Profile: Hadden Park High School, Nottingham

'You need to share the same passion'
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The Independent Online

When prospective parents visit Hadden Park High School, in north-west Nottingham, their attention is directed firmly towards the model of the refurbished school which sits in the run-down entrance hall.

The message is clear. Although the school is not looking too good right now, it is heading fast towards a new educational future.

The £11m refurbishment of this 11-to-16 secondary school by Inspired Spaces, the Carillion-led partnership, is one of hundreds of Building Schools for the Future projects up and down the country which are starting to bear fruit. After years of planning, and months of building work, the school's youngest pupils are about to take possession of their new base as contractors move on to the next stage of the project.

For Year 7 pupils at Hadden Park, this will mean a dramatic fast-forward from drab Fifties classrooms into a double-height "heart space" with flexible classrooms, multi-use areas, bright colours, outside teaching areas and plenty of natural daylight.

But refurbishing an old school is never easy, and Capita Architects faced major constraints in revamping the existing building, which had an uninspiring appearance and long lines of classrooms.

Dave Wilcock's design inserts three new blocks alongside the existing building in order to allow the new school to be remodelled as a series of separate learning clusters, all accessed from a central, landscaped courtyard.

A striking main entrance will signal that the school is leaving behind a difficult past to become a new kind of learning environment, while a community plaza, complete with café, nursery and hairdressing salon, will create a welcoming civic hub from which other areas of the campus can be accessed. Grey and blue rendering will draw the whole school together and give it a crisp, modern appearance.

"Only 15 per cent of this project is new build, which forces you to be quite strategic," says Richard Woods, senior associate director with Capita Architects, an experienced school design practice, which designed St Francis of Assisi Academy, the eco-school in Liverpool.

"We sidled the new parts alongside existing parts then pulled them apart in order to open them up. Our aim was to make sure that each learning cluster incorporated all the elements you would hope for in a new school," he says.

Corridors are dispensed with in order to create flexible, multi-use areas, each learning cluster can be accessed from both front and back, and there is a strong emphasis on using outdoor space for learning. The design also eliminates the kind of dead ends and dark corners that encourage bullying.

"The best projects are those where the whole school community has gone on a journey to imagine how teaching and learning might be in the future and this has definitely happened here. Nottingham is exciting, innovative and very organised about the visioning process," says Woods.

"You also need a strong team all round. The contractor, the designer and the client all need to share the same passion and enthusiasm, because the pace of this programme is phenomenal," he says.

Hadden Park High shares a large campus with a special school and a sports stadium and a 10-year plan for its refurbishment includes a new special school, designed by the small architectural practice Evans Vettori, revamped sports facilities, a primary school and improved ways of making the area more welcoming and easily navigated.

The result will bring a vibrant focus to an area struggling free of problems, and shows clearly how school refurbishment can be about so much more than remodelling an old building. It not only opens up a whole new educational future for pupils, but can also be pivotal to the regeneration of an entire community. HW