The school is in a dense inner city area surrounded by Victorian terraced housing. To the east of the site there is a Georgian mansion and to the west is a small park created by earlier housing demolition. Children arrive at the school through the park, encouraging them to walk to school and helping to make the park feel safe and lively. Vehicles enter the school from the rear and are well separated from pedestrians.
There are brightly coloured pink gates in front of the main entrance that leads to the upper ground floor level of the school. This level houses the two infant classrooms as well as the dining area and main hall. All the classrooms in the school are paired to create double classrooms for a single year group of 60 children and two teachers. This allows for greater flexibility for different teaching styles. All classrooms have access onto a terrace, formed on the roof of the early year’s accommodation below and many of the classrooms have a view into the park. Individual toilet cubicles attached to each classroom give pupils easy access and reduces teaching time being lost, as well as opportunities for bullying.
The main hall is lit by natural light from windows in the roof and has full height curtains that can be drawn along one wall to soften the acoustics.
The reception area leads into the atrium where parents and children use the open plan library. As 80% of the school have English as a second language, literacy is regarded as very important for the wider family and not just for pupils. Unexpected things sometimes happen in the atrium; suddenly lunchtime turns into a music lesson!
Circulation areas on the first floor look over the atrium avoiding enclosed corridors. The lift and staircase are easy to find because they are painted in bright pink and are located at one end of the atrium. There is generous roof lighting ensuring that there is ample daylight and ventilation in the centre of the building. The music room and staff room are located on this floor at the rear of the building.
On the second floor there are four double classrooms for Key Stage 2 children as well as an art and technology studio. Again, all the classrooms have access onto generous roof terraces which can be used as outdoor classrooms. The terrace on the west side is particularly extensive and has been landscaped with planters which can be used as a teaching resource.
The lower ground floor, under the west half of the building makes use of falling ground levels across the site. There is a large play area at the same level as Mount Pleasant Road on the eastern edge of the site. All the foundation stage accommodation is located at this level, including the reception classroom, nursery and early years centre. Apart from the reception classroom it is an open plan space with dividers between some of the different areas. There is a very well landscaped and equipped play area right across the front of this part of the building, facing south but with a canopy to provide a shaded play area. There is a small internal courtyard within the nursery area with an artificial turf surface, providing a safe external room for children’s play in fine weather as well as bringing additional daylight into the deep plan.
The roof of the building can be accessed by means of an external staircase at the west end of the building. The project team worked with green roof specialist Nigel Dunnett from Sheffield University to make the main roof a 1200m2 wildlife area by providing a bio-diverse roof. This is intended to provide a resource for research, a learning opportunity for the school and provides a rich environment for supporting and encouraging wildlife.
The building has no boilers and all the necessary space heating is obtained from ground source heat pumps. Twenty two pipes have been sunk 100 metres into the ground at 7 meter centres in the park and heat is extracted from these. The building is reinforced concrete at lower ground level, and steel framed with concrete floors and roof above. This provides high thermal mass which helps to stabilise internal temperatures whatever the weather. The external walls are highly insulated and clad in cedar boarding apart from brickwork at the lowest levels.
The school is an important community resource and a number of out-of-hours activities take place, some of which in the existing community arts building sited at the rear of the school. The sports hall and dining area have been located to one side of the entrance to help separate community spaces from the rest of the building out of hours. The car parking at the rear of the school is available for these activities.
The building was completed two months late for a variety of reasons, including the contractor’s lack of previous experience in ground source heating systems. However, in spite of the many experimental and innovative features, the final cost was only about 4% above budget. There is a resident caretaker on the site who manages the building and the school is responsible for maintenance using its own budget.