The Willows Primary School in Lichfield is a growing primary within walking distance of the heart of the city. Although the school is in easy reach of the city centre its location within the leafy suburbs places it within the heart of the smaller community within easy reach of the surrounding open fields.
The school is an OFSTED ‘Outstanding’ County Primary School and currently offers space for up to 420 pupils ages from 3 to 11, which includes nursery, through to Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2.
The Willows has been at the centre of the community for over fifty years and they take pride in delivering the highest quality of education to the local community, providing all children with a happy, welcoming, fun and secure environment to learn, develop and grow.
Our brief was to create extra much needed space to help the school to operate effectively and to continue to offer an outstanding learning environment with:
A new extension to the front of the school creating:
- a new nurture classroom for eight children and two staff accessed via a secure reception.
- an extended staffroom for up to thirty people.
- a reconfigured open reception.
- reconfigured office spaces.
- an extended headteacher’s office.
- reconfigured external landscaping to allow space for the extension.
As the surrounding population continues to grow, staff and pupil numbers will concurrently continue to increase in the future. To ensure that the school continues to remain a functional and thriving educational space within the Lichfield community adaptions were required for sustainable future growth.
The Willows required a design solution to extend the existing school gaining valuable new flexible learning, administration, and ample circulation space with a new secure main entrance.
Time is crucial for the school. We worked closely with the school team from the outset to ensure that we understood how they needed the scheme to work with the their academic schedule, working to their deadlines and determined budget.
Work has been carefully planned and phased to consider the academic calendar so that there will be minimal disruption to the school services.
CLASP Design and Asbestos
The original school’s design is similar to many schools built post war and is designed as a CLASP building solution or modular design. It may have been a straight forward building solution that was cheap to construct when budgets were tight in the 1950’s, but now they potentially have a health and safety impact with use of asbestos in the structure. These buildings were built with structural steel columns that were fire proofed with asbestos containing materials (ACMs).
The Willows existing school buildings are based on the CLASP solution with a modular system built with light weight prefabricated steel frame structure with warren trusses, a sheet steel roof and concrete cladding outside. It is also understood that the use of Asbestos containing materials (ACMs) was prevalent in CLASP system buildings, and due process will be followed to deal with these materials during the construction phase.
Before work can begin specialist, consultants will be appointed to investigate for asbestos and if it is found licensed contractors will be appointed to remove the asbestos from behind the sheet steel on the columns to allow work to safely commence.
To ensure that there is minimal disruption to the school timetable the aim is for the build to commence in early July and to be carried out and completed throughout the six weeks summer holidays, but this is all COVID dependent at present. The allocation of the construction work within the summer holidays will allow the staff and children at the Willows to return safely in the new academic year to continue as normal after the summer break with no disturbance, ready to start using their new learning space.
We have also designed it in such a way that a lot of it can be built as an independent structure, breaking through late on in the process.
The principal objectives of the project are to create much needed extra space to help the school to operate effectively and continue to offer an outstanding learning environment.
New Focal Entrance and Secure Reception
When the team at the school told us that they required more space to support school life we suggested that it could be a great opportunity to create a striking new entrance designed to clearly lead visitors to the main entry and reception area.
Addressing the school’s main access point would ensure that visitors have clear direction to prevent unknown individuals straying off track around the school grounds in search of the entrance. It also makes everything clear, concise, secure and it is a great opportunity to create new an eye-catching design too.
Our design intends for the extruded gable shape to wrap up and over the existing flat-roofed school building, adding vertically so that it easily conveys the entrance as the intended destination for school visitors.
Clad in a dark green metal product with a fully glazed principle elevation, the design reflects the school identity through the colour scheme. The new school entrance has created a real opportunity to convey the values and quality of the school in the main frontage and we look forward to seeing the design become reality.
New Reception Area
Visitors will enter the new reception area through the fully glazed gable entrance that is light and spacious. A stylish, staffed reception desk will front the glazed staff offices beyond which will give the impression of a vibrant learning facility and affords visual security for all.
Visitors will need to report to the new reception to navigate the school further. The design of the new secure reception includes an access-controlled door managed by reception staff giving them the ability to safely control movement in and out of the school.
A new corridor space off the reception will provide access to the new head teacher’s office, two support staff offices, the staff room, a nurture classroom, and the sports hall. All offices intend to be glazed for visual security and communication.
The new nurture classrooms will provide teaching staff with specialist areas to allow them to focus, deliver lessons away from the mainstream class, helping them to break down barriers with the children building relationships in a supportive and calm environment that’s safe and secure.
New Extended Staff room and Garden
The corridor then leads to the new extended staff room. The current staff room is too small to comfortably accommodate the school’s staff either for meetings or breaks. Our design has enlarged the staff room to create a new light and spacious private area for teaching staff to meet, allowing the whole team to comfortably gather for breaks and meetings. We have incorporated a dedicated staff WC and kitchen facilities will also be directly accessible from the staff room away from public view.
Extra space has been created outside too. Staff will have access to additional private break out space outside which will be directly accessible from the staff room. Planted and paved this new contained garden will provide a calming, restful environment for school staff.
Accessibility for all
It is essential that everyone can get to and move through developments on equal terms regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, and social grouping. Careful consideration has been made to ensure this has been provided within the constraints of the site.
Our design proposal includes features such as a level access entrance and exit to both the main visitor entrance and private staff garden. Level access will be provided throughout the extension area and linking to the rest of the school.
Consideration has been given to the building’s new interior with accessible features such as a low-level reception desk section, wide door openings, hearing-aid induction loop and braille way-finding signage will also be provided.
Two new accessible parking spaces will be provided immediately adjacent the new entrance and dropped curbs installed allowing wheelchair access between these parking spaces and the main entrance.
Access to and from the rear of the building for deliveries will be eased by relocating the car parking and thoroughfare adjacent to the boiler house.
Before commencing with the design process, we met with the school team on several occasions to discuss the best design approach. A full consultation process enabled everyone to share their thoughts and provide an insight into daily school life and how the new design could improve the learning environment for everyone at school.
This insight into the school routine and site usage enabled our team to tailor the design to meet the individual needs of the staff, children, and the daily school operations. We worked extremely closely with the school team to create a design solution that they were happy with and to submit the information to the local planners in a timely manner.
We are looking forward to the scheme starting on site very soon. After all the months of planning, discussions, and waiting for approval to be granted it’s now beginning to come together.
As work starts on site don’t miss out on our next article where we’ll be following the project's journey as work on site gets underway and construction begins!
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