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Expanding its horizons

Blouberg International School

Blouberg International School (BIS) used to be called Beach House Pre-Primary School, a name that reflected its original size and purpose.

Yet, goes the familiar saying, “Large streams from little fountains flow, tall oaks from little acorns grow.” One might put it another way: in new and successful schools, demand soon outstrips supply as word spreads of their quality. In the case of BIS, the establishment of a high school meant the steady growth of a diverse community of students from various countries, up to and including Grade 10 (the school has added on a grade each year), studying the British national curriculum and benchmarked by Cambridge University. In 2007, BIS became one of eight international coeducational schools around the world belonging to the International Education Systems (IES) Group, with a mission statement reflecting its international flavour.

A multi-phase, long-term expansion project This steady growth of the student body and concomitant development of an international ethos firmly rooted in a South African context has resulted in an interesting situation at BIS. Principal Nerine Resnekov explains a sense of dislocation: “Currently we are situated on two sites both in the suburb of Parklands; one a property which we have outgrown far too quickly and where we have had to limit our intake drastically until our expansion plans are completed; and the other, a home to our junior and pre-primary campuses, where our primary and high school is being built.”

Any homeowner who’s faced property expansion knows exactly how stressful it is. In a school’s case, multiply that tenfold. Says Resnekov, “This is a multi-phase, long-term expansion project that will include facilities such as an indoor swimming pool.” One of the ways to corral that stress, however, is to do your homework. “In the planning phase, we consulted with parents, students and staff, as well as the local community and environmental, roads and other government departments. We also rely on our very experienced architectural team.”

This team is led by specialist IES architect, Chilean Sergio Aguilar – IES is a Spanish-owned school consortium, explains Resnekov – who has a wealth of experience in building schools in various countries around the world. “As different phases of the project unfold, he works collaboratively with our local architect Luis Fernando Mira, who is also heavily involved in the planning of our IES Hout Bay International School Project. Lovemore Construction is heading up our building, and has been most accommodating when it comes to regular site meetings to discuss progress.”

A playful use of space BIS is fortunate to have access to top education facility designers and the resources to enable school expansion, and Resnekov emphasises that the whole school is conscious of its advantage. They’re all also learning a great deal from the project. “Our aim was to utilise our limited acreage as cleverly as possible whilst still retaining the feeling of wide open space. The ultra-modern building is inspired by play, and this can be sensed in the colourful playground, and the unconventional angles of the windows in the junior block. The expansive butterfly roof allows for a flood of natural light and a free flow of air across the top of the building, which means very little use of electricity or air conditioners. Each classroom has its own ‘wet area’, basin and boys’ and girls’ toilets, as well as a storeroom. There is wireless internet throughout the campus and students make use of a mobile lab, using mini-notebooks and tablets just about anywhere in the school.”

Planning for a sense of togetherness

Resnekov is eager to share her experience with other schools facing expansion. “The obvious major challenge is managing the safety of the children through careful planning and clever cordoning-off of areas.

“And look out for challenges that may rear their heads after occupancy, such as blinds and window tints. We initially installed too few, but have now adjusted light balance in all our classrooms. An experienced project manager is key, as is the ability to plan a thousand steps ahead, remain flexible and always have a contingency plan ready.”

A further challenge has been maintaining a sense of togetherness – “the staff certainly miss each other, being split across the campuses”– but witnessing the impressive new building rise above the green shade-cloth of the fence barricade, has trumped any problems, says Resnekov happily. “It has strengthened our brand new school and kept a school community spirit alive. We recently hosted a whole school picnic and art show on our new sports field.

“Although we are expanding, we retain a sense of family and community intrinsic to the very fabric of our school and an attribute we hold dear.”

Category: Winter 2012

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