PAVING THE WAY TO A BRIGHTER FUTURE. Steve Spikes explains why first impressions count when it comes to the

Educational buildings have long since been the fly in the ointment for many local authorities and county councils with schools built in the 1960s and 70s deteriorating at such a rate, with escalating repair and maintenance costs, that new builds and redevelopment are becoming more viable, cheaper alternatives.

With the turn of the century and increasing environmental awareness, schools started to become much more than places that you ‘had’ to attend, where each room had a distinct odour, walls were painted beige and a blackboard dominated each classroom.  The ‘Noughties’ saw a revolution in inspirational learning, which consequently saw a move to overhaul many of the UK’s school buildings and premises.

Gone are the days of pebbledash, rotten timber cladding and a sea of asphalt surfacing replaced by enticing facades and exteriors, creating that essential first impression for both pupils and visitors.  Delivering both a creative and attractive learning environment schools must now encourage development, play and exploration.

With schools having a far-reaching, long-term affect on pupils, staff and ultimately, local communities it is essential that councils, governing bodies and local authorities make every effort to ‘get it right’, whilst working with the pressures of funding and resource.  Funded by the Welsh Assembly Government, Constructing Excellence in Wales is a business improvement organisation tasked with improving the construction process in Wales, with sustainability and best practice at its core.

After establishing the Welsh Demonstration programme in 1998, as part of a wider reaching UK programme, Constructing Excellence has gone on to recruit 600 projects, all providing the live construction element needed to influence industry change.

As part of this programme, Newport City Council proposed the redevelopment of one of its High Schools – Newport High School, South Wales (formerly known as Bettws High School prior to the redevelopment).  With reports proving that the existing building – built in 1972 – was having detrimental effects on the school’s ability to deliver an acceptable standard of education, it was time to take action.

A new, well-designed build was specified with quality, sustainability and the environment all acting as key factors from the offset.  “We have gone through a thorough procurement process,” said Haydn Ames, secondary schools redevelopment client project manager at Newport City Council. “But what we did differently was to place an emphasis during the tender process on the quality rating.”

Working toward a BREEAM rating, under the ever-watchful eye of a BREEAM assessor, it was vital that the suppliers and contractors specified shared similar values and aims all whilst delivering an exceptional product and/or service.  HLM Architects and main contractors, Leadbitter, headed up a cooperative, hard working team, working closely with the client, Newport City Council.

Howard Gadd, regional business development manager for Leadbitter said, “It was essential to the project’s success that we worked as a team from the off.  Being a Constructing Excellence demo project gave us the opportunity to work with some of the best businesses and people in the industry, with a wide diversity of talent, skill, product and vision but most importantly, with one goal - to deliver an outstanding build.”

Perfect Paving for Pupils
EcoGranite is an environmentally aware alternative to freshly quarried granite, containing up to 77% recycled materials.  Part of the paving range available from Hanson Formpave, a leading manufacturer of specialist concrete paving products and solutions, in excess of 4500 m2 of EcoGranite was laid giving a uniform yet stylish appearance to the pedestrian zones.

With Leadbitter ensuring the involvement of the wider Newport community through newsletters, a dedicated community room open to the general public detailing plans, sample materials, programmes and progress and a viewing platform of the site it was integral to the project’s success that the development made an impact from both the outside as well as the inside.

The paving is a combination of colours and sizes, with cobbles, setts and longsetts laid in a variety of shades, all taken from the Hanson Formpave EcoGranite range. The silver, charcoal and brindle tones of the Cornish, Balmoral and Truro colours have been created to replicate the appearance of natural granite and were chosen to complement the striking, classical façade of the new building.  A palette of charcoal, grey, sienna and ochre create a harmonious and welcoming exterior, ideal for creating an inspirational entrance for teenage pupils.

As with the construction of any school using safe, environmentally assured products is paramount, particularly in the surfacing of external landscapes and pedestrian zones.  EcoGranite offers a juxtaposition of a seemingly smooth, sparkling finish with the added benefit of a non slip-skid surface.  With its regular surface and consistent joint widths it is perfect for ensuring a slip resistant, pedestrian friendly paving.

An Excellent Redevelopment
Ultimately the success of the project will truly become apparent through the intake of pupils, improvements in grades, satisfaction from the community and the happiness of the staff and pupils but for Hanson Formpave, the contractors, sub-contractors, suppliers, project managers and Constructing Excellence in Wales the recognition from BREEAM has been the icing on the cake. 

Newport High School is the first secondary school in Wales to achieve the ‘Excellent’ BREEAM rating.  Richard O’Neill, directors at HLM Architects said: “This is an outstanding achievement for the client and entire project team.  Through collaboration and partnership with the school from the outset we have set a new standard in Wales which we hope will set the benchmark for future secondary school development.”

Since the school opened its doors in November 2009 it has seen a rise in pupil applications by 50%.  It has also been awarded a Constructing Excellence Award for Waste Minimisation as well as a short-listing in the Innovation and Sustainability categories.

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