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Lanterns Children's Centre, Winchester

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Hampshire County Council project architect Colin Jackson tells Sutherland Lyall how a centre that will be used by children with special needs called for safe but stimulating materials

The Lanterns Children's Centre will have a regular population of around 55 pre-school children, half of them mainstream, half with special needs, organised as four classes working in their own home rooms. The centre will also accommodate the under-threes and their parents in morning and afternoon sessions. In addition, there are facilities for various therapies, parent training and guidance. The centre is due to open in July, though there is a good chance it will be ready a month early.

The intention was to create a small building, something akin to the nurseries in local primary schools, but Hampshire County Council project architect Colin Jackson soon realised that a much larger building was needed. As it turned out, it was just about three-quarters of the size of a singleentry primary school.

Jackson was surprised to discover a lack of clear official guidelines relating to such a multi-functioned centre. He was not entirely unhappy about that because he was able to extrapolate from a variety of analogous guidelines and come up with a watertight mathematical case for the new building.

Situated on the outskirts of Winchester, the centre is on the edge of the little-used playing field of a nearby school, with quite substantial houses - and therefore planning issues - just across the road. Jackson had to carry out feasibility studies on no fewer than eight other sites, until it was clear that the Bereweeke Road site was the only suitable one in the area.

The final design is the result of observations in similar schools, of work with the headteacher, and with staff in the school the new building was to replace, and, later, when the design had been settled on, with local householders. 'Once they could see that this was going to be a well-crafted building, they became our most ardent supporters - especially at the planning committee stage, ' explains Jackson.

The final plan has the school on the eastern edge of the site, with internal access between it and the main road obviating the customary clogging up of rush-hour traffic. Parents drive along the covered entrance, drop off their child and exit via an internal roundabout back towards the entrance to the site.

The school is arranged in a sideways 'T' formation, with the entrance and semipublic areas including a parents' room, classroom and offices in the north-south crossbar.

The tail contains three long parallel zones.

The south zone is occupied by four square playrooms, with their distinctive pyramidal roofs, and a 2.5m-deep veranda running across their south front. The veranda provides covered access to the playrooms through the crossbar from the main entrance.

In the zone immediately behind, there are top-lit WCs and service spaces directly accessible from each playroom. Behind that, there is a broad corridor under a steeply pitched roof, with a row of functional spaces including therapy rooms, a hall and staff rooms.

Framework agreement Hampshire has set up a post-Egan extendable five-year framework agreement with five big contractors for its major projects.

Jackson says: 'This is the first time we have done a project with Mowlem and it's working extremely well. It means we both get involved in the detail design stage and they help us engage with subcontractors and specialists long before the tender stage'.

The contract is a standard JCT 98 Local Authority Contract with Quantities, and there was a contractor's design portion for the trussed rafter roof, plus performance specifications for underfloor heating and lightning protection.

Hampshire's architect's office uses VectorWorks. 'We managed to translate files for Mowlem, which used Xsteel for the steelwork.

Xsteel is fantastic, 'says Jackson. 'We used quite a lot of isolated steel beams, especially over the long-span clerestory lights, and in places in the block work. There was no repetition, so every beam had to be calculated. So there was a three-dimensional Xsteel model of the building, which meant we could design to much greater accuracies.'

Language of materials Jackson's paramount criterion in the selection of materials was that they should be child-friendly. 'I believe that the whole building should work as a means of enriching the children's range of senses, ' says Jackson. So, for example, many of the external walls are faced with western red cedar boarding so that the children are playing against a softer material than brick.

Of the windows, he says: 'I avoided aluminium windows and went for timber at ground level, so the material the children touch is softer and weaker.'

These four walls Where walls are not western red cedar weatherboarding from Woodstock Timber (vacuum-impregnated with a fire retardant), they are handmade clay facing bricks from the Michelmersh Brick and Tile Company.

The mortar is from Remix Dry Mortar.

'We wanted a mortar that looked like lime mortar - creamy rather than bright white, ' says Jackson. 'We had a mortar silo installed on site, so the contractor could take off varying amounts - but of a standard consistency and colour.'

On the roof For the flat roofs, Jackson used the Soprema Sopralene Flam 250 AR system from Soprema SBS Roofing, a three-layer built-up felt roof, which was torched on. He had greater confidence in this that in a single membrane - 'when you get a hole in a single membrane, the water can track anywhere, ' he argues, 'whereas these built-up roofs are more forgiving and we selected Soprema because we've used it on a number of other projects.' The pitched roofs and the sides of the lanterns are clad with Michelmersh Light Vintage plain handmade clay tiles. 'I wanted to avoid the traditional bonnet tile. So we had specials made and laid them dry, ' explains Jackson.

W-frame timber trusses by Crendon Timber Engineering support the tiles and their battens. 'Mowlem had first thought of a trussed rafter roof, so we met Crendon during the design stage', Jackson says. 'We began with a double W, but they said we could revert to a single W. They told us there is a maximum size that they are allowed to transport and that, by chance, we were precisely on that point. It couldn't have been 50mm wider.'

Through the window Windows, most of them from Scandinavian Window Systems, were made in Norway.

The timber windows have been used successfully by Hampshire on school projects elsewhere. Ordinary Norwegian H-type windows are generally top hung with some tilt-and-turns.

The clerestory windows, however, are W40 profiles from Vista-Brunswick, with Jansen profiles for the lantern windows. The Jansen system allows a 50 x 50mm corner post, with glazing straight in. W40 profiles demand a much chunkier detail.

Opening up There are a few Olsen sliding and lift-andslide doors. But most of the doors, including those leading from the classrooms to the covered terrace, are Sunflex SF65 sliding and folding doors.

Jackson says of the Sunflex: 'We saw one in a nursery in London. Like all Scandinavian doors (and windows) they are made from laminated-timber sections, which give them greater strength than ordinary softwood sections. And so their sections are slender - so slender that if you painted them grey they would look like aluminium, which, since we aim to use natural materials, would be selfdefeating for us.' One advantage of the Sunflex doors is that the seals between the panels have a configuration of neoprene that is finger-trap free. 'I stuck my finger in the one we saw in London. It pinched, but didn't cut off anything and it also gives a completely flush threshold, ' says Jackson.

The flush threshold is important because a number of the children will be using a smaller version of the Zimmer frame to move around.

Selecting doors The main entrance door is by Dorma. Jackson says: 'We needed to have an automatic sliding door suitable for parents with pushchairs and toddlers. It had to have three modes: busy, intermediate and secure. Busy mode was for normal automatic operation;

intermediate only allows people in, to stop children wandering out; secure mode stops people from entering, unless they are identified via intercom.' The entrance door raised disabled-access issues: if the door button was at wheelchair height it would also, undesirably, be usable by children. 'In the end, we had to take the view that the primary users were the children, so the door handles here and throughout the school are at chest height, where they can only be used by adults, ' says Jackson.

Jackson's team used Castle Hardware for the ironmongery. 'We have worked with Castle before - they are very good. They don't make their own ironmongery and so we were able to pick and choose across the whole gamut, ' comments Jackson.

For the garden doors, there are long, bespoke stainless-steel handles, which are suitable for three to four-year-olds. Fingertrap protection normally takes the form of door closers with a hold-back action that stops initially at around 100mm and closes slowly thereafter. This will be reviewed once the building is up and running.

Patter of tiny feet Jackson points out that the children will use the floor a great deal. He says: 'We needed to achieve the comfort of a carpeted floor without carpeting.' The solution was underfloor heating from local firm Warmafloor, which the architect has used many times before.

The flooring materials are Armstrong linoleum, with areas of Gerflor Tarasafe slipresistant vinyl in playrooms and WCs, and Armstrong Desso Esco Pallas carpet tiles in the corridors. In the entrance are limestonecoloured Pietre Celtiche floor tiles by Caesar, with entrance matting by Coral Brush.

Outside, where the surface is not macadam, it is Marshalls' Saxon Buff paving, which is suitable for children with walking aids and, says Jackson, will sit happily against the handmade orange-reds of the walls. 'It was Mowlem's initiative to lay the drive and turning circle very early in the job using temporary kerbs. It has made an enormous difference and provided a substantial storage area, so that no delivery vehicle had to go off road - a tremendous bonus, ' he says.

Children's WC partitions are Streamline from Decra and the children's wall-hung units are the Baby Sospeso model from Pozzi-Ginori, which Jackson sourced with great difficulty - eventually from Somerset firm Rosco.

Lighting is by the usual suspects: Zumtobel, Concord, Whitecroft and Louis Poulsen.

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