May 01, 2017 Last Updated 10:20 AM, Apr 28, 2017

A lasting legacy through school expansions

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The school place race hit its peak in April, as thousands of parents across the UK waited to see whether their child would be able to attend their chosen school.

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Norfolk was no exception, indeed, this was a record year for primary school admissions in the county with 302 more children due to start school in Norfolk this September, compared with last year.

Catton Grove Primary School, Norfolk, is a project that exemplifies the measures being taken by local councils, in this instance Norfolk County Council, to alleviate the demand for school places regionally.

Despite the increased demand for school places, 92% of children were given their first place school, with 56 extra families getting their first preference this year.

In order to combat the growing need for school places, a trend that is forecast to continue, projects such as Catton Grove Primary School, delivered by construction and infrastructure company Morgan Sindall plc, are expanding upon existing facilities to meet the growing demand for places.

This scheme, and those like it, reflect the planning by Norfolk County Council for the years ahead and the county council has been working closely with schools to increase the number of school places available over the last few years. This has meant an investment from the county council in increasing the number of classes in some schools, including Catton Grove.

The £1.6m Catton Grove Primary School project comprised the construction of six new classrooms and is part of a wider scheme by the council to provide more school places in the region. The spacious, modernised teaching spaces blend seamlessly with the existing buildings and enhance the space on offer to the local community.

Additional classrooms were constructed alongside an extra nursery room and new office and reception spaces allowing for a cohesive extension that expanded and updated the school. New storage facilities were also constructed.

The additional teaching spaces mean that Catton Grove Primary is now a three form entry with places for 630 pupils from the local catchment area, creating additional places.

Arron Easter, Framework Manager of the Catton Grove Project, said: “Lack of school places is a growing issue regionally prompting calls for additional space and the development of new facilities, which can often be challenging both financially and spatially.

“Projects such as Catton Grove demonstrate the measures being taken by local councils and the planning that will mean, as pupil numbers grow, places available grow concurrently with them meaning every effort is being made to match supply and demand in the community.”

Community was an important factor for the Morgan Sindall project team during the project’s 38 week life span. The project team immersed themselves locally with pupils, staff and parents.

As is often the case with education construction projects, the build took place in a live school environment, meaning communication between the project team, the school and parents was essential. Simple measures such as timing deliveries and regular written updates distributed to parents ensured all parties were fully informed about the project’s progress.

The project was initially intended to span 56 weeks and would be completed over multiple phases. A review of this process allowed the project to be cut to 36 weeks – a time saving that translated into financial savings. School holidays were utilised to ensure the most disruptive work was timed around these and the project team worked closely with key subcontractors to plan the key phases to minimise disruption during the project. Reuse of existing windows and roof lights saved additional funds as did ring fencing materials early on to secure the cost.

Morgan Sindall’s project team also took precautions to ensure a seamless handover of the completed extension, holding training sessions ahead of the handover date to ensure the staff were comfortable with the new facilities.

Arron Easter added: “From the start, and as with many of the projects Morgan Sindall is involved with, we wanted to ensure that we worked closely with the school and formed a good relationship with staff and pupils. We did this through a number of additional projects beyond the construction work. During a community day held during the summer holidays, the project team volunteered their time and resources to give the school’s playground a new lease of life.

“The new play area has a pirate theme and to celebrate its completion we held a pirate-themed fancy dress day. It was a great way to connect with the pupils, raise awareness of the project and ensure the message of on-site safety was delivered.”

The revamp of the play area included new decking and play areas, a freshly painted shed and a new wave backdrop complete with wooden pirate characters.

The project team also held regular safety assemblies and community days at the school. One such community day, ‘It’s a Knock Out!’, pitted the Morgan Sindall staff against the Catton Grove Primary School teachers. The event helped to build cooperation and trust between all parties and fostered a positive relationship between the school and project team.

Safety was emphasised through Morgan Sindall’s safety mascot, Ivor Goodsite, visiting the school and involving and educating the children through the creation of safety posters.

The involvement Morgan Sindall enjoyed with the school meant that the handover was marked with a special ceremony. Pupils were given a tour of the new facility and as part of the fun-filled event, balloons were suspended in a net before being released over the children to mark the occasion.

A balloon modeller was present along with a children’s entertainer, hired by Morgan Sindall to provide entertainment at the ceremony. No celebration is complete without cake, and in keeping with the pirate theme, everyone enjoyed a celebratory slice of pirate-themed cake.

Catton Grove Primary School headteacher, Tim Lawes said: “We are very pleased with the work that has been undertaken by Morgan Sindall. The team has acted with both professionalism and sensitivity during the time they have been part of our community – thanks for all your efforts.”

The extension at Catton Grove Primary School is a great example of how important positive interaction between the project team and the local community is. It is also a great example of the work being done across the region to accommodate growing demand for school places and leave a lasting legacy for the local community.

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