Summary This application is for a new foundation stage classroom at St Mary’s CE Infant school, 17-19 Church Green Witney, where the school premises are currently inadequate for a foundation stage classroom’s spatial requirements. This issue led to the commission of Jessop and Cook Architects to produce a design for a new foundation stage classroom with an additional teaching space which included the demolition of the existing canteen building.
Part 1: The Process 1.1 Assessment
Physical Context St Mary’s CE Infant school is located near the centre of Witney and occupies 17-19 Church Green close to the Parish Church. The main body of the current school premises is constructed of lime stone rubble with ashlar groins and dressings, and gabled stone slate roofs in an L-shape plan and Gothic Revival style. The main elevation facing onto the church green consists of a single storey gable end to the left, a gabled porch and four gabled dormer windows. Along with the main school building a stand alone classroom matching the original school stands approximately half way along the length of the school on the south boundary. In addition to the main school accommodation a canteen, constructed from concrete blocks with a metal tiled roof is situated to the rear of the site.
The existing teaching and administration accommodation is housed primarily in the main building, with the foundation stage class currently accommodated in the separate classroom block, and dinning facilities in the canteen. The site is generally level along the length of the main building before the playground slopes down towards the rear of the site with a change of levels of approximately 950mm. St Mary’s CE Infant school is located with in the witney conservation area. Whilst coursed or rubbed stone work is the most common material in the area there are various examples of both brickwork and render in the vicinity, with many situations where different materials are used to the rear properties.
Historic Statement St Mary’s CE Infant School occupies 17-19 Church Green, Witney a Grade II listed Victorian property in a Gothic Revival style. First listed on the 6th February 1970, the property sits in the Church Green conservation area. Built in 1856 the main school building is constructed from coursed lime stone rubble with ashlar quoins and dressings, gabled stone slate roofs, and concrete tiles to the left range. Over the course of its history the school has undergone various alterations. A stand alone stone classroom was built in 1897 to match the existing and during the 1940’s a canteen was erected to the rear of the school constructed of concrete blocks with a pressed metal tiled roof (the Canteen is not part of the Grade II listing). More recently in 2001 a toilet block extension was built onto the existing foundation stage and ICT/ Year 2 classrooms in stone and slate to match existing.
Socio -Economic Context The Grade II listed premises of St Mary’s CE Infant School were originally bought by the national school board before becoming a Church of England controlled school in 1953. The school is an integral part of the local community and part of the identity of Witney.
The current provisions for the foundation stage classroom are unfi t for purpose due to being spatially insuffi cient. The class is often split into groups that are taught in various parts of the school which were never intended as teaching spaces. Two OFSTED reports have previously criticised the foundation stage provisions at the school. The reports cited the current classroom as being undersized, unsuitable for children with mobility issues and lacks access to the recommended external covered play areas. This proposal will provide the school with the much needed space and facilities to meet the current government standards. The scheme will also provide the school with a disable WC with wash facilities as well as an additional teaching space for use with individuals or small groups.
There will be a short-term disruption to the school from the construction work and it will involve the temporary Sectioning off of part of the playground to ensure pupil safety. The remaining section of playground should be adequate in the short term for the number of pupils using the school however if it is decided the play areas are to crowded the classes break times will be staggered to limit the number of pupils using them at any one time. This disruption will be kept to a minimum as the bulk of the works will be scheduled over the school summer holidays
The design of the scheme will seek to respond to the boundary hedgerows and large scale trees overhanging the site from adjacent properties. The existing boundary hedge will be protected during construction, no hedges other than those at the front of the existing canteen will need to be removed. No trees will be removed during this scheme however some of the over hanging branches from neighbouring properties may need to be trimmed. Any pruning or trimming will be kept to a minimum.
1.2 Consultation Process Jessop and Cook were originally approached in 2006 and asked to produce a proposal for a new foundation stage classroom unfortunately due to failing to secure funding from the Foundation Stage Capital Investment Fund (2006/7 -2007/8) that scheme was never realised. St Mary’s later took the decision to self fi nance a scheme and Jessop and Cook were re-approached in early 2011 to again look at proposals for a new foundation stage classroom. St Mary’s infant school produced a detailed brief and after the tender process appointed Jessop and Cook to take the project further. Once appointed Jessop and Cook arranged to accompany various staff and governors on a day of visits to other primary schools recommended by the council as good examples of design to help inform the design. From a combination of the brief, the visits and use of precedents an outline scheme was produced which was then presented to the school.
Jessop and Cook produced proposal boards for the brickwork scheme which were displayed at the school for a week. During this time along with a selection of the teachers, and governors, Jessop and Cook Architects held an open evening event for local residents at the school on the 15th November 2011 and for parents during a parents evening on 17th November. The fi rst evening was intended to give local residents who may be affected by the project a chance to see the scheme, ask questions and provide input before the design was fi nalised so any potential issues or concerns could be addressed at an early stage. Parents were given the opportunity during the parents evening to ask questions review the scheme and offer comment, The proposals were altogether well received with plenty of positive comments. The initial concerns over the scheme focused around possible changes in height, choice of materials and impact of construction processes. The display showing the proposed scheme as a single storey building with less than a meter increase in height alleviated the concerns over height as many of the residents had worried a two storey development would be proposed. Discussing the scheme and seeing the proposals fi rst hand reassured local residents the change would have a minimal impact on surrounding properties.
A few questions were initially raised regarding the choice to use brickwork as the main material and what effect it might have on the conservation area. We explained that the brickwork was proposed to help distinguish the project as a separate contemporary entity from the main building as per the schools brief, and to avoid creating anything that could be seen as a pastiche copy of the existing school. The location of the scheme means that it is not visible form the main public zone and would only be visible to the public if they venture down the dead end road to the side of the school, therefore the scheme would have minimal impact on the conservation area, further more it will see the replacement of the existing painted concrete building which is generally regarded as very poor quality. Taking on board the questions raised and comments from the consultation, the decision was taken that buff brickwork would be more appropriate than red brick to complement the conservation area, as is evident in the Henry Box School’s use for two building blocks fronting directly onto the village green.
Concerns were also raised over construction traffi c and site dirt and dust. To address this the site will be fenced off with harris fencing and sheeting, and dust kept to a minimum, whilst deliveries will be restricted to not confl ict with the start or fi nish time of the school day. Access to the side lane will be maintained at all times. There were no known outstanding concerns by the end of the consultation, that weren’t addressed by the information on the display boards, discussions and explanations. During the whole week and including both events, comment sheets were provided for people to record opinions. These have been referred to during the design process and are included in Appendix A of this document.
The school children have been included in the process and are very excited about the project and potential new building. Many of the children have even written letters to Bishop Colin regarding the project which have been included in Appendix B of this document. We have been in contact with the planning offi cer Alan Divall at Oxfordshire County Council whose advice was taken into account during the design process. We have also been in discussion with Andrew Hardie the Strategy Offi cer from Property & Facilities, also at Oxfordshire County Council regarding the facilities and layout of the disabled toilet and washroom. Sarah Postlethwaite the protected species offi cer has confi rmed that the project would not require any ecological surveys as there is very little potential in the way of possible roosts for protected species.
Initial design constraints Through evaluation of the client’s brief, the site location and orientation, and the physical conditions present, a number of design and development constraints have been identifi ed which will infl uence the design:
- The main school building is grade II listed and as such any design will need to take this into consideration. - The new design should respect the materially and construction of the main school whilst creating a contemporary stand alone building capable of being read for its own merit. - The new build must meet the Oxfordshire County Council guidelines for a foundation stage classroom including direct access to a covered external play area. - The scheme should make provision for improving the schools disabled facilities through the inclusion of a disabled WC fi tted out with a shower and baby changing facilities. - The proposals should make better use of the land available and space around the existing canteen block. - The new foundation stage classroom should not unnecessarily exceed the footprint of the existing canteen. - The proposals should consider the effect any works may have on neighbours and ensure there will be no negative impact on the surrounding properties.
Part 2: Design
2.1 Use The objective of the proposal is to provide St Mary’s with a much needed replacement foundation stage classroom and additional amenities. The new scheme is intended to provide the foundation stage class with an exciting and engaging learning environment to enhance the children’s school experience at such a vital early stage in their school life. The three main elements of the project will be spread linearly through the building and staggered to create three distinctive sections to the built form and thus creating multiple roof pitches that refl ect the form of the main school. The staggering of the main elements will create opportunities for extra light to be drawn in the building through the use of both high and low level windows, reducing the need for artifi cial lighting whilst creating additional window seating. The staggering of the scheme not only acts to break up the linear mass of the scheme but offers a much improved use of land and maximises the potential for the surrounding playground and gardens.
2.2 Amount The proposal will involve the demolition of the existing canteen with a foot print of 163m² and the erection of a new foundation stage classroom and external covered play area with a smaller foot print of 160m² which includes 110m² of new internal fl oor area and 30m² of external covered decked play area. The new building will provide a 73m² foundation stage classroom suitable for up to 30 pupils with WC facilities, a disabled WC/washroom and a 18m² additional teaching space available for use by the whole school.
2.3 Layout The layout has been designed to break up the length of the site and refl ect the various pitched roofs of the existing school building, whilst creating a engaging internal and external environment. The form of the building has been staggered in relation to the separate functions of the scheme. The front section of the building will provide a covered external play area linked directly to a newly defi ned playground surrounded by a new 1.1m height timber fence for use by the foundation stage only. The central section of the scheme will accommodate the level access entrance and cloak area and the main classroom space which will include wet and dry areas and a raised play alcove. The fi nal section will be split into two creating the washroom facilities and an additional teaching space for use by smaller groups.
In addition the staggered form of the building creates the opportunity for an enclosed secret garden cradled between the three elements of the building and the hedgerow along the boundary of the site.
Externally the access path will be repositioed to create a large play area for the foundation stage classroom. The area to the south of the new building will be landscaped with graded grass to the rear garden area. The existing timber shed will be rotated and moved approximately 3.5m along to boundary to the rear corner of the site.
The proposed foundation stage classroom has been designed to minimise any increase in built form. It will occupy a similar position but with a smaller footprint by 3m² than the current canteen building, it will also be slightly wider and staggered to break up the mass along the length of the building. The new classroom will remain single storey as the canteen currently is but will have an increased height. The change will be approximately 950mm from the existing roof line height of 3.9m to the proposed height of 4.7m due to the pitched ridge line responding to the change in building width.
Buff brickwork will be used as the primary external surface material for the main build remaining sympathetic to the conservation area whilst creating a contemporary stand alone project. In addition to the brickwork the North elevation facing on to the hidden garden will be rendered white to add to the tactile intentions for space as well as helping to refl ect light and brighten up the area. The covered external play area element of the project will be created through the use of a portal frame system clad in cedar shingles giving a warm feel which will weather over time to a soft silver.
The building envelope will be broken up with windows of various sizes from narrow fl oor to ceiling windows on the south elevation to large extruded bay windows with internal seating. Powder coated aluminium windows and doors will be used externally to offer both a long low maintenance life span and provide high thermal insulation properties. The combination of the proposed materials should create an aesthetically pleasing modern building that responds to its surroundings and refl ecting the forms of the area, enhancing the school and providing the much needed new foundation stage classroom.
Part 3: Access statement
Access to the existing school will remain unchanged and access to the new foundation stage classroom will be via the lane along the north side of the of the main school, through the existing gates to the playground. The classroom’s main entrance and rear door will have a small ramped approach and landing to create a level threshold entrance in compliance with Part M of the Building Regulations. All other doors will also feature level threshold to ensure disabled access throughout. Access to the Disabled WC will be at the rear of the classroom via the children’s WC designed in consultation with James Kent from South and Vale Building Control.
Part 4: Conclusion
The designs that are proposed with this application have been carefully developed over a period of time through analysis of the site and its context and consultation with the school, relevant local authorises, consultants, parents and neighbours. The proposals offer a considered response to the unique constraints and opportunities of the site, existing school and local community. We feel the proposals for this scheme will greatly benefi t not only the school and the local community, but most importantly the children.