It’s hard to imagine a more complex, challenging brief: in just six months, transform a compact, rundown, vacant school in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs into a nurturing, adaptable, state-of-the-art facility with strong indoor-outdoor connection, purpose-built for students with complex disabilities and high needs. In the process, inspire and engage staff and parents, many of whom are reluctant to relocate out of concern about the impact of upheaval on students.
St Paul’s College is a Catholic specialist school for children with intellectual, physical, profound multiple and sensory disabilities. A new principal, Tim Hemphill, was appointed to relocate the school from a rundown campus in Kew (larger than the Balwyn site but never built-for-purpose). Discussions began with ClarkeHopkinsClarke in May 2018 and the modernised Balwyn campus needed to be fully functional for day one of term one, 2019. Failure was not an option.
This remarkable project was recently commended in the 2020 Learning Environments Australasia Learning Environments Australasia Educational and Facilities Regional Award for Renovation/Modernisation over $5m. Simon Le Nepveu, ClarkeHopkinsClarke Education Partner, says design had to continue after construction began, requiring unusually close collaboration across the project team.”We all signed up knowing the ‘Mission Impossible’ deadline would bring challenges and pressures but everyone worked exceptionally hard and creatively, solving problems as they arose and focusing on critical design objectives.”
The Balwyn site comprised three ageing forms – a brick learning building flanked by a 100-year-old hall and relocatables. All were disconnected from each other and from undertilised grounds..ClarkeHopkinsClarke’s design delivers greater functionality on a smaller site by maximising every inch. It integrates indoor and outdoor space via glazing, curved internal joinery with playful cut-outs, and curvy external ramps, paths, playgrounds and landscaping. It transforms the hall into a zone for senior students and opens up the internalised main building, reconfiguring it for junior and middle students and introducing shared spaces including staff retreats, an atmospheric Sensory Room, and a central Discovery Centre with multi-purpose space for gatherings as diverse as planning meetings, assemblies and yoga classes. A split-level design maximises space and functionality. “That posed some accessibility challenges,” concedes Project Architect Cathy Chapman. “We overcame them by integrating ramps as a design feature.”
Tactile, moveable furnishings and acoustic paneling allow space to be activated in imaginative ways. Flexibility is especially important with a high-needs cohort, where students’ wellbeing and behaviour changes regularly. Staff need multiple options for helping them regulate their moods and emotions, take breaks as required, and create an optimum environment for learning. The mesmerising Sensory Room uses innovative LUMES technology developed by local new media design studio ENESS. Akin to interactive digital wallpaper, this LED light-emitting canvas can react to movement, time, weather, vibration, audio and skeletal and facial recognition. “The floor features an illuminating ‘magic carpet’ for lying or playing games on,” says Cathy. “For students and staff who love this stimulation the space has become a favourite retreat. Students can learn to program the wall.”
Tim says the design facilitates collaboration and skill-sharing between staff, partnerships with mainstream schools, and vocational learning in Hospitality, Horticulture and Social Enterprise. “These beautiful new work and play areas have completely transformed the lives of students in our care,” he says.
Material Used :
1. Interface – Feature Carpet – Nimbus Plank, Flint
2. Autex – Quietspace Acoustic Fabrics – Silver, Azure, Stonewash, Avocado and Jade
3. Dulux – Feature Paints – Salt Spray and Wink
4. Gunnersens Designer Ply – Feature Plywood –Premium AC Birch Lime Powdercoated
5. Laminex – General Joinery – Seasoned Oak
6. Laminex – Kitchen Joinery – Fresh Spring and Calypso Blue
7. Laminex Innovations – Discovery Centre Feature Wall – Flute Silver and Sphinx
8. The Andrews Group – Feature Wall Vinyl – Bolon, Flow, Coral Sliver
9. Armstrong Accolade Plus – Floor Vinyl – Gunnamatta Green and Byron Blue
10. Armstrong Natural Creations – Staff Lounge – Barnwood, Ombre