The future's bright

A new school hall and library for a small regional school

by Amy 30 December 2010
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    The St Joseph’s Primary School hall and library were built with the Australian Federal Government’s Building the Education Revolution (BER) economic stimulus package funding. The government outlined two main objectives for the BER funding, to provide economic stimulus through the rapid construction and refurbishment of school infrastructure and to build learning environments to help children, families and communities participate in activities that will support achievement, develop learning potential and bring communities together.

    For primary schools, the government outlined that the funding was for the building or renewing of large-scale infrastructure works with the priority on libraries, multi-purposes halls and classrooms. The school’s library and canteen were cramped and outdated. There was no school hall and the school lacked street presence with many local residents being unaware of its existence. The school wanted to address all of these issues with their BER funding allocation of $850,000 (total project cost including all consultant and approval fees, furniture for hall and library, electronic equipment and canteen appliance fit-out) while still achieving a high quality outcome and dynamic learning spaces.

    The architect, engineer and builder worked together on this project to ensure a quality outcome within a limited timeframe and budget. The builder’s contract for the two buildings was for approximately $700,000. Limited time for documentation meant a trusting relationship between the builder, project manager and architect was critical to the success of the project. The building programmes were driven by the need to create strong connections with the existing school buildings. Internal spaces are ordered by requirements for light, ventilation and visual connection to key external views and areas.

    The new buildings engage successfully with the church and school grounds both through careful material selection (the bricks are identical to those used in the original buildings) and through careful siting. The obvious presence of the school hall from the street acts to connect the (less obvious) school with the town centre. The south facing library connects the school to the river and valley below. The two buildings now bookend one’s passage through the school with the hall acting as gateway and the library as terminus.

    The sustainability of the building is addressed through careful orientation and the effective use of materials. Both the hall and library buildings are tuned to screen sunlight during school hours with a resultant reduction in heat load. The building’s envelopes and systems exceed the requirements of Section J of the Building Code of Australia (BCA) in most categories. Natural ventilation of the hall is achieved with high and low level ventilation. This cross ventilation effectively exploits local air movements and is complemented by eight ceiling fans.

    The hall does not have any active heating or cooling systems. The band of clerestory windows provides sufficient natural light to negate the requirement for artificial lighting during daylight hours. The clerestory’s double skin of translucent fibreglass provides this high level of natural light without significantly compromising the building’s thermal performance. The library is predominately lit by large north and south facing windows. Local materials were used where possible. The dry pressed bricks were sourced 6 km from the site and are fired by burning waste timber material from a local mill. All timber decking materials were sourced from local mills.

    The project fully met the programatic requirements of the combined clients being the Catholic Schools Office - Diocese of Maitland and Newcastle, the local school community and local parish but exceeded their expectations by providing dramatic and uplifting spaces. The school now has new presence in the mind of the community that will help attract new students and create a positive impression for visitors. The school hall is being used frequently by the school and parish as well as the general public. The library (in addition to its use as a library) has become a popular venue for staff and parish meetings. The buildings are appreciated for their open and well lit characteristics and the students identify well with the spaces and the new facilities.

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