Introducing the new Oakhill School Sports Campus

| June 12, 2015 | 0 Comments

Oakhill School, a co-educational independent school in Knysna in the Western Cape, celebrated significant milestones recently, including starting the year with over 500 students, greatly expanding the academic campus and officially opening the Oakhill Sports Campus (OSC).

Oakhill School grew from an idea sown in the early 1990s by pioneering parents who wanted an excellent all-round education for their children. They sought to establish a school that expressed ‘joy in learning’ and founder headmaster, Allan Graham, started making this idea a reality in 1992. The school began in Woodmill Lane and soon moved to the current location, where it has continued to grow steadily over the years in both reputation and numbers, attracting children from local areas and further afield. Today, Oakhill has well over 500 pupils from Grade 000 to Grade 12 and has expanded its infrastructure to include new developments and new building projects, including a music school, art and drama studios, a learning commons and six additional classrooms.

Last year, Oakhill purchased and developed 17 hectares of land on the outskirts of the rural suburb of Welbedacht. This prime piece of property is now the Oakhill Sports Campus (OSC).

Some anxious moments

Principal Shane Kidwell admits there were some anxious moments during the early days. “The Oakhill planning committee looked at over 15 properties before we decided on two to choose from, depending on price. The one property was ideal and the other would require some innovative thinking to accommodate all the facilities we needed. Ultimately, we were fortunate to be able to purchase the last piece of flat land on the Knysna urban edge. There were definitely some heart-stopping moments in this process, as the land was ultimately up for auction and there was a chance that someone else would outbid us. Thankfully, all involved wanted this piece of land for a school and now Oakhill has 17 hectares of prime property for future generations of children in this area.”

The first phase of the OSC is complete and includes a stateof- the-art water-based AstroTurf and rugby, soccer, cricket and netball fields. Planning is underway for the second phase, during which a swimming and water polo pool, tennis and netball courts will be constructed; as well as an indoor gym and indoor cricket nets.

Tips for other schools

Oakhill is eager to share with other schools dreaming similar dreams, their planning and building processes and the many considerations and challenges they have had to overcome. The school has therefore provided this invaluable list:

  • The size of the land was our first consideration, and this was determined by the anticipated requirements of a school, offering a wide range of facilities to cater for a foreseeable maximum of around 800 learners. The potential facilities were sized in terms of sports fields, buildings, pool area, public open space, parking, etc. and placed on the landscape taking aspect, slope and all other geographic features into account. Based on this research, an optimum size of 17 hectares was established within the context of the funding available, as well as the local property market and land availability.
  • A professional architectural company was employed and worked together with a skilled team of professionals on the school’s planning committee to develop a master plan so that the design of all the different elements – from the buildings to the shed, AstroTurf, fields and scoreboard – formed an aesthetical ‘whole’. We took cognisance of the fact that this can oftentimes be overlooked, and the overall appearance of a facility like this can be rather ‘bitty’ and utilitarian.
  • Oakhill also employed a professional town planning company to facilitate the property layout considerations. Thereafter, we made a few adjustments to the master plan to take the environmental concerns highlighted in the required environmental impact analysis (EIA) report into account. Environmental concerns and public open space are of paramount importance to the school and we ensured the incorporation of green spaces, animal movement belts, permeable fencing, water courses, dams, storm water catchment, riparian zones, etc. into all our planning.
  • Obviously, available funding and the budget are the biggest challenges when building any facilities. We paid a lot of attention to ascertaining what the budget was and then tried to optimise the facilities in terms of their size, material and functionality. This involved repurposing some of the existing buildings, such as a prefabricated classroom (which became the clubhouse), and increasing the utilisable size of the building by adding ‘stretch tent’ structures outdoors.1
  • A sports campus independent of the academic campus required ablution facilities and Oakhill customised these from timber houses, as this was a cheaper construction method and offered flexibility to move the buildings at a later stage if required.
  • At the new site, we had to plan the installation of electricity, water, sewage and roads, as these facilities were either absent or were of very poor quality.
  • We discovered that considerable water is required to maintain our new AstroTurf. We incorporated a 90 000 litre tank below the AstroTurf so that all the irrigation water is captured from the AstroTurf itself. We are currently investigating how to generate some of our own power, and plan to supply all water needed for the new sport campus from our own dams.
  • In choosing construction companies, we approached the most reputable experts based on their experience and references. These contractors and suppliers contributed their experience and product knowledge to assist us with design details and final specifications. A great deal of negotiation takes place to keep costs down without compromising quality.
  • We took some sage advice and involved environmental consultants from the start, so that they could help with the compilation of the master plan and consultations with the neighbouring community.

Dreams can become reality

Kidwell has some last sage words of advice for those embarking on similar large expansion projects: “A strong team with technically proficient people who are prepared to spend a lot of time on the project, coupled with good financial planning, is the backbone of a successful development. “Be prepared for both drought and flood during construction. Keep your neighbours informed and happy, and remember that all new facilities must be eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable.” Kidwell reflects that this is an exciting time for the school in many ways. “I’d like to pay tribute to all the planners, parents and donors who made this dream a reality by quoting John Lennon: ‘A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.’”2

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Category: Winter 2015

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