With school space increasingly becoming community space too, these 'classrooms' have been designed as larger (169m 2) self-contained units.
As well as a class space there is a 4m-deep atrium and, to one side, an entrance lobby, WCs, kitchenette and small private room. These extra facilities provide welcome flexibility for the school in what is an IT-intensive facility, thus one whose future direction is constantly evolving. The classrooms can also be offered or hired out as stand-alone units. Two classrooms have been built, at a junior school (Wrockwardine Wood) and a secondary school (Lord Silkin).
Architect Cole Thompson is part of the Integer Consultant Team that also provided the project with expertise in ICT, building services and education. (It was Integer that created the BBC House of the Future at BRE. ) Another source of input was staff, students and parents;
at Wrockwardine the students were involved from particularly early on, contributing wish lists and design ideas. Students from both schools visited the Yorkon factory during the classrooms' manufacture. One sign of this student involvement is the adjustable-height desks, their worksurfaces made from recycled plastic bottles. The two schools won the 2003 Arts Council/CABE Building Sights Award that recognises the engaging of local communities in the construction process.
Another thread to the project has been prefabrication. When the Borough of Telford & Wrekin appointed Integer it was already thinking of creating a better class of relocatable classroom and had prefabricator Yorkon on board, though not then working to a specific school brief. The completed classrooms have simple point foundations of screw piles, suited to relocation, though the time pressures of prototyping them as a live project led to there being more sitework than originally envisaged. Each classroom comprises four 12m-long prefabricated modules (see Working Detail, p40-41).
Integer spent some time getting to understand the prefabrication system and the potential to customise the standard offerings, some of which has been realised, such as underfloor cabling and background electric heating, ceiling lighting without suspended ceilings and increased insulation. It is estimated that build time has been halved.
Sustainability has also been a project focus;
the Eco Warrior energy-monitoring software should soon be delivering monitoring data to classroom interactive whiteboards. As well as upping insulation levels, there are low-energy light fittings with presence detectors, solar water heating and photovoltaics (more than enough for the lights but not enough for IT).
Most evident as an energy strategy, and clearly legible to the students, are the building's section and southerly orientation. The conservatory, with motorised roof vents, fronts the class space, accessible through a wall of glass doors.
This class space has to reconcile the twin requirements of openness and security of equipment, so there are few other windows (with metal grilles) to the class space and above the glass doors to the conservatory there are roller shutters. Light pipes/windcatchers bring light and ventilation into the depth of the space.
The clients were not keen to be ICT equipment pioneers; in particular they went for wired rather than wireless laptops in the classroom, though there are tablets that can be carried around, used in the conservatory or out in the school grounds. Each classroom has a video link, which was used at the official opening to link the two schools, and is planned to connect to other schools in the area.
The classrooms are demonstrating their flexibility as spaces used by juniors and secondary pupils, with the ICT-based teaching methods only now emerging as people explore the possibilities. Each classroom works as a shared resource for the school rather than a permanent class base. There is a new, combined management group for the two classrooms with plans that may involve sharing these spaces more widely with other schools and the community, maybe on two days per week, and also becoming bases for local staff training.
For Telford & Wrekin it is time to stop and evaluate rather than roll out more classrooms.
Whether a market for these generously sized prefabricated units (by normal 55m 2classroom standards) can be developed remains to be seen.
They do provide a quality of building as good as any other classroom. They do meet an emerging need. And beyond that, their inbuilt potentials are suggesting new possibilities to the client schools.