Sep 19, 2019 Last Updated 10:52 AM, Aug 14, 2019

Transforming learning environments

Published in Education
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As a £2b fund extension to the coalition's school building programme has been announced, P C Henderson, a leading manufacturer of Sliding Gear Systems, advises how space can be reconfigured intelligently in existing facilities.


Schools can apply for funding for repairs which will be available in 2015. By installing sliding door hardware, educational spaces can be transformed, not just repaired, explains Fergus Pickard, Product Development Director, P C Henderson.

The latest initiative allows schools to apply for funding to repair and improve buildings. As reported in ‘Coalition boosts English schools building programme with £2bn’, The Financial Times, 29th April 2014, this may pre-empt a long-delayed survey on the scale of work needed to be done on the UK’s schools.

With new builds accounting for around only 1% of each year’s building stock (as reported by Sustainable Development Commission), refurbishment and repairs of facilities across the country should be considered for ongoing value and future flexibility. By using innovative ways of dividing rooms, creating storage and allowing temporary concealed areas for offices and study, will help to meet future demands should the requirements of the room change. In the office sector flexibility is now key for layouts and this may translate to future education environments.

Certain types of hardware allow rooms such as assembly halls to be divided into extra classrooms or used for different purposes when needed. Other sliding hardware is ideal for heavy duty light commercial use and can be used for standard or cupboard doors eliminating the room needed for a swing door to function. Sliding doors are also the safer option as they eliminate the intrusive swing door. One classroom innovatively used a sliding whiteboard to reveal vital storage behind to increase space. Sliding door hardware can also be utilised in school gyms. A curtain system can be installed to divide the area to allow two classes to use the space at the same time.

According to the Department of Communities and Local Government, an inclusive environment is one that can be used by everyone, regardless of age, gender or disability.

The importance of creating a space that supports inclusive learning is a key consideration.

Sliding doors accommodate larger opening sizes allowing pupils who use walking aids or wheelchairs to use the school’s facilities with independence and confidence.

Both the Government and Save the Children offer guidance on designing schools for children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) and disabilities. Basic, cheap and tested guidance is to have wide door openings to accommodate wheelchairs and to have handles low enough for children in wheelchairs to reach.

In the case of the Ruskin Mill College, an independent specialist further education college based in Gloucestershire, accessibility is a key aim. When its woodland kitchen was built, doors were intelligently installed to create an open and welcoming foyer or an extra enclosed and warm classroom, when required, for versatility. As part of the Ruskin Mill Trust, the College provides residential education for 16-25 year olds from all over the UK with severe learning difficulties, including autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and developmental delay. During festivals, conferences and special events the kitchen is used to serve food and drink to the public.

The folding hardware installed helps create an even more welcoming environment with ability to fold completely open in summer and create an indoor/outdoor experience. The system is suitable for heavy doors and in this case suits the beautiful timber of the eco-designed unique place of learning. The system provides flexibility for different room layouts.

Exemplary refurbishment

An example of an award-winning refurbishment was the first of two phases for Lowther Primary School, London Borough of Richmond, to help transform the facilities and complement the existing building. It was awarded Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) Excellent further displaying the environmental considerations of the School and Borough. Phase one also achieved a Civic Trust Award, RIBA Award, and a British Construction Award for ‘Small Building Project.’

Part of the second phase extension doubled the size of the primary school with a new two-storey building, taking it from single-form entry to two-form entry. As part of this phase of the project, P C Henderson’s Lift and Slide hardware was installed helping create a dramatic entrance to the playground. The 900m2 block is comprised of four classrooms, a hall, a kitchen, an ICT suite, staff room and support rooms.

The sliding doors operate with a simple turn of the handle. This unlocks the door, lifts the door up from its weather tight position and allows it to slide easily on the carriages with minimal friction. Once open, the door can be lowered at any position and locked by moving the handle down. This simple operation is achieved with the confidence that the system offers superior weather resistance and; with the combination of the multi-lock mechanism and concealed position of the carriages, excellent security. The system can hold doors up to 300kg and is available in three CE rated weather levels.

Future demands

It is essential to consider flexibility of the interior when refurbishing a school. Interior solutions that provide space saving options, allow for ease of adaption for future demand and offer interchangeable options is key. School refurbishment projects can gain vital space through the specification of cleverly designed door hardware systems for sliding and folding doors. This means learning environments will be transformed and not just repaired.

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