Birkenhead High School Academy
Pioneering programme of works builds positive learning environment
Birkenhead High School Academy raises the bar for all-girls education, creating a space that encourages everyone to reach their full potential.
The transformational programme of refurbishment, remodelling and new build, promotes cohesion with the Academy’s mission. Encouraging pupils to pursue their interests and to break the glass ceiling in terms of perceived ‘traditional’ career choices.
The original manor house has been restored to its former glory, enhanced by the new build additions, whilst providing much needed additional space to accommodate increased pupil intake.
Prioritising students’ potential
The school originated in a beautiful 1836 manor house, over the years, as the school grew, a number of ad-hoc buildings were added. This created a fragmented site which left students and staff with no clear distinction between areas and how to get around the school. We improved the entrance and arrival space, creating a safe and easily navigable building layout.
The site also didn’t accurately reflect the school’s ethos, presence in the community or the strong student-teacher relationships, where each student is made to feel valued and nurtured.
Our key aspiration for the project was to embody the Academy’s ‘DNA’. Providing a unified and positive learning space that enabled everyone to accomplish all their ambitions.
Through our design we looked to improve the relationship between subject areas and maximising the potential of the outdoor space, giving students more opportunities than normally found in a typical ‘through school’. This was developed in line with the curriculum and to enhance the pupil’s social experience.
Bridging the connection
Key to the design was a 4-month engagement process with the school. We collaborated with the students and staff to understand their thoughts on what worked in the existing buildings and what needed improvements. Recognising the position of music as an integral part of their curriculum and extra-curricular activities.
We found although some of the older buildings were much loved by students, there was not enough larger spaces for performance, dining and group teaching. Some of the rooms were very cold due to some damp issues as well as single glazed timber windows.
The two sites (junior and secondary school) connect via a bridge and each building varied in age, appearance and construction technique, with the open space fragmented and not very practical. We prioritised energy efficiency, using the existing civic buildings as the foundation to build on and develop the wider design.
The internal spaces feature a colour palette inspired by the official school colours. Aligned to each year group to depict development through the years, from pink in junior school to mature deep purple at sixth form.
New and Refurbished
Flexibility and familiarity
We created a flexible layout for the senior school, where all the spaces are adaptable to different subjects and activities. The new entrance building accommodates whole school assemblies, a variety of performances, exams and provides a suitable backstage area, as well as acting as a dining hall and kitchen for all year groups.
The stage is at the heart of the school, incorporating movable walls to create the best layout for each performance. With the option to even create a ‘theatre in the round’ type of setup. The performance hall can also be closed off during examination times, while still retaining the stage for assemblies and smaller performances.
The ability to move around the school is enhanced through the new building. Sandwiched between two existing buildings, it acts as a connector with a covered bridge linking all the spaces internally.
Designed with familiarity in mind, the junior school’s new entrance takes the shape of a typical ‘home’ outline as drawn by a child. Creating a safe and inviting entryway for young children, tying in with the architecture of the adjacent buildings.
The development of a comprehensive site wide refurbishment and remodelling plan ensured we retained all existing civic buildings.
As part of the plan every building had essential repairs carried out, as well as newly painted walls and flooring to create an identity across the entire school. Where possible original elements were retained and conserved. Including the restoration of the original Milton tiles lining the entrance way and sensitive refurbishment of the existing World War II Air raid shelter; now open to the public on set Visitor Days.
Overcoming the challenges
Refurbishment of the existing buildings presented some unexpected findings of asbestos and corroded timbers, due to lack of up-to-date surveys and drawings. We carried out a building condition survey and full survey and schedule of required repairs internally and externally to inform our side wide plan.
Our carefully considered phasing plan on a live site, addressed the other main challenge, the many different types of junctions within existing buildings of different ages. We developed every aspect of the project to be adaptable - considering short, medium and long-term changes. This flexibility in the design is extended to building services and ICT infrastructure to minimise disruption when any changes take place.
We also successfully delivered lower maintenance costs through overall improvement of energy systems including the use of full height glazing, maximising natural daylight.
In the existing buildings, an improved natural ventilation strategy was introduced, and refurbished areas achieved a 3.2% daylight factor. The school achieved BREEAM Very Good and an EPC B rating.
We have also driven a site organisation plan which allows for future expansion, reducing the risk of ‘ad hoc’ add-ons which may compromise navigation and building efficiency.
A commitment to now and the future
From the very outset, our plan was to get involved with the Academy’s curriculum through Careers Days, Recruitment Fairs, mock interviews and supporting the specialisms.
The Academy provides an excellent environment for the students and the wider community and reinforces the Council’s aim of securing the future for Wirral people. By promoting achievement and extending learning through an inspiring and educationally supportive environment, the school is able to continue its development of confident, articulate, aspiring and responsible young people of the future.
Birkenhead, Wirral, CH43 1TY
The Girls Day School Trust
BREEAM Very Good
EPC ‘B’ Rating
1,000 pupil spaces
Northern Design Awards 2013
Winner - Best Commercial Build
RICS Awards 2014
Shortlisted - North West Building Conservation Award
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