancies.


Search jobs

Stay connected by subscribing to our monthly newsletter and following us on LinkedIn, X, Instagram and Facebook.

Disclosure: Where Women Work researches and publishes insightful evidence about how its paid member organizations support women's equality.


Join our women's careers community