Exemplar in sustainable construction

High-quality, flexible and contemporary design and a vibrant hub for increased community cohesion

by Amy 24 December 2010
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    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’.

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