In the construction industry, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the importance of a simple classroom block. The latest addition to Ty Gwyn Special School may look like a normal school building, but it is packed with interesting features and was delivered using modern methods of construction.
The block is surrounded by security fencing with access-controlled gates and CCTV to ensure pupil safety when in school, and at either end of the block, bespoke, powder coated aluminium canopies cover small separate playgrounds for each class, leading to a wider playground with built in play equipment. However, as the name suggests, Ty Gwyn Special School is no ordinary school, and this is no ordinary classroom block. Ty Gwyn is wholly focussed on supporting pupils who have profound or complex needs. Rated as ‘Excellent’ by Estyn, the education and training inspectorate for Wales, the school will educate children from three years to nineteen years old who might present severe or challenging behaviour.
The school needed a new block urgently to cater for a rise in pupil numbers – with less than ten pupils per class, classroom space is vitally important for the school. To procure the new block, Cardiff Council ran a mini competition via the SEWSCAP framework, which was subsequently won by Wernick Buildings. The building is constructed using 18 individual modules which were manufactured in Wernick’s dedicated factory in Port Talbot, less than an hour away from the site. These were transported to site by lorry, then craned into position and bolted together to form the core of the building. The brick cladding and trussed roof were then added to the core to give a traditional construction appearance.
Manufacturing the building in a factory environment gave the project several advantages. Firstly, the building could be constructed at the same time as the foundations were being prepared, dramatically reducing programme length, particularly on site. Manufacture was also not affected by site conditions like the weather, making the programme even more reliable. This was vitally important for the school, who would need the building in time for the start of the new term. The reliability of modular building was further tested by the outbreak of COVID-19. However, as a large part of the fit out had already been completed in the factory Wernick Buildings were able to minimise the operatives needed on site at any one time. Combined with careful site management, this allowed Wernick to continue work during the first lockdown, and ultimately the building was delivered ahead of schedule.
Providing a robust building which would be both a safe and calming environment for Ty Gwyn’s pupils who can sometimes present challenging behaviour, was important. This was reflected in the enhanced specification required by the council which Wernick embraced fully, enhancing their standard modular system to meet the requirements. The painted internal walls were upgraded with impact-resistant plasterboard to better withstand the demanding classroom environment. The floor, apart from being fully non-combustible, was also enhanced to improve rigidity and acoustic performance. All the doors are also equipped with acoustic seals to reduce noise throughout the building and ALUMASC Safehinge anti finger trap system to avoid any opportunity for entrapment.
Acoustic performance was especially important for the withdrawal rooms off each classroom. These spaces can be used when a child needs a calming and safe environment. The walls and floor of these were padded to ensure child safety, and were also equipped with an observation window and AV system, allowing teachers to play music for the children from the main classroom. A ducted heat recovery system was employed in the ventilation in these rooms, and comfort cooling is used throughout the building. The audio-visual system in the block is also a step above many standard classroom buildings. Aside from the withdrawal rooms and interactive whiteboards in each class, there is also a dedicated sensory room with controllable coloured lighting and interactive projections on the floor and wall which pupils can engage with. All classrooms are also equipped with a DDA compliant toilet and shower room, as well as a ‘nurse call’ system to help staff in emergencies. Glazing throughout the building was also enhanced to reduce u-values and improve security by meeting Secured by Design standards. As standard the windows had toughened glazing inner and laminate glazing outer.
A spokesperson for Cardiff Council commented: “The Wernick team were excellent to work with from start to finish. Teamwork was at the heart of everything, and the team committed from the outset to deliver the project on time. Working relationships were excellent, and this facilitated first class communication and ultimately the delivery of a highly successful project”