An acoustic solution from Saint-Gobain Ecophon has transformed a unique, newly built Special Education Needs (SEN) school in Jordanstown, County Antrim.
The only school of its kind in Northern Ireland, Jordanstown School has been providing specialist education for children with audio and visual impairments for 150 years. However, the old 1950s school building was run down and not fit for purpose so in 2009 construction started on brand new premises. In January 2011 staff and pupils were able to move in.
Ecophon, part of leading international materials company Saint-Gobain, worked directly with architects Kennedy FitzGerald Architects LLP to meet and exceed BB93 and the Disability Discrimination Act requirements. In any education environment, acoustic treatment is important to ensure pupils thrive academically and socially. In specialist schools such as Jordanstown, it’s even more important, helping to aid concentration and improve speech intelligibility which is vital for deaf pupils.
A range of Ecophon’s acoustic products were installed throughout the school by Contract Ceilings who worked closely with main contractor Felix O’Hare. Hygiene Advance ceiling tiles were installed in the Hydrotherapy Pool, Master Alpha E in the secondary school classrooms, Focus E in the corridors, Texona Wall Panels in the sports hall and atrium and Solo™ free hanging acoustic rafts in the upstairs meeting room.
Alan Crampton, Ecophon’s regional manager for Ireland, said: “Right from the start we worked alongside Kennedy FitzGerald and the school to ensure we created an environment in which the pupils would be challenged but also feel comfortable. It was essential that we came up with a solution that allowed for greater functionality than the school had been used to in the previous building.
“We looked at each individual space and considered how it would be used before recommending which Ecophon system to install. Wall panels were used in the atrium which is a double height ceiling and full of hard surfaces so it can now be used for assemblies, and the PA system in the sports hall is now not needed, again due to wall panels which were installed at height. The Hygiene Advance system used in the Hydrotherapy Pool has kept the reverberation time down, creating a tranquil environment which is also moisture resistant.”
As the school caters for children of primary school age right through to young adults of 17 and 18, a balance needed to be struck between designing a school that was familiar and offered pupils the chance to deal with situations they would encounter in everyday life, yet also creating a vibrant and contemporary look. This was part of the architects’ vision to move away from the idea of designing an ‘institution.’
Clare Ogle, project architect from Kennedy FitzGerald, said: “As a practice, we’ve worked on quite a lot of special schools in Northern Ireland, but usually covering a broad spectrum of special needs. Jordanstown is unique as it is the only school in the province for children who are deaf or visually impaired.
“One of the challenges was designing a school for both auditory and visually impaired children. Visually impaired children benefit from contrasting spaces to assist them with wayfinding and orientation, whereas hearing impaired children need continuity of space, to assist in hearing and seeing teacher and other pupils at all times.
“Working out the brief involved a long process and was a balancing act - we started with a wish list from the school principal and spent a long time fine-tuning and paring this down: an important area of discussion was the specialist acoustics required and both Ecophon and acousticians F R Marks & Associates were instrumental in helping us to achieve an environment that will benefit all pupils at Jordanstown.”
Principal of Jordanstown School, Mrs Anne Magee, said: “We held an open day back in March and thought we’d have to use a microphone in the atrium so that visitors could hear what was being said, but it wasn’t necessary! Everyone has commented on the difference it’s made to the acoustics.
“I’ve also noticed an improvement in the children’s behaviour since we moved in. Overall they are much calmer which is just fantastic.”