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Plymouth schools showcase sound design

One of the themes for this year’s Noise Action Week (23-27 May) was looking at the importance of a healthy acoustic environment for students and teachers. During two case study visits to contrasting schools in Plymouth on Friday 27 May, Saint-Gobain Ecophon’s invited guests were able to see first-hand the impact good acoustics can have on learning environments.

Sound refurbishment

Montpelier Primary School in Plymouth has undergone a significant transformation over the last three years and has included both a brand new extension and extensive refurbishment. The new reception area is light and airy, creating a warm welcome for visitors, pupils and teachers, while many of the existing buildings have been given a facelift.

What were previously separate Infants and Junior schools have now become one site, giving the school more flexibility and space. Smaller rooms have been amalgamated to make larger usable spaces (as a result the school now has a library) and the dining room has also been expanded. As part of the refurbishment work, the school was very keen to consider the acoustic environment.  Working closely with Ian Newcombe, an architectural technologist from Plymouth-based Bailey Partnership, Ecophon’s Area Sales Manager, Steve Edwards, was able to give advice on which solution would give the best results within the project budget.

Originally a class “D” sound absorber was specified in corridor areas that were undergoing refurbishment, but a subsequent change in the scope of works to include the refurbishment of the Key Stage 1 class bases, led to alternative ceiling solutions being considered. Ecophon informed the school, design team and contractor about the benefits of using their Gedina acoustic ceiling tiles in both the classrooms and corridors. As a class “A” sound absorber, the ceiling system is far more effective at reducing disruptive reverberation (echo) and lowering sound pressure levels overall. Cost was also a consideration, especially given that the scale of the project had escalated over a period of three years.  As well as coming in cheaper than the original ceiling, the main contractor, Mansell, were impressed with how easy the tiles were to install.

As well as the obvious acoustic benefits, the school has also reported significant thermal savings. The tiles are made from 70% recycled glass wool which is similar to material used in loft insulation, but more compressed. Additional heating systems that had been in place previously have now been removed as a result.

Cheryl Pyner, Headteacher at Montpelier Primary, says: “Many of the teachers weren’t aware of exactly what solutions had been installed but most commented that the renovated classrooms and new extension areas were quieter and warmer. Overall, the school’s environment seems much calmer, which I think has a positive impact on the children’s behaviour. We also have a child in the school who has ADHD and autism and the treated spaces seem much better for him too as they aren’t as noisy.”

New design challenges acoustics

At the opposite end of the scale is the brand new Tor Bridge High School, part of the new £34 million Estover Community College development. Although the school is now occupied by its 1,250 students, currently only the first stage of the project is complete, with a second phase still in progress. A third and final phase is also planned before the school is due for completion in May 2012.

Built on the existing site of the old school, the new design has sought to enhance a welcoming community focus. A number of different community groups and schools will eventually be brought together on one site to include a youth club, nursery, primary school, SEN school and public library.

The design is the brainchild of architect Colin Cobb from Feilden Clegg Bradley who worked closely with the school and with Ecophon Area Manager, Steve Edwards, at every stage of the process. He took inspiration from all the different client groups and incorporated different horizontal levels or ‘strata’ into the design which are linked by walkways. There is also a striking colour scheme that runs through Tor Bridge High School which changes according to subject areas such as maths, English and humanities and is also reflected in the pupils’ uniform.

Upon entering the school, you are greeted by an impressive atrium and canteen area; a large space with very high ceilings that makes excellent use of natural light. However, the large number of hard surfaces and the sheer size of the space created a huge challenge in controlling sound levels, especially when occupied by the school’s 1,000 students. To combat this, Hawksmoor consultant acousticians from Bristol were employed to ensure that Colin’s vision for the space was met, whilst reassuring the contractors that the various areas complied with BB93. Peter Brailey of Hawksmoor was not concerned; “Having been involved with some 300 new schools, I was confident that Ecophon’s free-hanging solo acoustic ceiling rafts would be a suitable acoustic solution”.

Shane Cryer, Ecophon’s Concept Developer for Education, adds; “The new design seems to work really well for the children and the staff. Visitors we’ve brought here have been struck by how quiet the school is and teachers have commented on the improved acoustic environment, saying that it’s having a really positive impact in the teaching areas.”

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