May 28, 2017 Last Updated 9:00 AM, May 26, 2017

Austin-Smith:Lord provides stimulating learning spaces for students

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Austin-Smith:Lord recently undertook the role of executive architect in the development of a new BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ 472-pupil combined nursery and primary Welsh medium school in the Furnace area of Llanelli.

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The school’s imaginative design provides a variety of stimulating learning spaces. Arranged over two storeys, the design maximises the views to the nearby coastline whilst minimising the building footprint. Courtyards, covered classrooms and a roof terrace have immediate links to classrooms and the ecologically-rich woodland setting. Sustainability has been a key consideration with the aim of achieving a highly sustainable development. There are two different but connected aspects to this, zero carbon in use and a BREEAM design rating of ‘Outstanding’.

A substantial 700m2 photovoltaic array on the school’s roof is really the only ‘big ticket’ item employed to achieve the zero carbon status. The other measures are simpler and smaller but together create a very energy-efficient scheme. These measures include a highly insulated fabric, solar shading and solar control glazing, good airtightness, cross ventilation, solar thermal panels, air source heat pumps, highly efficient gas boilers, good levels of daylight combined with efficient sensor-controlled lighting. The completed project has been certified with an EPC of A+ (zero carbon in use).

The school is focused around a double-height hub or ‘heart’ space. This is a generous circulation space used primarily as an orientation space both for the school and out of hours community uses. It provides an identifiable centre through which all users pass. It’s a place for impromptu meetings and allows for informal performances and learning to take place.

Community use of the school is provided out of hours through rentable halls, meeting rooms and sports facilities. These facilities include a badminton hall to Sport England standards and a multi-use games area (MUGA). These are complementary to the facilities provided on the site by local sports clubs and will be managed with their involvement. The existing scrub woodland setting has been maintained and enhanced.

The potential flooding issues on the site have been turned to its advantage through the creation of attenuation ponds. These ponds and the scrub woodland provide an attractive environment for learning and preservation of the local ecology. All these factors create a truly sustainable school in social, economic and environmental terms. The most important part of that is the creation of a learning environment that the pupils, staff, parents and the community all enjoy using.

The school replaces an existing Victorian school on an adjacent site. The existing school had long since outgrown the demand for Welsh medium education in the Llanelli area. More than half of pupils were being educated in temporary classrooms on a site prone to flooding with poor accessibility. The existing school did not even have a school hall. The head teacher, senior management team, pupils and governors were therefore enthusiastically engaged during both the design and construction stages of the project. The school remains immensely proud of its new building.

Carmarthenshire County Council has used the design at Ffwrnes as the basis for subsequent primary school designs within the authority. A post-occupancy evaluation was carried out with pupils, staff, design and construction teams through Constructing Excellence Wales. This enabled successful aspects to be identified and incorporated in subsequent school designs, albeit with reductions in some areas as a response to the current climate of austerity.

Design measures influenced in subsequent primary school designs

  • Passive environmental control through a thermally-efficient fabric, solar shading and airtightness
  • Simple, user-controlled heating and ventilation strategy
  • Omission of changing rooms as these were underutilised
  • Double-sided early years classrooms replaced with single-sided spaces and a central corridor reducing circulation
  • Omission of the first floor play terrace made possible by more efficient circulation and area reduction at ground floor
  • External access to ground floor classrooms via cloakrooms to reduce classroom heat losses.

Austin-Smith:Lord has recently been engaged by Carmarthenshire County Council as part of a design and build team with Andrew Scott to develop its latest iteration of a two-form entry primary which further refines ideas proved by the success of Ysgol Ffwrnes.

As further recognition of its success, Austin-Smith:Lord’s project for Ysgol Ffwrnes Llanelli was shortlisted in the international BREEAM Awards which celebrate groundbreaking sustainable building design. Judges shortlisted the project, which achieved a BREEAM score of 85.9%, for pushing beyond the BREEAM rating of ‘Excellent’ required by the Welsh Government to become an exemplar for future school buildings.

FACT FILE

Location: Llanelli, Carmarthenshire
Client: Carmarthenshire County Council
Value: £10m
Size: 3415m²
Service: Architecture, Landscape, Interiors
Sector: Education
Contractor: WRW Construction
Landscape: Austin-Smith:Lord
Structures: CB3 Consult
Services: SABA Consult

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