Creative design solutions for a complex school site

19 Nov 2020

Reddiford school

In July, Darwin Group delivered a new multi-use block for Reddiford School in Pinner, North West London. The independent preparatory school has operated out of converted semi-detached houses since its inception in 1913. Tom Morgan, Design Director at Darwin Group, explains how the modular builder overcame the challenges of a compact site to deliver the new facility.

Scaling 321 sq m, the brand-new £875,000 building will accommodate the school’s growing capacity. However, the independent preparatory school opened with just five pupils – but by 1935, the adjoining house was purchased to accommodate an increasing number of students. An additional five classrooms were made, with a sixth being built in the garden. The school has since acquired a further two sites and although the original building is still standing strong, the extension built on the grounds had become dilapidated.

As a modular construction specialist, we were challenged with modernising the school and designing a brand-new, multi-purpose block that would enhance the teaching and learning facilities to the benefit of present and future pupils. We worked closely with the school to maximise the footprint of the site, whilst being mindful of the neighbouring residential areas.

The brand-new block provides excellent teaching facilities and houses a multifunctioning classroom, music practise room and school hall, which will also be used as a gymnasium and provide space for school functions, lunch facilities and assemblies.

A challenging site

The site, part of Tookes Green Conservation Area, posed multiple complexities for our team. At Darwin Group, we have a skilled in-house group of designers, architects, town planners and construction professionals, which allowed us to provide a unique turnkey service for Reddiford School. This is what made the short turn-around possible – and we completed the new block in just 12 months.

The major obstacle, which became apparent straight away, was that the site was split across different levels, giving us very limited space for on-site construction. Our Project Manager worked tirelessly with the school to consider its unique situation and discussed how the project could be delivered efficiently whilst being considerate of the pupils and staff also using the space within a live school environment.

During the design phase, we completed a value for money exercise that identified the different options we had for engineering on-site. One major benefit of this exercise was the decision to use the existing netball court for our material storage and skip facilities. This provided a secure site compound in close proximity to the new building, reducing the need for costly segregation measures due to the site being so constrained.

In utilising modern methods of construction and our highly-controlled factory facility, based at Darwin Group’s headquarters in Shrewsbury, we were able to deliver a large percentage of the project off-site. Working in this way allows our teams on-site to take advantage of as much of the space available as possible and, in this case, also minimised disturbance for the rest of the school. Our factory provides us with the highest levels of quality control and allows Darwin Group to minimise waste –  making the construction of Reddiford School’s new block both extremely efficient and sustainable.

Another major stumbling block arose as part of the planning process when Harrow Council specified the need for a method of attenuating rainwater in the instance of a significant storm. As the school is situated within a critical drainage area, the new block needed to provide an innovative solution to help minimise the risk of flooding. Rather than comprising on the teaching space, we chose to use the roof of the building to hold and attenuate the rainwater, which is then gradually released into an underground storm drainage system. This allowed us to maximise the available space and provide a satisfactory solution to secure planning permission.

Another challenge was the link corridor between the main school building and the new block – a critical element of the design layout, which allows access between the two. This corridor formed the spine of the building and large glazed panels were introduced at either end to create a light and airy space. The spaces adjacent to the corridor were developed as part of a series of design meetings with the school, which helped us to ensure maximum functionality. High-level glazing and roof lights were added to the design to increase the amount of natural daylight and ventilation, thereby providing the best quality learning environment.

Both the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and associated strict hygiene and social distancing measures meant that the later stages of the project had to be carefully controlled too. We have always had comprehensive site working practices but operating safely whilst maintaining shared access to the project site required us to quickly adapt and adhere to new measures. Our construction team did this very effectively and put the client at ease with minimal disturbance to the school environment.

A new build in traditional surroundings

The aesthetics of the build played a major part in our design decisions. We understand that it can be very difficult for a client to visualise how their project will look, so to bring our concept to life, we created a virtual walk-through video of the block for Reddiford School to review. This not only showed off the external view of the new building but it also led the client through the block in its entirety. We were able to illustrate just how the new corridor would link together the specialist teaching spaces and also lead to the open-plan school hall.

To ensure the new elements of the school blended in with the residential area, we introduced a stepped roof to minimise the visual impact whilst still maintaining the required internal ceiling height for the hall. We decided on a soft orange brick, white render and western red cedar to complement the existing on-site structures. We then contrasted the traditional brickwork with slate grey windows and door frames to provide a modern and contemporary look to the block. At Darwin Group, we always deliver exceptional looking, affordable buildings and the innovative solution provided for Reddiford School is no different.

Focusing on the future

As specialists in education, we understand that by the time a child reaches the age of 11 they will have spent over half of their life in their first school. This is a place where children work and play for a substantial part of their lives, so we enjoy creating the very best environments for young pupils to grow and develop in.

The quality and longevity of a build is a key focus for every Darwin Group project. The needs of a school are constantly changing as the curriculum develops and class sizes alter, so at Reddiford School, it was important we designed a space that provided teachers with more classroom layouts to maintain pupils’ focus.

It was important for Reddiford School to have a specialist space for music practice and theory lessons. We therefore designed a classroom with a joining practice room. The advantage of modular building is that our developments can be altered in a cost-effective way if required in the future. Reddiford School’s new multi-purpose block could be opened-up into one large workspace or alternatively be sectioned off into smaller group areas. Additional classrooms can also be added to the link corridor if the school continues to grow.

A happy client

As a proud British company, we were pleased to have been able to support Reddiford School throughout a challenging period, delivering its new multi-purpose block on-time and within 12 months. It is an exceptional looking building and testament to our commitment to maximum functionality for the benefit of both staff and students.

Linda Shepherd, Bursar at Reddiford School, said: “We wanted a full turnkey service from a company that we felt could manage the whole process for us. We identified Darwin Group as its values and ethos most matched the needs of our school and they came recommended as a gold starred construction company by the Independent Schools Association.

“The project cost and competitiveness of their quote was a deciding factor, redefining what is achievable within tight budgets. Darwin Group’s project and design teams guided us through the whole planning process with sheer professionalism and illustrated first-class liaison within a live school environment so as not to affect the children and their learning.

“We were very grateful for the tireless work both the site and construction managers put in to deliver this project for us – the completed building is stunning and has been finished to an exceptionally high standard.”

Darwin Group’s cost effective and seamless service has redefined what is achievable for schools. In addition to in-depth design consultations, we also offer financial payment plans and assist with funding applications to ensure every clients aspirations and budget constraints align.