A planning application has been submitted for the partial demolition and partial rebuild of Gordonbrock Primary School. The application can be viewed here. The plans are a revision of those submitted and passed back in 2005, before the project was shelved due to funding probems. I'm pleased that this is again now firmly back on the agenda and my understanding is that if planning permission is granted this Autumn, the school will be decanted and the rebuild start in January.
Part of the reasoning behind the rebuild is to enable the school to go from 2.5 form entry to 3 form entry, which as well as creating much needed extra primary school places, avoids the need to have classes with mixed age groups. I'm pleased that it's proposed to retain parts of the Victorian school building, that the awful portacabins in the playground that are long past their sell-by date will finally be going and of course that more, larger classrooms will be built.
Last week I went along to a drop-in session at the school to look at the plans. There were a number of positive aspects to them, with lots of outside play space, including provision for outdoor teaching areas and for the recently-acquired play equipment and raised borders to be incorporated into the new designs. One of the pupils asked the officer 'Are you going to cut down our trees?' and was assured that the trees would be retained, which is just as well, as this 9-year old looked ready for some direct action to protect them if the need arose!
However there were a number of aspects to the design which left me distinctly underwhelmed, in particular the wasted roof space, with no plans for either living roofs, solar panels, rainwater recycling or anything else that should frankly be standard in contemporary design. The school will be fulfilling its 20% renewables target with a biomass boiler - this seems to be the renewable energy source of choice for schools at the moment, (mostly on value for money grounds), which is good as far as it goes, but there are no plans to exceed the minimum requirement. I had expected to see a few other 'green gubbins', such as a few solar panels on the roofs, even if more for educational purposes, rather than making a significant contribution to the school's energy needs, but currently none are proposed.
Having just spent the past few months on the Sustainable Development Committee doing an in-depth review of home insulation within the borough (more on this soon), I had also expected the rebuild to incorporate some internal insulation of the Victorian buildings that are being retained, to bring them as close as possible to modern building requirements. Again, it doesn't seem to be on the cards. This looks like a missed opportunity to explore how to make our Victorian/Edwardian buildings in the borough more energy efficient, which will also be key to other school rebuilds/refurbs around the borough.
Having discussed various aspects of the design with the council officer leading on the project, as well as representatives from Bouyges, the PFI contractor, I was left with the impression that Gordonbrock was being short changed on sustainability due to cost restrictions. (Bouyges is the company behind the recent rebuild of Prendergast Ladywell Fields school, which personally I think is a distinct disappointment in sustainability terms.) Recycling is all well and good, but when you recycle building plans from 5 years ago, you need to ask what has moved on in that time and surely, sustainable design issues given the need to reduce our carbon emissions have leapt right up the global agenda in the past five years.
I don't wish to be overly negative as I want to wholeheartedly support the school rebuild, which parents, pupils and staff have been waiting for for a very long time now, but I fear that unless the contractors are pushed a bit further on the designs, Ladywell is going to get a good new primary school, with a much improved learning environment, but not the exemplar of sustainability we should be aiming for. Officers have promised to see what more can be done to address some of my concerns, so I await their feedback on these discussions and am hoping for a few improvements before this gets to planning committee stage.