Eco Building for SEMH at Mountfield Heath
Mountfield Heath is a relatively new 3 ½ year old school for students aged 5-11 with some complex and challenging needs. An SEMH Independent Special School they are facing increasing demand for placements from a 50-mile catchment area covering East to West Kent, so needed to increase their capacity.
TG Escapes provided a building containing 2 classrooms and a room for children who have been out of education for a significant amount of time to provide a therapeutic pathway back into education. It also houses a sensory room, 2 therapeutic intervention spaces and a small kitchen to encourage independent skills in the home.
Executive Headteacher Lyndsey Jefferies explains how she found the experience.
What was your process when looking for a provider?
We looked at some static-type builds, but TG Escapes have provided 3 or 4 other buildings for the Acorn Education and Care group and the experience has been really positive which is why we went with them.
How did you find the build process overall?
It was great from start to completion. There was really great communication regarding what we needed the building to provide for us. The designs and the sizes of the spaces were really good and during the process we had some additional referrals and were able to make some slight alterations to the design.
Originally, it was going to be 3 classrooms and then, because of our changed needs, TG Escapes were able to react and we partitioned one of the classrooms to create a therapeutic space and a sensory room.
In terms of the build and responding to what the client needed, it was really easy for us though it probably wasn’t for the TG Escapes team as they had to rethink all the fixings and layouts. But for us, it was easy.
How would you describe the quality of the building, how it feels and works for you?
The first thing is it feels lovely. It feels very bright and airy and because we are in quite a rural area it really is in keeping with the woodland, the trees and the fields. It doesn’t look out of place with our environment. The site meant we were losing part of our field but aesthetically it just fits within the landscape.
The natural materials change the feel of it and I think for a modular build it feels really solid and robust. The other thing is the light. All the rooms have got lots of light, but there has been careful consideration about it. The kitchen area is a long galley with floor to ceiling windows that maximise the natural light.
The height of the ceilings is another massive plus. Often the ceilings in modular builds are very low so you feel very enclosed but our ceilings are of a really good height which gives a feeling of space. A lot of our children suffer from sensory processing issues and so the lighting and the feel of a space are very important, as are the acoustics. The acoustics in our building are very good. Although many modular builds are very echoey ours is not because of the ceiling tiles which are different to the rest of the school. We also have adaptive ventilation, due to our concerns about Covid, and air conditioning which are also great.
The insulation is phenomenal and the building heats up very quickly then holds the heat. It’s very efficient.
How was the construction service?
I think the most important thing to share from my experience was the actual build. We were quite a small site and the space the team had to work in was tight but they were fantastic. They were so respectful of the fact they were working on a site with special needs children. They kept us up to date with what plant was coming on-site and knew that many of our children were very excited to see it all so they let us know what machinery was coming and when so that the kids could be very involved and watch what was happening. It was brilliant of Ali to include us in that way. Also, in terms of their conduct, we have previously had workmen here smoking, using foul language and playing loud radios. The TG Escapes team were just so respectful.
Timing was tight but every delivery came in spot on schedule. This really helped with us to be able to let our next-door neighbour know when big deliveries were due which made the build less stressful. Dealing with complaints from neighbours can be tricky, but we could give them advance warning of large deliveries and noisy building work. It also meant I could move children to other parts of the school when needed.
We only had one tricky moment when the wrong specification of boiler was delivered (I think the build had been upgraded a bit and the boiler hadn’t been) which resulted in a 4 or 5 day delay before we could occupy the building. But we have had children in it since 20th April – all the spaces are occupied and the building is in full action.
For me, we are left with a fantastic building which could have been very stressful, but Ali couldn’t have done a better job. As the building went into place, some last-minute changes needed to be made such as the position of the verandas but that was all really consultative, and problems were resolved together with a really positive outcome.
How has the building been received by staff, parents and students?
They love it. Everybody loves it. All the children love it and want to move into ‘The Holt’ (an Otters house) which is what we’ve called it. All the staff love it as well and it has been really well received by the parents.
What works very well are the verandas. Having the decking coming straight off the front, that indoor/outdoor space works very well with our children.
Since opening the building we have had one really successful reintegration for a young person who’d been out of school for over 3 years. He has been using our therapy pathway which has been very successful.