Nov 21, 2019 Last Updated 10:52 AM, Aug 14, 2019

Stewart Milne Timber Systems completes Holy Cross primary school

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Stewart Milne Timber Systems, the UK’s leading timber systems designer and manufacturer, has provided the timber solutions for a £3.6m school development in Swindon, alongside architect firm, Cullinan Studio.


Holy Cross primary school is a two-form, single-storey school which was manufactured off site, taking only three weeks to erect and 43 weeks to complete, thanks to the fast build time afforded by off-site construction and timber systems.

The single-storey building with sloping roofs allows all classrooms to have direct access to covered external learning spaces with views over the playing fields. It also ensures internal spaces have excellent natural light and ventilation.

The school is organised by two profiled wings of classrooms connected by a lower central spine containing group rooms and specialist learning areas, top-lit with generous rooflights. The main hall, which follows the same profile as the classrooms, is accessible to the local community for use out of school hours.

This innovative off-site manufactured school was developed from a Cullinan Studio-led research collaboration with Smith & Wallwork Structural Engineers, Cundall Environmental Engineers and Peter Gittins & Associates Cost Planners, to respond to the Government’s challenge to reduce cost and increase speed of delivery for primary school buildings. The aim was for a single-storey plan that could fit a range of site configurations and contexts.

Stewart Milne Timber Systems was selected by Cullinan Studio to help reach a trio of project objectives, namely: a fast build time, high levels of energy efficiency and scope for adaptability. Cost efficiency was another fundamental goal for the project, as it responded to the budget requirements of the education sector.

Enhanced creativity

The main design principle, like many modern education buildings today, was an open-plan look to enhance creativity and collaboration between pupils and teachers. Priority was also placed on ensuring the building increased circulation and flow around the school.

To achieve this, Cullinan Studio designed a wide corridor running through the school like a spine, with identical classroom clusters forming at either side. The Stewart Milne Timber Systems design team took that design and developed it for manufacture, meeting all the architects’ objectives and exact specifications in a factory quality environment.

The main requirement for this project was that several timber system units could be exactly replicated, ready to erect on site to form the identical teaching spaces. Energy performance, another fundamental factor, was built into the fabric of the school, with low-weight, carbon-sequestered timber used to maximise the efficiency of the building.

To ensure high energy performance from the external walls, each precision engineered wall panel was built using timber studs measuring 140mm thickness with 9mm of OSB to one side. Stewart Milne Timber Systems also supplied the roof cassettes for the building which were assembled in the same way, and were built utilising 450mm timber joists.

The project remained cost efficient with the use of off-site construction, cutting material and labour costs overall. The building was weathertight in just three weeks, meaning follow-on trades had access more quickly in comparison to a traditional build programme.

Alex Goodfellow, Group Managing Director at Stewart Milne Timber Systems, said: “Our work for this project clearly demonstrates the adaptability and design potential timber systems can offer to clients. The new Holy Cross primary school building will be cost effective and will close the gap between architect design and as-built performance, to provide a high-quality environment for classroom learning.

“Not only were timber systems able to help Cullinan Studio achieve the desired open-plan, light-filled and creative look, they also allowed for the project to be built quickly – on time and on budget.”

Tony McAteer, Headteacher at Holy Cross primary school, commented: “The features of the school which especially excite the staff are the spacious reception area and children’s entrance, the fact that each class has its own designated outdoor space and the general feeling of openness and light throughout the building. Teachers like the breakout areas and management enjoys the fact that a walk up through the building facilitates a snapshot of the school at work.”

While the construction methods of the timber systems for this build were intricate and precision engineered, the building itself boasts simplicity and a welcoming, open feel. Cullinan Studio required the help of Stewart Milne Timber Systems to achieve its vision, but in quick, cost-effective and efficient way.

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