High-quality, flexible and contemporary design and a vibrant hub for increased community cohesion
The recently opened Newport High School in South Wales, a new build replacement for Bettws High School, is an exemplar in sustainable construction. It’s a £28.1m catalyst for social and economic regeneration, high-quality, flexible and contemporary education and a vibrant hub for increased community cohesion.
Supporting 1,100 students, the school provides for extensive community use to meet Newport City Council’s vision defined within the Single Education Plan: "All our children – all our business." The school is a symbol of civic investment, engendering ownership and pride within the community. It’s the first new secondary school directly funded by the Newport City Council (NCC) in almost 40 years.
The two-stage procurement process placed an emphasis during the design and construction tendering process on ‘quality’ rating. This approach engendered a team ethos; collectively striving to achieve high quality affordable design solutions and specifically addressing environmental issues within an open and transparent environment.
The procurement process also allowed engagement with the community, offering vocational training and construction apprenticeship schemes, as well as pupil involvement in the design process. This interactive pupil involvement shaded key areas of the common areas in the design such as centralised unisex WC facilities, the omission of urinals, passive supervision, personalised locker provision for each student etc.
Newport High School’s design, construction and ongoing use were specified with sustainability firmly in mind. It is the first school in Wales to achieve the BREEAM rating of ‘excellent’ and, more impressively still, without the need for extra funding. This was down to the collaborative and holistic approach of client Newport City Council and its construction partners: HLM Architects, Leadbitter Group, Arup, Clarkebond and Davis Langdon. The entire team, including an external BREEAM assessor, was assembled before the first concept was created, and an extensive consultation and interactive design process began. “Staff, students and wider community stakeholders have been consulted on new build proposals throughout the process... What has been most pleasing for me is the genuine impact that the consultation has had” (Karyn Keane head teacher, Bettws High School).
This approach allowed the design team to consult with all stakeholders from inception. Critically, these stakeholders included both the school and the local community. By addressing the concerns and requirements of these groups the design team was able to design a solution meeting Newport County Council’s three primary brief criteria: a community school for leisure; a community school for adult education; minimal environmental impact.
A community school for leisure Newport High School provides pupils and staff with an impressive array of sports and leisure facilities, including a 25m swimming pool with communal changing village; an 18-station fitness suite with TechnoGym cardio-vascular and resistance equipment; a café; a sprung-floor dance studio; a large, four-court sports hall; indoor cricket nets; an artificial cricket wicket; a floodlit Astroturf pitch for hockey and football; a multi-use games area; a 400m athletics track with associated field disciplines, and external playing fields, including a county standard football pitch, a senior rugby pitch and a further two grass pitches. Access to all facilities is via a central entrance with two reception areas – one for the school and one for the community – which control visitors to the building and enhance security.
A community school for adult education: the school now has 60 classrooms, including 34 general teaching rooms, eight science labs, eight ICT suites and six special educational needs (SEN) areas, plus a dedicated vocational training and learning resource centre designed to deliver skills-based adult learning. “The building facilitates the highest levels of current teaching and learning practices while retaining a flexibility of design to meet unanticipated developments over the coming decades. Most importantly the students have been engaged in the design process and therefore can take ownership of their learning environment” (Chief education officer, Newport City Council).
Minimal environmental impact: environmental impact was considered from the very earliest stages, and we appointed a BREEAM assessor at the outset to ensure we designed the most environmentally sound building possible while fulfilling our client’s requirements. The result was a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating with 73 points. The local ecology was enhanced by utilising the current pond layout to provide a habitat area that enhances the site biodiversity of wildlife, birds and butterflies, as well as aquatic life. Planting with medicinal and educational benefits, in addition to plants that clean and filter the water and coir logs for erosion control, have all been provided to offer a great external teaching environment and unique learning tool.
The chairman of Wildlife in Newport Group’s statement was indicative of the thorough consultation process: “I have looked at the plans and proposals, conducted an in-depth inspection of the site and have spoken at length to those involved in the implementation of the proposals. My first comment is that I was delighted to be consulted at the beginning of the process rather than asked to comment on the so-called ‘finished product.'"
Executing such a large and complicated construction project at the heart of the community required the entire team to invest time to rethink and develop the design and consider the construction logistics, to target reduction of waste at the outset with the entire supply chain in conjunction with the principal contractor. Achieving this aim required the team to go beyond compliance with legislation and take a realistic review of operational methods to provide key areas for consideration.
Waste management was an important aspect of our environmental goals. The Site Waste Management Plan was an invaluable tool in monitoring waste production, and was reviewed at monthly intervals. Subcontractors and suppliers (largely local as identified through skills workshops) were involved early in the Site Waste Management Plan, and recyclable and recycled materials stipulated.
Off-site prefabrication of various concrete parts, using short driven piles rather than deep mass concrete foundations, using on-site mortar silos and premixed render, a structural metal wall system and preformed blocks all cut waste significantly, and waste that was generated was either reused on site, segregated or recycled according to WRAP standards. In perfect line with the project’s community aspirations, waste material was even used to provide a sandpit for a local nursery. Newport High School was awarded the Constructing Excellence Award for Waste Minimisation as well as being short-listed in the Innovation and Sustainability categories of the same awards, and has since won the Constructing Excellence Award for ‘Project of the Year’.
Newport High School was specifically conceived to reach out to the local community. In fact it was deliberately located closer to the community to emphasise the significance of education and community based learning. The building shape responds to various climatic influences but also aims to embrace the community, placing education and social inclusion at its heart.
The designs adopt innovative spatial planning and ‘zoning principles’ to harness the potential for community engagement while maintaining the school’s core functions.
While the pupils and staff are provided with a superb teaching facility, the community is able to make use of the facilities. The Newport Gwent Dragons Rugby club now use the school as their training facilities, allowing staff and pupils to gain an insight into professional sport and gain inspiration and aspiration from the players.
The school build incorporated a dedicated vocational training and learning resource centre designed to deliver skills-based adult learning. The Active Living Centre, as the sports facilities have been branded, is not only available to the general public 7-8am and 4:30-10pm Monday to Friday, and 8am-7pm Saturday and Sunday, but it also offers a multi-purpose community room for public hire. So the scheme has created opportunities for extended learning, vocational training, extensive sport and recreational facilities, business and further community links.
Headteacher Karyn Keane said: “Students, parents and members of the community have often been heard describing the school as a 'landmark' which clearly highlights their pride in the building. The Active Living Centre also held an open weekend, which was an unprecedented success, with attendance far exceeding predictions.”
The design adopts an innovative approach to learning in that ‘every space is a learning space’, promoting personalised learning as well as a ‘clustering’ approach.
An integrated ICT solution allows these education spaces to function, even to the extent that the concept of corridors has, to some degree, been removed. The solutions include: a hierarchy of teaching and learning spaces – areas designed to promote learning that support the school in a range of teaching methods incorporating sufficient flexibility to adapt to change; spaces are non-dogmatic, transcend fashion and avoid the assertion that there is a single solution; adjacencies of spaces and resources that will allow maximum access to resources and facilities for all, including a community focused zone to promote extended learning activities; introducing individual areas of appropriate scale and character achieving a sense of belonging and identity for personalised learning with links to electronic resources; introduction of landscaped learning spaces dedicated for curriculum, vocational and socially focused activities; the building itself promotes innovative features and becomes a learning resource for sustainable construction, renewable energy sources, landscape/biodiversity etc. ICT provision will play a part in monitoring the environmental performance of the building.
The school has been designed to maximise passive supervision both vertically and horizontally which not only provides a safe and secure environment for both staff and pupils but also allows the natural light to penetrate further into the building creating a more transparent, welcoming and user friendly building.
The most obvious economic impact locally came during the build process. To further support legacy objectives and the emphasis placed on the importance of local involvement, during the pre-construction process Leadbitter held skills workshops with local suppliers and trades to form local links and employ locally wherever possible.
Leadbitter focused on establishing a strong local supply chain which could partner with them and bring value not only to NCC and the school, but also for future school developments and other projects in South Wales. To achieve this aim Leadbitter targeted local companies with direct mailshots and also placed adverts in local papers. The event was well received and a huge success with over 100 local companies attending.
The long-term impact though will be seen through the increased educational success and resultant improved employment prospects for the school’s pupils; and not just school-age pupils but also adult students undertaking vocational training.
Minimal environmental impact was the third criteria of our brief, and the extensive consultation and interactive design process resulted in a 73-point rated BREEAM 'Excellent' status.
We used passive techniques to reduce baseline energy demand, and we achieved an energy certificate rating of 30 ‘Category B’. The school was orientated and internal layouts developed to: use the main school building as an acoustic barrier to Bettws Lane to allow maximum natural ventilation; position the art classrooms facing north to maximise natural light, minimise solar gains and provide optimum teaching space; orientate general teaching classrooms east and west to minimise solar gains; provide cross-ventilation to all classrooms with stacks to high level on the ground-floor classrooms and high-level openings to the rear of first-floor classrooms; improve all U-Values 20% better than Part L of the Building Regulations, and air tightness to 50% better.
Each of the following was assessed on a lifecycle cost basis as well as carbon reduction basis to ensure best value: daylight/presence detection for lighting control; CHP plant for the swimming pool - providing an excellent electrical offset (and hence carbon offset) for the whole school; solar hot water system; rainwater harvesting; heat recovery on all ventilation plant and swimming pool back-wash cycle; underfloor heating from high-efficiency gas boilers linked with the natural ventilation system through the BEMS to avoid conflict.
The design offered a 24% carbon improvement over Building Regulations requirements, and turned the school into a learning tool, something which has been identified within particular year-group curricula.
The new school has exceeded all expectation: a turnaround in public opinion and attitude, greater user attainment and a significant increase in application for places.
2010 also saw an unprecedented rise in exam pass rates at Newport High School. 75% of its pupils achieved five or more GCSEs graded A* to C this year, an almost 50% increase on the previous year's 51% pass rate.
Newport High headteacher Karyn Keane attributed the impressive improvements, amongst other factors, to the new facilities: “We held an open evening for the community, two weeks after starting in the school. It was an unprecedented success with nearly 1,700 prospective parents and members of the community visiting the new facilities. Open evenings in the old school had usually attracted about 50 visitors.”
The increased interest has translated into increased numbers. According to Karyn: “at the beginning of the new build process Bettws High School had a poor name in the community. We were struggling to recruit students and were losing over 100 Year 7 students per year to a school in a neighbouring authority. This September we will have increased our Year 7 number by 50% and significantly improved our status in the community.” The precise figures are these: in 2007 the enrolment figures were 127 students with further decline forecasted. However, this new school has attracted an increased enrolment for the 2009-2010 academic year: up by nearly 50% to 180 students.