With Northumberland experiencing an exceptional and continuing pattern of growth in the numbers of children and young people who need specialist education provision, there was significant pressure to create extra places in one of the County Council's SEN schools; Hexham Priory. This extension to the first floor of the school, delivered in a live environment, was a seamless transition and has resulted in enhancing the already outstanding education facility further.
Northumberland County Council (NCC) invested in a 24-place SEN provision for sixth-form-aged pupils, via an extension to the current school, with its motto of ‘never underestimate a child’s ability’ being central to the build. Faithful+Gould was appointed as employer’s agents (project management and cost management services).
To ensure the requirements of learners with severe, profound or complex needs were met, through the capital project, extensive consultation with the school's community was carried out for the duration of the project. This involved working closely and collaboratively with school teaching and support staff, the school’s governing bodies and representatives of the parent body.
One of the main concerns was the fact that the extension had to be built within a live environment. Safety was paramount and communication was key; the team held meetings with the client and project stakeholders on a daily and weekly basis to provide information about construction activities and address any of their concerns. The team also established processes, procedures and management systems tailored towards a proactive ‘zero accidents’ approach and minimising disruption to the school's operational services.
The original school was built to accommodate 80 pupils (ten classrooms with eight pupils per class) and the extension has allowed capacity to grow to 104 pupils (eight in each of 13 classrooms), which is so important given the shortage of special school places in the area. It also affords the opportunity to further enhance the curriculum through the additional space.
On the surface, the £1.2m extension has provided an additional three classrooms and associated ancillary spaces, allowing additional capacity to ensure there is increased provision available locally for children with complex learning difficulties. However, this project’s success is beyond the bricks and mortar that has provided a fit-for-purpose facility; it has created a happy and purposeful place where pupils are safe and able to learn and develop.