Pupils moved in just 21 months after the design was commissioned and only nine months after work started on site. The school was officially opened by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, the Rt Hon Ed Balls MP. It is the first Building Schools for the Future (BSF) project in London and accommodates up to 80 students aged between 11 and 18 with profound and multiple learning difficulties. The programme had to be so fast as the new school, based at Herne Hill, is a combination of two old ones, one of which had to close.Marks Barfield worked extremely closely with the school throughout the whole process. The school’s input, as the end-users, was invaluable in shaping the brief to match their particular requirements. Headteacher Jan Stogdon comments ‘We did it together. The input that students and staff have had throughout the design and construction process has helped our children understand the transition to a different site. We have all been amazed by how quickly the students have settled in to their new surroundings and how excited they are by the new facilities on offer.’
One of the main requirements for the school was flexibility. Jan explains ‘the school can never predict what sort of students there will be from year to year and what their particular needs will be.’ To aid this, the external walls and internal partitions have been disengaged from the structural frame, so they can be relatively easily changed in the future. Sustainability was central to the brief. The form of the building is determined by the section through classrooms which maximises natural light and ventilation with concrete soffits to maximise thermal mass. The school also has a sedum roof providing both insulation to keep energy bills down in the winter and a natural habitant for plants and small wildlife. It also acts as a visual educational tool for the pupils. Twenty-one different option studies were carried out, testing both the brief and the site. Through these options the real potential of the site became clear and the design developed to enable the school to make the most of the tight triangular site. Requirements of BB77 were adapted for the particular needs of the school – for example, the double height social hub was designated a library. One of the key objectives of the design was to keep the school as visible as possible, making a bold statement on the Milkwood Road. The school wanted the new building to be a prominent part of the community, not hidden away, and emphasising the need to prepare the pupils for adult-life in the real world and not to unrealistically protect them against it.