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School's out for Ellis Williams as governors reject PFI plans

Hawkins/Brown's plans to refurbish and extend Pimlico School received a boost this week when the school's governors threw out plans for a demolition and rebuild plan under the Private Finance Initiative.

The move immediately drew criticism from Westminster City Council, which accused the governors of a U-turn after they had supported the exploration of the £49 million PFI proposal designed by Ellis Williams Architects (EWA).

Hawkins/Brown has drawn up an alternative scheme which retains the '60s building, described by Nikolaus Pevsner as 'restless, aggressive and exciting', but tackles its environmental problems such as overheating.The scheme would cost £20 million to build compared with the £29 million construction cost for the PFI design.The rejected PFI scheme also included a £16 million developer investment for 169 luxury housing units on a quarter of the site.School governor Michael Ball said that the encroachment on the site, as well as the disruption which would have been caused to education during the proposed four-and-a-half-year construction process, were the key factors in rejecting the PFI scheme.

Westminster's director of education, John Harris, attacked the Hawkins/Brown plan as 'a poor substitute as it will not tackle the wider issue of the building problems at the school'. Heated negotiations are now likely between Westminster and the school governors since both have to agree to move ahead with any plan.Ball said he expected Westminster to 'blow several gaskets'over the decision when the two parties meet today (Thursday).

Westminster and the governors chose Hawkins/Brown after approaching 10 firms.The shortlist was Bissett Adams, Buschow Henley (both names supplied by the Architecture Foundation), Hawkins/Brown and WS Atkins (whose names were put forward by the RIBA).

Meanwhile, a separate Westminster school designed by rejected practice EWA has run into its own problems, understood to centre on its temperature controls. The Grey Coat Hospital School is at 90 Regency Street, just a few streets away from Pimlico School. Ironically, Westminster said one of the reasons it wanted EWA to rebuild Pimlico School was to solve its overheating problems.

EWA designed two buildings at Grey Coat linked by bridge connections and a staircase, a four-storey classroom block and a sports block.

The head teacher of the girls' school, Rachel Allard, said temperatures had been a problem inside on hot days, but called them simply 'teething problems' during a period of snagging. 'I'm pretty confident we'll sort them out, 'she said.

The building was opened by the Queen in 1998 and won the Westminster Society Architectural Award for 1998 in its new-build category.

EWA partner John Adden refused to comment on the problem.'The matter is between the contractor, the school and ourselves at the moment, 'he said.

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