Refurbishing facilities

Refurbishing facilities provides a great opportunity to improve the lives of pupils, teachers and even the wider community. Val Proctor talks to the schools which have been there and done it

An independent report prepared by RSAcademics for the Independent Schools Council (ISC) stated that, in early 2018, 1,317 UK independent schools allied to the ISC employed 65,600 teachers and enrolled 525,000 pupils. In 2017, ISC schools’ core operations (excluding trading, fundraising and other financing activities) brought in £7.83bn of income, of which £1.78bn was used to purchase goods and services from other organisations.

These figures indicate how important independent schools are to the country’s GDP. But refurbishments can be disruptive to the daily life of the school so careful planning needs to take place for the best results. Whether it’s classrooms or sports facilities that are being redone, the benefits usually outweigh the disruption.

Improving pupil wellbeing

Marco Boi, founder and CEO of Playinnovation, a global provider of outdoor play, sports equipment and multi-use games areas (MUGA), says when we think of refurbishing, we often think ‘out with the old and in with the new’, replacing like-for-like, but refurbishing can provide a great opportunity for schools to dramatically change a recreation space to benefit pupil wellbeing.

With 5.5% of two to four-year-olds and 11.2% of five to 15-year-olds experiencing a mental disorder, according to an NHS survey, it further highlights the importance of ensuring that every space within a school environment contributes positively to the welfare of all children.

“Just as wellbeing is a broad concept which combines many aspects of a person’s life to create an overall picture of their comfort, health and happiness, the design and refurbishment of recreation spaces should also be approached with a holistic, wide-angled view if we’re to meet the desired outcomes for pupil wellbeing, which include developing confidence, skills, self-esteem and sense of belonging,” Boi says.

Over the summer, Bolton School started work on a new specialist surface for hockey and lacrosse

Through the eyes of a child

Being ‘holistic’ starts from the first moment you set foot on an existing recreation space or an empty field of grass and, importantly, involves looking at the space through a child’s eyes. By doing so, you’ll get a much better idea of how pupils will interact with the space once the work has been completed; in turn, indicating the potential impact on pupil wellbeing. 

“To tie all of this together, think about pockets – creating multiple areas within a recreation space, each with a unique offering, to allow children of all ages, sizes, physicalities, abilities and confidence levels to have places around their school where they can access physical activity, either on their own or with friends.”

Two schools which have recently revamped their sports facilities are Bolton School and Bryanston in Dorset. Earlier this year, Bolton realised their tennis courts were time-worn and it soon became clear that the school needed a new all-weather sports surface or, as it is known technically, a synthetic turf pitch development.

At a cost of just over £1m, work began on 1 April this year and a specialist surface, primarily for lacrosse and hockey, will be ready for pupils on their return in September.

The design and refurbishment of recreation spaces should also be approached with a holistic, wide-angled view if we’re to meet the desired outcomes for pupil wellbeing

There will be improved spectator areas, separate shelters for visiting teams, floodlighting and increased parking at their Leverhulme site.

Notts Sport was appointed as design consultants and Cleveland Land Services as the developers.

Improving hockey at youth level

Cathy Fox, clerk and treasurer at Bolton School, explains that in seeking planning permission from the local council, they knew their application would be strengthened if community use was part of the agreement. Consequently, Bolton Hockey Club will use it as their base, the National Hockey Foundation will contribute a grant of £50,000 as they seek to fulfil their mission of improving hockey at youth and community level, and England Hockey will also be partners in running the facility for community use.

Girls’ division headmistress Sue Hincks says: “The artificial grass will allow heavier use than our current playing surfaces as there is no need for recovery time between games. The girls will also benefit from the consistency of the surface which will not change from day to day.”

Meanwhile, Philip Britton, headmaster of the boys’ division, reflects: “Plans were first suggested for an all-weather surface 20 years ago, so to have one now to catalyse the next steps in our success for boys’ hockey is wonderful news. Finally, home games will actually be at home!”

Bryanston School has confirmed completion of the first phase of a multi-million-pound construction programme to maximise engagement and personal achievement in sport. In addition to pupils and staff at the school, many other visitors are already taking advantage of the new facilities – including talented and aspiring girls and boys from local schools as well as professionals from the sporting world and athletes from the UK’s top sports university.

Alex Fermor-Dunman, Bryanston’s director of sport, says: “The reaction of pupils and staff at the school has been everything we’d hoped for.

“And to see the active endorsement from premiership clubs in rugby and football alongside national teams and governing bodies of so many different sports provides a real vote of confidence in our efforts to create a world-class venue for sporting excellence and endeavour.”

The programme has run in tandem with an investment in new processes and personnel, delivering best practice in coaching and training across all sports and physical activities.

This has included the recruitment of a head of performance sport, Alex Chapman, a former head of physical preparation for the English Institute of Sport and a highly respected and experienced strength and conditioning coach from the world of professional sport, who is now leading the school’s bespoke performance sport programme.

Bryanston’s gymnasium and six-lane swimming pool have been completely redeveloped as part of the school’s drive to provide a contemporary and progressive environment for delivering physical education and sport for youngsters of all abilities. A dedicated performance development suite has also been created to provide groundbreaking monitoring, insight and bespoke training to support the growth, conditioning and development of young sportsmen and women who excel in their chosen sport.

Fermor-Dunman adds: “Our fundamental philosophy for sport and physical education at Bryanston is ‘process not outcome’, and our focus is always on pupils’ enjoyment. As we move towards completion of the remaining elements of the development programme, we’ll be taking steps to consolidate our close partnership with the pioneering work of the sports faculty at Bath University.

“We will also be introducing various initiatives to capitalise on our new equipment and resources to deliver the very latest in sports science and research for the benefit of all aspiring sports people.”

Holy Name Central Catholic Junior and Senior School,
USA decided to revamp its life sciences learning space

The windmill factor

It’s not just sports facilities that need refurbishing. Holy Name Central Catholic Junior and Senior School in the USA have come up with an innovative solution to revamp its life sciences learning space.

The school sits on top of a hill in Worcester, Massachusetts and has a giant windmill on its grounds generating electricity. 

They have a close relationship with a local university because of the windmill.  Worcester Polytechnic Institute is using the windmill to find a way to store the electricity it generates.

Principal Ed Reynolds says the functional and cost-effective workstations provide a dramatic alternative to the traditional dark, uninspiring and even forbidding ‘workshop-style’ school laboratory that has remained unchanged for decades.

“We chose Saturn + Mercury circular and ovoid workstations which combine in the smallest and most awkwardly shaped rooms to facilitate 30–32 students without compromise to health and safety in situations where a more conventional system would not,” he explains.

Various configurations allow students to work in collaborative groups or to face the teacher for lectures and demonstrations.

The design allows for easy access to evenly distributed gas, water and electrical equipment.

There are, of course, many other cases of schools doing good work in improving facilities, but these few examples demonstrate how effective planning – and a healthy budget – can improve provision for all pupils.


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