Dec 18, 2018 Last Updated 11:34 AM, Dec 18, 2018

Eric Wright Construction talks through its far from straightforward project in Burnley

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Here, Kevin Burgoyne from Eric Wright Construction discusses the company’s newly-completed Burnley High School project in Lancashire.


After more than two years in temporary accommodation, students from Burnley High School started the summer term in their new school building this April, following a construction project that may not have followed the original plan but has delivered an outcome far beyond the trust’s expectations.

A new free school delivered for the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and Chapel Street Community Schools Trust, which has 450 student capacity with a 200-student sixth form, was initially planned as a refurbishment of the disused Habergham High School in Burnley. Due to start on site in April 2015 to be ready for students in September of that year, the original project was a straightforward upgrade of the existing building within a five-month programme.

As there was an existing 1960s school on the site, no one envisaged any significant issues when the Eric Wright Construction team commissioned searches and ground investigations but, below ground, existing shallow worked coal seams forced the ESFA to put the project on hold.

It was no longer viable to refurbish the existing building as neither the construction works nor future occupation of the building were safe. The original plan for a refurbishment was replaced with a new-build scheme, while a local business centre was remodelled as temporary accommodation for the students.

Preparing the site

Eric Wright Construction started on site with remediation and demolition works in October 2015. Development of the specification for the design and build project was carried out in parallel with this pre-construction phase, with the team working closely with the appointed architects, structural engineers and building services designers.

Asbestos from the existing building was surveyed and safely removed, enabling demolition to take place. All the original materials from the existing building were then crushed on site and used as infill for the project, reducing the cost of the scheme and diverting waste from landfill to reduce the project’s environmental impact.

With the building demolished, Eric Wright Construction brought in drilling and grouting specialists to drill into the coal seams and inject grout into them to fill the voids and stabilise the site. Three test bores were drilled to ensure that the voids had been filled effectively before construction could begin.

Varied facilities

By January 2016, the site was ready for construction to begin and the scheme was fully designed. The unusual ground conditions on site made it impossible to use piled foundations, so, instead, a reinforced concrete raft slab was used, onto which the steel frame for the three-storey building was erected.

The three-storey building is designed around a central atrium which forms the assembly hall at ground floor level; a multi-use space with terraced seating, a demountable stage and a large matrix screen that can be used for performances and community events in addition to school assemblies.

Balconies at first and second floor level overlook the open and light-filled space of the atrium, leading off to an enviable range of teaching facilities, which include a full teaching kitchen for food tech students, a bank of fully-equipped science labs with piped gas services along one side of the building at first floor level and ITC suites fitted with the latest laptops and smart boards.

Teaching facilities built into the new school also include a design and technology suite, a large music room, dry and wet art rooms, a learning resource centre and a science exhibition space. A double-height sports hall has also been integrated into the main school building with facilities for basketball, volleyball, badminton and five-a-side football, along with a separate fitness suite with gym equipment.

The change of scheme to a new-build project has also enabled the specification of excellent back of house facilities including a full commercial kitchen and dedicated dining room, a reception and administration areas and pastoral one-to-one facilities. The construction scheme included a full FF&E (furniture, fixtures and equipment) package, along with transferring legacy furniture and equipment across to the new building from the temporary accommodation and installation of all lab equipment, kitchens and IT.

An external works package of hard and soft landscaping was also delivered as part of the scheme, including creation of a new MUGA pitch, outdoor social spaces, a car park and extensive tree planting.

On time, on budget

Despite the challenges of re-programming the project, Burnley High School was delivered on time within a revised budget, with the students returning to school in their new building after the Easter break.

Indeed, the focus on completing on time to enable the school to occupy the building was such a priority that, at one stage, the project was six weeks ahead of programme. This time was used towards the end of the works to ensure all final fix and snagging was completed to the highest standards prior to handover.

Close communication with the trust and local residents ensured that the project ran smoothly throughout, with all stakeholders remaining up-to-date with progress.

It’s an approach that paid dividends, with the school’s Principal, Miss Vicky Povey, commenting: “Although we have faced some tough challenges in getting this project pulled together, we are delighted with the resulting design for our new school.”

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