A Trade Magazine for Northern Ireland's Building & Design Professionals
Arvalee School And Resource Centre, Omagh
A new era for shared education in the Omagh area begins with the completion of Phase One of this pioneering project…
The £8.25million Arvalee School and Resource Centre in Omagh has been delivered as Phase One of the new Strule Shared Education Campus. A pioneering approach to delivering education in the area, it will see five other new post-primary schools being built alongside Arvalee on the site of the former Lisanelly Barracks army base in Omagh (total value £130million).
Setting a high bar for the construction of the remainder of the Strule Campus development, Arvalee stands as a beacon of first-class design and construction.
The new school building was opened in September, four years after the old school burned down, following a 16-month contract led by main contractor, Woodvale Construction, in a joint venture with Lowry Building and Civil Engineering Ltd. The project was completed on schedule and within budget.
The controlled special school is for children and young people aged three to 19 years old, with moderate and severe learning difficulties, and is centred around four hubs. These have been designed to maximise the potential in children of various ages in a unique design which caters sensitively and appropriately for the pupils’ educational needs.
The site, which fronted onto the Gortin Road, was a densely wooded, elevated area, so selective clearance of the woodland, followed by reduced-level excavation to a depth of six metres, was the first task. In all, around 400 trees and 90,000m³ of excavations were removed from the site. Great care had to be taken to retain the maximum amount of trees and shrubbery in a bid to preserve the existing ecology to enhance the new school site.
The building itself comprises a single-storey construction with a steel frame on traditional strip foundations and bases. The external shell is a combination of rendered cavity blockwork, facing brickwork, aluminium double-glazed windows and doors, with areas of rainscreen cladding.
The roof is timber-joisted, plywood decked, with Sika-Trocal coverings, and incorporating VELUX remote-controlled modular skylights.
One of the main challenges on the Arvalee project was the timescale allowed for the project. Following the fire which destroyed the original Arvalee School in September 2012, the Western Education and Library Board moved quickly to reinstate the school within temporary accommodation on the existing school site. The preferred solution was to build the new Arvalee School at Lisanelly Campus ahead of schedule to minimise the school’s stay in temporary accommodation.
“The school was built to a tight schedule, but everyone put in a 100% effort to make sure it all happened,” said Woodvale Construction’s Aidan McGale, who was Contract Manager on the Arvalee school build. “A special mention must go to the school principal, Jonathan Gray, whose ‘hands-on’ approach and cooperation throughout the contract was invaluable.”
The school incorporates many special features, specific to its pupils’ needs.
“These include sensory therapy rooms and courtyards; hygiene and hoisting facilities; dedicated teaching areas for art, technology, design and home economics; and a woodland walk through the remaining copse, which includes a ‘bug hotel’ built by the pupils with assistance from Woodvale’s joiners.
The design layout totals almost 5,000m² and consists of a central spine with four dedicated offshoot ‘pods’ designed to maximise the potential in children of various ages.
The youngest children spend their time in the ‘Explore’ hub, an area which aims to support the learning of Key Stage One pupils. The facilities include a soft-play area, a sensory room and an interactive screen. ‘Aspire’ caters for Key Stage Two children and feels like a youth-club, with game stations and pool tables for the pupils to enjoy.
The pupils at Key Stage Three level and older are based in the ‘Perform’ hub, an area designed to allow the children to express themselves, complete with recording studio.
‘Create’ meets the needs of Key Stage Four pupils, such as the teaching of essential life-skills in Home Economic classes.
“Internal finishes were specified to the highest standard and, in order to achieve these benchmarks, Woodvale’s sub-contractors were carefully chosen from established sources,” said Aidan.
“During the course of the contract, two Considerate Constructors audits took place, resulting in scores of 41 and 42 out of 50. This was also a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ project, the highest ranking achievable.
“A tremendous collaborative approach to the job was key to its successful outcome and as well as thanking all the other sub-contractors, I would also like to acknowledge the invaluable of input of our own team – William Hetherington, Site Manager; Shane McCullagh, Site Foreman; and Pauric Kelly, Quantity Surveyor.
“Feedback to date on the project has been very complimentary, and Woodvale would like to believe that we have set a high standard for the construction of the remainder of the Strule Campus development.”
The Strule Shared Education Campus will have five post-primary schools based on the 125-acre site to cater for the needs of more than 4,000 pupils and is expected to open in 2020.