The recently opened St Silas Primary School in Blackburn, Lancashire, has been a remarkable feat. In only eight weeks over the summer of 2010, Capita Symonds completed the design and engineering for the 2400 square-metre building a mile north-west from the city centre. Working directly with the Local Education Partnership – SHINE – and its contactor partner Balfour Beatty, also meant cost and programme certainty could be insured allowing demolition of the existing school to be undertaken just days after planning consent was obtained.
Located in a dense grid of Victorian workers’ terraced houses, the school accommodates 420 pupils in a thriving community of which a large proportion are Indian and Pakistani. With 99% of pupils hailing from an Islamic background, this Church of England-run school also provides an interesting example of cross community engagement and social mixing.
The project comprises four linked blocks wrapping around a secure play courtyard: a single storey block with a rooftop play deck linked to the ground with a tube slide; two three-storey blocks linked by a bridge of class spaces of which the upper floor houses a mini-football pitch; and finally a main hall block with staff accommodation on top disguising plant areas. This design allows for over 800 sq m of useable play space off the ground level, over 400 sq m more than was previously provided on the existing flat site.
The play of light and colour is deliberate throughout the school, with coloured perspex step in-fills flooding dining areas with a rainbow of light. The ‘wrapping’ elevation cladding system is a series of coloured, translucent and solid perspex fins designed to create a cost effective rapid solution to enclose the otherwise relatively cheap envelope. This allows the building to appear as a whole mass, but also breaks up the facades as the viewer moves past the building with the whole exuding a playful mix of transparency and lightness.
Early in the process the team worked with community leaders and identified a need for a public space on the high street that passes the site. As a result, 20% of the whole site has been given back to the community in the form of formal and informal gardens. These will be maintained by the community working with the school and local authority.