Construction is due to start next month (October) on the landmark new £32.5 million secondary school at Arborfield Garrison.
Wokingham Borough Council has been working closely with the community on all aspects of the new school and parents have been instrumental in improving and enhancing the design of the school beyond the ‘basic’ Department for Education requirements.
During the summer, following the appointment of Bohunt Education Trust (BET) as the new school provider, a review has been carried out on the schools internal layout to adapt it to meet Bohunt’s curriculum aspirations which includes innovative science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education.
As a result, a number of improvements are set to be made including two additional laboratories, new STEM workshops as well as enhanced drama and art facilities. All of this will be made possible by savings made elsewhere in the scheme, including the use of the existing well-equipped garrison gym changing rooms rather than building new ones.
During site preparation, minor levels of contaminated materials were found, which is usual and expected on brownfield land. However, it was more prevalent than indicated on the original surveys. This brought about a delay in the handover of the school site to building contractors Dawnus for them to start work, and the council recognises this might raise concerns about delivering the new school building on time.
In order to eliminate any uncertainty and to ensure students and the school have the best start, the borough council, together with Bohunt Education Trust, have decided to alter the construction phasing, specifically to merge phases 1 and 2 to ensure the school is built on time. This will allow contractors to work more efficiently and ensure the new school building is set to be complete, as originally planned, in May/June 2017.
For the students starting in September 2016, the well-established legacy buildings on the garrison site will be used whilst construction of the permanent structure is finished on adjacent land.
These legacy buildings are in excellent condition and include purpose-designed classrooms, a lecture theatre and a large library space – all of which were, until very recently, used by the army for training as part of the Apprentice’s College, and were built as a specialist education facility.
They will be fitted-out in line with Bohunt Education Trust’s needs and will provide a full suite of facilities in nine teaching spaces for 180 Year 7 student including four classrooms, an art room, a laboratory, a STEM workshop, a theatre with stage, ICT and dining facilities and an outdoor recreational space.
PE will happen on nearby pitches and in the very high quality, former garrison gym whose facilities go well beyond what you would expect to find in a school (in line with the original plan). In addition to the eight badminton court/two basketball court hall there is a fitness and dance suite, a double-height activity hall and extensive changing rooms. Once the school moves into its new building, the council would like to make these legacy buildings available to the community and will be exploring this possibility with its partners. All of the proposed changes will be met within the existing budget.
Cllr Charlotte Haitham Taylor, executive member for children’s services, said: "It has been a busy summer working with Bohunt and our contractors to see how best we can incorporate these design improvements, which will provide a high quality education offer at the new school, into the construction timetable. We’re confident these design changes will ensure our students will have even greater opportunities at the new school.
"The delay in the site handover has meant we’ve had a chance to revise the phasing of the construction programme and address some parental concerns around children being taught in phase 1 of the new school whilst construction work is still underway on phase 2.
"By using the legacy buildings, which was an excellent training facility for the military, we can provide a high-quality education environment for the students, and minimise disruption to their learning in the first year of the new school. The legacy buildings have been given the seal of approval by Bohunt and the Parent Reference Group – who tell us they are both excited about the school’s future. It means we can open, as we’ve always planned in September 2016, but in fit-for-purpose legacy buildings for the first academic year. Despite these tough economic times, it demonstrates our commitment to education and providing the best possible opportunities for our young people."
Neil Strowger, CEO of Bohunt Education Trust, said: "It is fantastic to see our educational vision come a step closer to reality. We are all really excited by the prospect of the fabulous learning environment the new school offers; it will enable students to thrive inside and outside of the classroom.
"We will continue to work with Wokingham Borough Council and the Department for Education, so that we are ready to welcome our first cohort of students in September 2016."
Lloyd Watkins, chair of the Parent Reference Group (PRG), said: "Hearing of delays during site clearance obviously caused considerable concern within the community, particularly in families with Year 6 children, but I am pleased to say that at a face-to-face meeting with Bohunt and the borough council our concerns have been addressed.
"We are clear that this early decision to fit-out and use the excellent legacy buildings now represents the best way to open a new secondary school next September. Critically Bohunt described to us how they have designed and timetabled a complete 180 person Year 7 schedule. We heard from the borough council that they plan to deliver the facilities necessary to achieve this syllabus. Even more telling was Bohunt’s declaration that they view this early decision to use the legacy buildings as substantially de-risking the whole programme.
"The PRG is fortunate to have had the opportunity in the past to visit these legacy buildings and have long thought that they would make a wonderful school facility."
The school has full planning permission and will initially accommodate 180 Year 7 pupils. Subsequent phases will complete the school (phase 1 and 2) and sports facilities by September 2017 taking capacity to 1,200 pupils from age 11 to 18. There will also be space for a future growth of 300 pupils if required.
Safe access routes to the new school are already included in the planning conditions for the new buildings. However work is underway to modify these to allow students and staff safe access to the legacy buildings too.
Applications for secondary school places is now open to students going into year 7, and parents have until October 31, 2015 to submit their preferences. Prospective students and their parents will have the chance to meet Bohunt staff and students and hear their plans for the school at two parents’ evenings, taking place on the evenings of October 6 and 7 at Henry Street Garden Centre in Arborfield. There are also three open mornings planned at Bohunt School in Liphook (October 12 to 14); further details on these visits are available by attending one of the open evenings, or by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org