This preparatory school in Dorset came to us having exhausted several designs for schemes on this sensitive site. We went back to the basics, looking at the brief and the site constraints from the bottom up. The main school is housed in a late Georgian manor house and surrounded by woods and playing fields.
The house is not listed, but the planning authority was mindful of its local historical importance and the surrounding woodland is protected by tree preservation orders and other legislation. The timetable and budgets were both extremely tight. In order to make the project feasible we proposed a phased occupation/ build. The project was also value engineered to trim costs to the absolute minimum without an impact on the design. We provided light, airy, flexible teaching spaces meeting modern day requirements, which are now enjoyed by senior pupils, teaching staff and parents. The theatre is also hired out commercially for courses during the school holidays.
The client, Yarrells Preparatory School, is a private co-educational day school, with pupils from three to fourteen. The school prides itself on small class sizes and a personal teaching environment. It is unusual for schools of this type within the Dorset private system as it is not led by a tradition of intense competitiveness and sporting prowess. Instead the emphasis of the school year is on a series of theatre productions that take place in the summer term. They had previously taken place in a hired event tent or marquee (with blackouts and lighting grids). The new theatre would form a central part of school life.
The School is located on the edge of the Poole conurbation within a suburban environment largely made up of 1930s tract housing. The site comprises 18 acres of partially wooded land with a large house at the centre dating from 1830. The building is typical of an early Victorian design: a dominant front facade with a number of extensions and outbuildings to the rear, thus making further extension difficult. The circulation routes with regard to fire regulations and general functionality were barely adequate. Since becoming a school, a number of poor quality classrooms had also been built close to the main building.
The client wished to build four new classrooms and a studio theatre. Two classrooms were to be for general teaching, one for science, requiring lab benches, gas burners, sinks and general science equipment and the other for music teaching, needing to house a mini grand piano and most of the school’s instruments. The school’s primary motivation for development was the need for a permanent theatre space to house productions throughout the year. It was also needed as a daily assembly room, a gymnasium and a focus for all important school activities.
The Planning Application Process
We undertook a careful site analysis, taking into account numerous site constraints. We did this prior to submitting the planning application, ensuring a smooth and fast application process once submitted. Planning officers were sympathetic to the chosen location, scale and design of the new building from the outset. They considered the modern design complementary to the adjoining historic building and were able to approve the application under delegated powers, which was unusual given the size of the development. The scheme involved the loss of one protected tree. Expanding the school’s facilities increased the school’s potential whilst not dramatically expanding numbers. This was necessary because access to the main road was already putting a strain on the highway system. The scheme also involved demolishing the existing Victorian stables that although not protected were unusual for this area. Officers made particular remarks about how they were in favour of the building as they believed it would enhance the site and ensure the continuity of a local business.