It’s 8.30am on November 5 and instead of making their way to their tutor room the 15- and 16-year-olds of Mr Bima’s Year 11 class are crowded into Sydenham School’s front reception feverishly putting on steel-tipped boots, high-visibility jackets, maxi-grip protective gloves and yellow hard-hats. They are not the first group to take the 30-minute tour of the New Building: centrepiece of the three-year, £23 million Building Schools For The Future Project nearing completion at the school’s Dartmouth Road campus as students. Parents and staff have been visiting the site for the last two months. The safety gear is a must as is the health and safety talk. All is on schedule for a spring 2015 opening but it is still a building site.
“I have worked on a number of such projects,” says Sydenham School’s Director of Strategy and Resources Joanne Smith, “and this is the first time I have met a contractor willing to let students onto the site while construction and fitting-out is still going on. It is great for us as a STEM school that Costains has allowed this but also it’s a tribute to the girls that they are being trusted.”
“It is really exciting to get a chance to look round the building,” says Kesmai Fennell (15), “trying to imagine what the classrooms and corridors will look like when they are finished. It’s tantalising though, because by the time we get in there, my year-group will all be busy with GCSE revision.” Later she learns, how different life as sixth-former will be, with her cohort being the first to have access to the dedicated A-Level floor, it’s specialist post-16 science, technology, design and engineering rooms and exclusive use of a new cafe and roof-terrace.
There are plenty of other reasons to be full of anticipation. The New Building is going to be home to industry standard music, media, and performing arts and PE-facilities, including a professional dance studio with mirrored-walls and sprung floors. There is also to be a glass viewing gallery overlooking the International-quality gym from which, Joanne Smith, explains, it will be possible to watch matches and also film sports for training purposes. A significant buzz of satisfaction passes through the group at the news of the ‘hotel-like’ toilet and shower facilities that will be standard throughout.
The Year 11 girls also get a chance to stand in what will be Sydenham School’s main hall – a space capable of accommodating the entire 1,450 student body – something that has not been possible in the existing facilities. From there, Joanne Smith points out the new exterior amphitheatre which will double up as a recreation spot for students during breaks but also with a capacity to seat 500 people for theatre and dance performances and also, possible outside guest concerts.
“The girls returned from their tour buzzing with excitement,” reported their Tutor and Subject Leader for Engineering and Design, David Bima. “We’ve all got used to the New Building steadily going up behind high hoardings, but now we have a clear idea of just how spectacular the new space will be. From my perspective, it was fascinating to visit the Computer-Aided Design (CADCAM) room, and also learn about the atmosphere-sensitive windows that will open and close according to the ambient temperature and levels of Co2 in rooms. It was also fun to be able to tour the boiler rooms to see the extraordinary complex of piping, and car-sized tanks and boilers that will serve the building.”
Meanwhile, as the Year 11 girls were touring, students in Years 8-10 were tackling a special maths project made possible by the release by Costains to mark the near-completion of this phase of the project of some of the facts and figures associated with the New Building’s construction. “Armed with this data, the students were asked to come up with some equivalent measures that would perhaps make it easier to conceive the scale of the work involved and the spaces we’re soon to all be enjoying,” said Curriculum Leader Maths and Digital Technologies Mark Freakes.
The highlights included:
- the 5,000+ guinea pig-lengths of small power cables used in the New Building’s construction (approx. 89,275m);
- the quarter of a million maths exercise books it would take to entirely carpet the New Building’s 9,042m2 floor-space;
- the 20 million cola cans of material excavated from the site equivalent to the 6,630 m3 removed; and
- the 140,000 or so flattened crisp packets (depending on brand) required to cover the amount of roof spaces, including the sedum green roof.
“ But putting it all into perspective,” added Mark Freakes, “ one student calculation established that once the entire BSF is completed the combined area of the New Building and refurbished Old Building (12,460 m2) will amount to just a sixth of Buckingham Palace’s total area (77,000 m2)!”
He added: “”Having this building scheme around us for the last two years has proved an asset across the STEM curriculum giving students something quite literally concrete in front of their eyes that is the product of design, maths, physics and engineering. This ‘equivalents’ exercise has been the means of teaching and consolidating a number of skills including estimating, rounding, finding the areas of rectangles, converting between metric units and expressing one quantity as a proportion of another, as well as enabling students to create their own units of measurement.”
Back on site, the Year 11 tour finishes with a photo-opportunity featuring girls holding torches, suggesting how close in the schedule things are to the New Building lighting up properly for teaching and learning. “There will be weekly tours now happening every Wednesday so that every tutor group can see the building – soon to become their familiar space- in a state of near completion, “says Sydenham School’s Headteacher Carolyn Unsted. “As well as increasing the anticipation of moving into this amazing space, it is important the girls get a sense of the enormous complexity of such a building – the pipes, sprinklers, cabling and other infrastructure that will never be on such display again. We hope it will inspire students to consider a career somewhere in the whole process of construction – more and more women are doing so as we move into the 21st Century. ”