Towards best practice: designing preprimary facilities

| November 14, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Julia Denny-Dimitriou

What would you do if you wanted to build bigger pre-primary facilities at your school but had no space into which to expand? Simple: move the headmaster’s house and take over his garden!

That is what Cordwalles Preparatory School in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, did. The result is the ‘Inky’ (so called because it’s where we ‘incubate’ our youngest learners until they’re ready for high school) – a facility that boasts the best view in the school. The 92m2 complex houses classrooms for 72 boys in four classes plus psychomotor and creative rooms. The total project cost was R6 million. The old pre-primary that housed 60 students has been converted into a much-needed and muchused music department.

From conception to construction

Carol Fourie, head of the preparatory school, explained the process that led to the new Inky facility. “First we brainstormed our ideal to realign it with our actual budget. Headmaster Simon Weaver and architect Nick Grice of Grice, Small and Pettit Architects visited several other schools’ pre-primaries to gather ideas before Grice drew up the draft plans. Then we entered a period of negotiation and consultation – he made us motivate our requirements and work quite hard to convince him of things we wanted,” Fourie remembers.

Grice takes up the story: “Moving the headmaster’s house opened up the whole southern side of the property. The headmaster now calls converted staff quarters home, while his old house is now the Inky administration centre. “The site was a prominent factor in conceiving the Inky building. The initial challenge was more about planning than architectural design. With a long-term development plan in mind, we had to rethink the way the school worked and make space for the envisaged additional new accommodation.

Outside just as important as the inside

“Pre-primary facilities require a more informal approach than traditional primary or high school amenities. Creating freedom of flow and fluid spaces is important at this level. Spaces for very young learners should also be far more open to the outdoors: the general idea is to be able to get the boys outdoors as fast and easily as possible.

“The style of the Inky building blends in with the rest of the Victorian red-brick and plaster aesthetic of Cordwalles. The arches and corridors make visual reference to the rest of the school and the fittings and finishes are simple, robust and boy-proof.” The L-shaped building has wide corridors used as play areas during Pietermaritzburg’s frequent spells of inclement weather. It slopes down to an extensive playground equipped with climbing equipment, a cycle track, semi-covered sandpit and putt-putt course.

A learning experience

Pondering what she would do differently if she had the chance to do it again, Fourie says: “We wanted a building that would allow boys and teachers to see all its rooms from anywhere on the playground. That did not work out exactly as planned. We also don’t have enough wall space to display the boys’ art, so that’s another thing I’d plan differently.

“Our biggest challenge, though, has been the covered atrium area that has railings and steps. We should have planned a gentler slope that wouldn’t require railings. We also had to give up a second set of toilets because of budget constraints, as well as our desired number of trees in the garden.” When all is said done, however, Fourie says: “I walk into the Inky every morning and think what a wonderful environment this is to work in. The teachers are happy, the boys are happy, so it’s probably just about as close to best practice as we could get.”

Category: Summer 2012

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