Saturday, October 03, 2009

Gordonbrock Primary School - planning application submitted

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.


Rach said...

You must have been looking at different plans to me, Sue. I can't believe the lack of thought that has gone into the playground, plonking a circle in the middle of a sea of tarmac and saying outside classroom...what thought has gone in to the design there? They also seem to think labelling up spaces between the north side of the building and that ugly metal pallisade and saying outside teaching space is okay. Not to mention the vegetable plot with same aspect.

There may be more external area than at present, but there will be over 100 more children.

The developers have responded to an initial enquiry I made about the lack of thought that had gone into external area. They responded thus

"Landscape: Bouygues are in the process of appointing a landscape architect to design the layouts in detail through consultation with the school and the local council.

This is a requirement both of the planning process and need to follow guidance given in Building Bulletin 85 - School Grounds: A Guide to Good Practice and the documents referred to by the councils design advisor, John Waldron, such as: 'Learning Through Landscapes'.

The design will need to be agreed in detail with the planning department to release the conditions that will be applied to the consent in this respect. The buildings have been laid out to maximise play space, hard play space in particular, for the larger number of pupils. The current layout is indicative to allow the development of these areas by a suitably qualified professional - classrooms are located as far as possible on GF with direct links to external teaching and play spaces".

I'd say any decent design would take both the building and the landscape into account from the beginning. Maybe the classes could have been arranged so that they open onto planted courtyards so learning can spill out into the garden. Preferably not spaces squeezed in between the building and road.

They have gone for that dreadful, afterthought approach, and then (it seems) only as they have to to get it through planning.

The roof might imaginatively be used for the ball court, which currently takes up a large proportion of the play area and can only be used by a very limited number of children. The plan shows it, very unattractively, surrounded by 3m high fencing, creating a rather dead space on its perimiter (no doubt a space included in the area of play ground). Not sure how they intend to build up the levels in the area to get a level surface. We could have a mini wood in the playground or an orchard.

(reason architect gave for not putting it on roof was because Lewisham planners wouldn't let them go so high as it was close to the residential properties on Gordonbrock Road. (What will Loampit Vale residents make of that?) There are of course two new buildings one of which does not overlook Gordonbrock Road, so they could try that roof?

Collecting rainwater off the roof for water gardens would be fun.

On solar panels, the architect did explain why they weren't being used (not to me). So second hand info, it was something about it being new build and not so efficient. I think he said it was better for retro fitting on old?? It is again poor that they aren't going for a higher renewables target.

You haven't mentioned the lack of cycle spaces...and the teachers area (5 stands) is in front of the existing building, not exactly smart. They haven't made the gates any wider either, currently it is a pain trying to get in and out of the school at busy times, especially if you have a bike or push chair.

The access and planning statement or whatever it is called, says they have consulted widely with the community, which is interesting. As a parent at the school the first I saw of these plans were on that Monday night (21st September).

I don't think parents are impressed with the thought of being part of such a large primary school. Two form seems quite large enough.

I'll put my more coherent thoughts together at some later date.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rachel. Thank you for your comments. I think we were looking at the same plans, but I wasn't looking at them with the eyes of a professional landscape architect!

I have also been disappointed with the low level of consultation with the community on this so far - as ward councillor I only found out about the drop-in session on the day, from a parent. When I went to Ladywell Society on Tuesday they hadn't at that point even received notification of the application.

That said, I'm trying to balance my roles as ward councillor and planning committee member, and flag the application up to local residents, while also keeping an open mind on it, in case it comes to my committee.

Rach said...

Having looked at the application in greater detail, I am becoming less impressed. The"enhanced, enlarged and zoned external play areas" are in the region of 1,895m2 for key stage 2 and 1,615 for key stage 1. We currently have a combined area that is used for play times of 4,026m2. That appears to be a reduction of 520m2. The new plans have an area between the east side of the block and Gordonbrock road of approx 715m2 marked as outdoor class room (this is probably why they are saying the area is larger). It would be unlikely that this will be accessible at playtimes. Added to this reduction of space we will have an additional 100 children.
So key stage 2 children will have around 5.25m2 each for their playtime, assuming they are allowed in the rather dead space around the ball pen. What a squeeze it will be at pick up time too.

Although, I think, the architects for Lewisham Bridge gave the juniors around 1m2 each for their playgroud. Maybe this is some policy to stop children exercising?

(did send this comment yesterday, did it get lost in transit)

M said...

Why don't they just build the new two storey block on the main road boundary, with accessible roof space for roof gardens or ball courts. Then they could continue to be the custodians of our architectural heritage. Probably not have to move the children to where ever whilst it all happens.

Surely there would be enough freed up space in the existing buildings for all the facilities.

Why is it only private schools seem to appreciate their old buildings?

lewisham_phil said...

That sounds rather brilliant, M. Can't believe it wouldn't be lots more economical. Would probably still need to do some seriously creative design to make one of the existing halls larger.

Just another observation on the plans. The classes now come out onto quite narrow corridors instead of into the lovely old halls. There don't seem to be any cloakrooms on these. Has anyone spotted where they are? I'm told, the plans are a bit of a copy of what they did at Ashmead. There, they managed to provide for coats, but seem to have forgotten about all the lunch bags and things that children have to bring to school.

Apparently, Ashmead's new hall is a bit of a low point. I can't tell what sort of materials are planned internally for Gordonbrock. Is that the sort of thing that needs deciding before planning is agreed? or will we be at the mercy of the builders?

M said...

Sue, it is time to be overly negative. We want sustainable schools and demolishing perfectly fine buildings with another 100 years of life in them is unsustainable.

Anonymous said...

M - I sit on a planning committee. It's a quaisi-judicial role and I'm not allowed to be 'pre-determined' on an application before it comes to committee. If I have a closed mind on an application, I am not supposed to take part in the decision, hence I'm trying to keep an open mind on this, in case it comes to my committee.

I can opt to use my right as ward councillor to speak on an application, but then of course I can't vote or take part in the decision making process.

M said...

Could you highlight on your blog that the information submitted to planners and told to parents at the school re the playground is incorrect.

The playground at Gordonbrock School will be significantly smaller. It is unlikely that people have realised this as they were specifically told the opposite by the design team.

Anonymous said...

M - have you got any figures for this?

Ute and I have both submitted comments on this application now, and it is looking like it will go to planning ctte on 10th December, but again that is tbc.

There will be a public meeting in advance of the planning ctte mtg as there have been 16 objections so far. Either Ute or I will be chairing it, date tbc - possibly 24th or 26th Nov. Will post details on this blog when I have them.

M said...

I haven't got actual figures, but it is pretty obvious when you look at the plans. I'll see if I can sort out calculations and get back to you.

Anonymous said...

OK, the local meeting for the Gordonbrock School planning application is now confirmed for 7pm on Thursday 26th November at the school. I've been asked to chair the meeting so hopefully I will get to meet some of the people who have commented on this there!

eb said...

The size of the playspace is less important than what is in it. Children gather together in groups to play; areas to draw children into cooperative play, eg. ball games, shaded seats and climbing apparatus are all part of social education, besides open spaces to play chase. How about suspending enclosed rope bridges and wobbly walkways above the ball pen, accessed by scramble nets? The challenge would be to keep the parents off after school!! Lets turn the complaints into leverage for outstanding play opportunities.

Rach said...

That sounds like a good idea and although making the best of what we have is what ultimately will end up happening, it rather begs the question why bother having guidelines for schools, when they can be so blatantly ignored.

I can't quite wade through the guidelines now, but from what I can gather we should be looking at 47m2 per child, 35m2 of this is for pitches. So even without a playing field they are saying there should be space for soft play (that's planted areas, grass etc), (informal and social), games courts, hard play (informal and social) habitat and float. So that is 12m2.

When improvements to the playground have been proposed, areas are ring fenced for playing ball games here and needing space for PE there. So you'd expect when millions are being spent, these requirements might also be considered.

I really don't understand why we are undertaking one of the most expensive options with the rebuild and choosing a layout which reduces the playground area. When there are solutions which don't.

Penny said...

I don't know if this has been mentioned but has anyone suggested or thought of putting mezzanine levels in the old halls (they have huge ceilings!) to add a whole floor of classrooms? Additionally, if rumours are true both rebuilds at Ashmead and Ladywell Fields/Prendergast have many problems and as the G'brock rebuild is meant to be done by the same contractors this is a worry.

M said...

I don't think the developers care about trying to creatively use the old buildings. There are lots of options which could have been looked into. There are mezzanines in some of the classes now. The library could have been put in one of the halls or up on mezzanine around the hall, although obviously not so accessible should a child ever come to school in the wheel chair.

You need to get dedicated architects who have experience in conservation and modern conversions to look at these proposals. The classes could have had new doors opening into the playground. I struggle to see where the educational adviser has been involved maybe in the computer access?

We look set to see a tragic loss of the characterful buildings in the area. Lewisham should be ashamed of itself. Building Bulletin 85, was written for a why do they so outrageously ignore it? Why don't they care? Money is being spent here, why spend it on something which causes such a dreadful vandalism and destruction? It is possible to put old and new together, it could have been such a fantastic scheme.