Boroughmuir High School

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Download: 140218 SFT 02 Boroughmuir High School Project Appraisal
Project data
Project Reference SFT 02 Boroughmuir High School
Details New urban high school and associated landscaping
Location Within settlement
Use Type Public Realm / Infrastructure / Education
Client/Developer Children and Families / The City of Edinburgh Council
Lead Designers Allan Murray Architects
Planning Authority Edinburgh City Council
Planning Ref Application of Approval of Matters Specified in Conditions / Ref. 13/05207/AMC
Issue Date 18/02/2014

1.00 Introduction

1.01 This report forms a Project Appraisal of the proposed new Boroughmuir High School in Edinburgh. The project involves a significant new school building, and prominent piece of urban fabric within the redeveloping Fountainbridge / Union Canal development area in the city. The Council are seeking to create an exemplar design for a school set within a compact urban site and which includes a multi use games (MUGA) and a garden terrace.

1.02 Masterplan

A&DS previously reviewed an application for Planning Permission in Principle for a mixed used masterplan designed by Allan Murray Architects, and which was granted consent in September 2011. A new masterplan for Fountainbridge South is being developed by EDI, CEC’s direct development arm, and the initial proposal was that A&DS engage with CEC and the relevant project teams on both the new school and the masterplan concurrently as part of a joint Forum, however CEC indicated that they wish to engage with A&DS on the school in the first instance and the wider site in due course.

1.03 A&DS School Programme

A&DS Schools programme undertook a series of pupil workshops with Boroughmuir High School in November 2012. This piece of work aimed to investigate ways in which the surrounding area could better provide opportunities for health and wellbeing, by engaging with the pupils to encourage active learning in a real life context. The process included producing a brief for the outdoor opportunities in the surrounding area based on their ideas. The outcomes of the workshops were recorded in a report in January 2013 which was presented to the pupils, the rest of the school, the local community, the Council and the Design Team.

2.00 Scope of Appraisal

2.01 CEC advised at the outset of the process that a detailed feasibility study had led to the decision being made to build a new school rather than refurbish the existing building. At CEC’s request, A&DS comments are therefore limited to consideration of the tabled proposition rather than the strategy to re-site the school use, the resultant redundancy of the existing building, nor consideration of the proposals as part of the proposed wider masterplan.

2.02 The project has been considered by A&DS Design Forum as a National and Strategic Project, identified as being one of a number of new schools being procured as part of the Scottish Government’s Scottish Schools for the Future programme. Designs for Boroughmuir High School were discussed initially with A&DS at a Design Forum workshop on 15th November 2012 following a site visit and subsequently at further forums on 26th June 2013 and 20th November 2013. This desktop appraisal follows the team’s passing to A&DS the material which was submitted for Approval of Matters Specified in Conditions (AMC) in December 2013, and in order to consider design development which happened post the November workshop.

3.00 Appraisal Outcomes

3.01 Appraisal summary

The Council have demonstrated a high level of ambition and investment in the project, as befitting a new urban school on an important site. The proposals for the building have the potential to deliver an exemplary new urban school for the City, and a high quality new civic building as a precedent for further regeneration of the Fountainbridge area.

Access to the site along Dundee Street and Viewforth both by foot and cycle present challenges, and it is essential to provide safe access for pupils arriving to the school along these key routes. Proposals to widen the footways on the existing bridge begin to address these issues, however the crossing points associated with the bridge require care to resolve.

The design of the external environment around the school and along the canal has improved during the course of the Design Forum process, however the Canal-side park remains fairly generic at this stage and requires further development. It is difficult to understand how the potential for the outdoor learning environment is being exploited currently, and how this important aspect of the project has been developed. We encourage the Team to continue to work with teachers, pupils and the community to look at opportunities for curriculum for excellence learning both inside and outside the building.

Based on the forum process carried out and the information subsequently provided to A&DS, we have concluded the project overall to be generally “well considered and supported”, with reservations being around the external environment and connections rather than the building as presented at this time.

3.02 Handling of pedestrian movement

Early proposals to create a new pedestrian footbridge across the canal adjacent to the listed bridge had been replaced with a more pragmatic solution based on widening the existing footways of the existing listed bridge. Assuming the analysis of this proposal does meet the required safety standards, the Team are encouraged to develop the proposed utilisation of the existing bridge, and to refine the details to maximise the pedestrian experience, including further detailed work on where and how the traffic control points are to be located.

In addition, we note CEC stated ambition to take on board wider recommendations for further improvements and traffic calming measures along Viewforth, outwith the school site, as part of a holistic approach towards achieving a sustainable development. Previous suggestions for siting an additional footbridge further along the canal to the west of the school have, we are advised by CEC schools, been set aside at this stage. However, the Council advise that there is nothing to preclude the potential for such a link in the future as part of the citywide masterplanning, and we would encourage consideration being given to this as part of a package of requirements for the future development of the wider Fountainbridge area masterplan.

3.03 Cycle provision

Provision/encouragement for cycling routes to school will rely on works within, and outwith the site. The offsite proposals include widening of the footway on the south side of Dundee Street, remodelling of the junction of Dundee St and Viewforth , and pavement widening and realigned kerbs along the southside of Viewforth. The team propose that widening of the footway to Bruntsfield Place, coupled with traffic calming features and other measures would also facilitate pedestrian movement, however they also advise that this is outside the PPP requirement for the school. We would suggest these recommendations be considered as part of the wider masterplan.

There appears to be a minor inconsistency between the Landscape Plan and Access Diagram regards where cycle storage is to be located. If cycling storage provision is to be located in the area along Viewforth Street accessed from upper and lower Viewforth, this does seem to provide good security as the space will be overlooked during the school open hours. However it appears that this location will also require pupils approaching the school from upper Viewforth to either carry their bikes down a flight of stairs or alternatively cycle the full length of the school to the entrance at the opposite end. The landscape design should accommodate these on-site issues within the visual intent.

3.04 Bus drop off/pick up

It is currently not clear how the proposed bus drop offs for pupils work, with previous discussions suggesting a potential bus drop off/pick up at the school frontage on Dundee Street. We suggest that if pick up/drop off points were shared between the lower end of Viewforth and the upper end at Bruntsfield, this could significantly relieve pressure on pupils crossing the bridge at peak times at the start and end of the school day.

3.05 Access from upper Viewforth

A&DS have previously raised concerns around the accessibility and the sequential experience on the route down to the school entrance from Viewforth. The Project Team were encouraged to explore opportunities for incorporating landscaping and sculptural elements at key nodal points/junctions where ramps and/or stairs are required to achieve transition in levels – to activate and add interest to pedestrian routes and the public realm in these areas, create opportunities for social gathering and use of space, whilst still retaining clarity and efficiency in the ultimate design. While seating areas have been included in the stepped areas, we do not believe these opportunities have, as yet, been fully realised.

In addition, the current access arrangement to the school and the canal appears unsatisfactory, particularly for ambulant disabled/wheelchair users who will be required to access a ramp from a point further down Viewforth and then navigate past the edge of the school Entrance Square before arriving at the foot of the steps. The experience of this route will be further aggravated by a high wall to one side, created by the change in level from Viewforth down to the canal which we estimate to be in the region of 1.8m. We recognise the technical difficulties in providing joint ramp/stair access down to the school from the street above, however we would encourage the Team and Council to explore opportunities for this area further as part of a more detailed landscape proposition.

3.06 Proposed route to Canal from Dundee Street/Bainfield Place

The proposed access lane from Dundee Street past the school and towards the canal, and which is to open 24 hrs, needs to encourage safe and pleasant use by the public day and night. The Landscape Plan specifies a granite paved footway, lined with an avenue of up-lit trees at the entrance from Dundee Street to the junction with Bainfield Place along the western edge of the footway, which looks to provide a high quality and well lit pedestrian environment. However, it is currently unclear whether the lighting would extend further south along Bainfield Place, and we would suggest this will be required to ensure a safe route past the school playground and towards the canal.

3.07 Demarcation of school boundary

At previous workshops we welcomed the Client’s enlightened approach to universal access for the school, particularly given the compact plan of the building. We supported their intention for the whole building to be used as a community resource, and encouraged this approach to be carried through to accessing both the school park and linear park.

Requirements for the demarcation of the school space could impact on the key imperative of creating a shared learning environment within an urban setting. Similarly, requirements for demarcation are important to the public, who are unlikely to use the school grounds if faced with imposingly secure fence lines out with school hours. The Project Team were encouraged to consider how much of the school’s territory could be delineated rather than explicitly formed by a fence, and where boundaries might be fixed, moveable, permeable, solid. It was suggested that further development of a clever street furniture solution may be able to successfully break down physical and psychological barriers.

In response to the above the proposals demonstrate a variety of edge conditions including: (Entrance Square/School Green) sliding+folding metal gates, a feature school name wall sculpture, benches, boundary hedging, planting, granite cube paving, uplighters, and a low curved wall with bench; (Playground) green wall/retaining wall with railings (to school green side), and planted steel screen with precast edge (to Bainfield Place edge). The handling of the perimeter of the school boundary along the canal edge is particularly key in terms of impacting on the public’s perception of the school. The proposed solution appears to provide a soft and welcoming edge to the school, whilst responding to programmatic requirements and security issues.

3.08 Secure zones and management strategy

The school grounds are divided into three areas being: Secure building zone (school building); Secure school zone 1 (playground); and Secure school zone 2 (entrance square/school green). The school’s management of the various users – pupils, staff, visitors and the community – access over the course of a typical school day and into the evening/ weekend will be critical in determining the openness and accessibility of the school, and in meeting the stated ambitions for creating a ‘shared space with a permeable edge’.

3.09 Landscape/public realm design and specification

Since previously discussed the design of the landscape generally appears to have developed well and with the proposed finishing materials there is the potential for a high quality public realm to be created. Compositionally the proposed linear park, which includes the proposed Entrance Square/School Green and Canal-side Park, appears cohesively integrated and provides potential for facilities for e.g. the local canoe club, and un-programmed grass areas along its length to help to add vitality to the space.

The Entrance Square in particular looks improved and appears to work reasonably well given the security requirements for the School, as does the School environment more generally. By contrast the design of the Canal-side park still appears fairly generic and unresolved, particularly beyond the line of trees along the canal. At the moment it is unclear whether the park is intended to be read as an extension of the more ‘urban’ school environment, forming part of an overall sequence of spaces along the canal, or if it is intended instead to respond to the more natural edge of the canal. We suggest that there could be more potential to utilise site topographies and planting more creatively in the design of this space – perhaps extending and adapting the design language and palette of materials of the adjacent environments to help define the character, quality and experience of the space

In addition the southeast edge of the park seems truncated by the hard landscaped space between it and School Green, and the parking arrangement could potentially block views through to the canal from Bainfield Place. We suggest the geometry of the spaces might be improved, perhaps by continuing the line of Bainfield Place through to form a diagonal landscaped edge to the park with integrated parking, and thus freeing up views to the proposed Boat launch ramp and canal beyond.

3.10 External learning environment

The designs appear to consider some aspects of some ideas raised by pupils in response to the output from the A&DS Schools Programme Outdoor Learning Environment Workshops. These responses are largely functional including provision of visual links between the inside of the school and the outside, sports facilities, indoor and outdoor social areas, and open space with the potential for outdoor learning.

In previous meetings with A&DS we were advised by the Team that further workshops would be carried out with the teachers, pupils and the community to continue to look at opportunities for curriculum for excellence learning both inside and outside the building. In doing so we encouraged the Team to:

  • Look at opportunities for defining how the spaces can be used in terms of: learning, citizenship, and the transition for pupils to the new school and making the space theirs;
  • Build on the school’s strong community engagement policy and proximity to art and industry to create opportunities and spaces for learning both externally as well as internal to the building. It was suggested that this might include learning in a wider context, eg. associations with local trades or artists in order to respond holistically to wider learning ambitions;
  • Explore and define how internal and external learning spaces link up;
  • Continue to explore potential for exploiting the rich canal-side learning environment, for example in promoting the Team’s suggested idea of a learning barge in conjunction with Scottish Canals, and leave space and an invitation for such potential interventions to happen in due course. (We note the inclusion of potential for a Boat Launch Ramp along the canal frontage in the Landscape Plan in this respect);
  • Exploit opportunities through required site level changes to create usable spaces for outdoor learning rather than just ‘pocket’ gardens. (We note further information provided in respect of the landscape proposals for the ‘Pocket Gardens and Quiet Spaces’ located within the school playground. The design of these areas remains fairly generic, though they should provide useful outdoor learning spaces for the school).

It is difficult however to understand how this important aspect of the project has been developed more generally in respect of our previous comments and how the potential for the outdoor learning environment is being exploited. We would continue to encourage the Team to engage with the pupils, teachers and community in building a strong programme for outdoor learning for the school, which directly informs the design and management of external social spaces.

3.11 Public art

We welcome the incorporation of public art into the external school environment as indicated in the current Landscape Plan and would encourage the Team to continue to explore opportunities for introducing art into the school learning environment, both externally and internally. As noted in the Urban Realm Strategy for the Fountainbridge Masterplan the Canal provides a unique heritage feature for the area and we would encourage continued exploration of the potential to interpret this as a key feature in the development of a wider public art strategy along the canal and in the development of the external learning environment.

3.12 Dundee Street interface

Previously the Team had advised that the design of the Dundee Street frontage had been revised to reflect a change in the project brief, whereby the site of the ancillary building as originally proposed was identified as a potential development site out with the scope of the project, thus no longer forming part of the school application. We encouraged the Team to incorporate some means of actively creating engagement between the school and the wider city on the edge to Dundee Street, by either reintroducing the proposed video wall to the street or other means.

Without the ancillary building as previously proposed, the route to the school from Dundee Street might benefit from further visual definition of this as a gateway to the school and canal beyond. We encourage the Council to work with EDI and Boroughmuir High School in the design of the proposed building to achieve something of suitable scale to occupy this important site, commensurate with the area and complimentary to the school building. Care should be taken to ensure that the building does not detract from the environment of the space between it and the school.

3.13 Building organisation / internal learning environments

We congratulate the Design Team on developing what appears to be a well-organised building, with classrooms based around a central atrium space with assembly space below – forming a genuine heart to the building. Generally it appears that a good quality of internal environment will be achieved that is both light and airy.

In developing the classroom environments the Team were previously encouraged to consider views and experiences from the pupils’ perspective, relative to the amount of natural light that can penetrate into the classrooms and hence the feel of the spaces, and the impact on the location of smart boards within rooms to minimise impact of sunlight upon them. The Team have advised that the internal classroom designs are being further developed with the school and the teaching staff as part of the next stage in the design development of the project. In developing more detailed layouts we suggest that internal visualisations of the classrooms would be helpful to demonstrate to pupils and staff how the spaces will work.

3.14 External elevational treatment

The proposed external appearance of the building looks well considered. Detailed and annotated elevations and sections provided show that the proposals for the external envelope include: a combination of GRC cladding, aluminium rain screen and curtain walling, and which the Team advise has been discussed with the planning department. The materials specified appear to be of a good and robust quality. However we have some concerns over the proposed use of glass louvres which could potentially lead to heavy maintenance over time and a loss of air tightness if seals become eroded or damaged. The proposed procurement method should consider the level of finesse required in order for the quality, and environmental control sought in the design of the external elevations to be achieved.

3.15 Environmental design

During design development we raised concerns with the south west elevation of the building as a mainly glazed wall with solar control glazing and internal reflective blinds, the use of which we suggested may lead to increased artificial lighting and a difficulty in opening windows for natural ventilation, hence potential impacts on passive/mechanical measures, the classroom environment and building running costs.

We note the response from the Design Team with regards to points raised previously and in explaining the rational for their design approach. The operation of the environmental systems is not yet clear, for example in terms of whether the blinds will be fully automated and centralised, or manually controlled within each classroom. Either method could offer potential advantages and disadvantages in terms of usability, individual control over classroom environments and cost. A careful balance between these factors, along with proper management and operation of the system by staff, will be key in the effectiveness of the preferred solution.

Previously the Team expressed challenges in seeking to achieve the Client’s aspiration for a BREEAM Excellent building as a key objective for the project, and advised that a balance was being sought between requirements of the brief and BREEAM certification points. We continue to encourage the Project Team to strive towards achieving a high standard in terms of the overall sustainability of the scheme.

3.16 Cost / quality / procurement

We note the level of investment the Council are making towards the project and specifically their commitment to funding additional floor area and hence exceeding current space planning standards, and note that procuring a new school in an urban context of limited external space appears likely to require such a commitment. We also support the Council in their ambition to acknowledge the architectural investment required in order to deliver a high quality school as part of the Fountainbridge masterplan, and for the City, as the project goes forward through the chosen procurement method.

4.00 Conclusion

4.01 This report forms our overall appraisal of the designs as submitted for Planning Application and hence concludes our current involvement in the project. We would be pleased to be kept informed of the progress of the project through the planning system. We would welcome further involvement with CEC and EDI on developing proposals for the wider Fountainbridge Masterplan in due course.

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