A successful school partnership

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Sharon Wright visited one primary school in Trafford which seems to have got the balance right between innovation and shared history.

New schools are a great opportunity for a community, but they must also be sensitive to the memories which the existing school holds for many generations of users. The new Navigation Primary School, which re-opened its doors to its existing pupils after the November half-term 2006, is a prime example of a successful partnership between the community, local authority, designers and contractor which celebrates the past while looking firmly to the future.

The new school

The new £3.25 million school is the result of limited competition held by Trafford MBC for its framework architects, and won by Ansell & Bailey, Chartered Architects in Old Trafford. The new school building, for an entry of one-and-a-half forms, comprises a nursery classroom, two reception classrooms, three Key Stage 1 and six Key Stage 2 classrooms, together with ancillary teaching areas, music room, ICT room and staffrooms. A large hall and adjacent studio have been specifically designed for both school and community use, allowing the school to lock down a lobby, lavatories and small kitchen before entering the hall or studio for after hours’ use.

The school site is situated in Altrincham, in the centre of a residential area. The existing Edwardian school was deemed beyond repair, with rampant dry rot and settlement problems, so a new school was commissioned on the existing school site. This meant re-housing the staff and pupils in a temporary modular school in the adjoining park, in itself a sensitive issue, so a tight construction period reducing the decant time to a minimum was an important consideration.

The project was partnered between Trafford MBC Children & Young People’s Service as client, the school governors, staff, pupils and parents as end users and the design team, and included after tender, the contractor and major subcontractors.

Involvement and participation

A public presentation of the winning scheme to the school and local community was followed by feedback meetings with a ‘Building Committee’ of governors, staff and parents, established as a link to the design team. Regular meetings were held during the design refinement, and Ansell & Bailey’s detailed room layouts, showing all equipment and services in both plan and elevation, kept all parties informed, and ironed out many of the problems before the tender.

During construction, the contractor laid on several school visits to the site, and a webcam allowed the school and the designers to track progress on site, as well as acting as a deterrent to would-be trespassers.

From the start, the architects, Ansell & Bailey, were eager to involve the whole school – both pupils and staff – in making the new school a place where learning would be fun. As in previous projects, they included a provisional sum for stained-glass panels to be designed by the children: those with winning entries have visited the glass factory and seen the process of turning their designs into life. The resulting six panels were hung in the glazed entrance hall in time for the school’s official opening in early 2007.

The building

The new school, L-shaped on plan, comprises two main elements: the two-storey classroom block to the south of the site, and the administration, hall and kitchen block to the east of the site. The main entrance at the junction of the two blocks, allows the visitor views into the hall, and down the wide corridor to the classrooms. This corridor incorporates a variety of teaching spaces at both floor levels, which are interlinked by the main stairwell and light wells between floors.

The classroom block consists of two floors of six classrooms each. The classrooms are separated by double-skin block walls and by large storerooms accessed off the corridors for communal equipment. Every classroom has two large cupboards and a wet area and is provided with an interactive whiteboard and projector. A sound field system has been installed in all the classrooms and public spaces as several pupils have hearing difficulties, but the system will help all users of the school.

The nursery classroom, with its own entrance, lavatories, kitchen and laundry, and with a dedicated sheltered play area is linked to the adjoining reception classroom by folding sliding screens. A special ‘story telling’ area has a low-level window and a low ceiling for intimacy, and is also equipped with interactive whiteboard and sound field.

The wide corridors at both floors break out into general activity spaces for sub-libraries and for group sessions and activities, and the first floor has a smaller ‘quiet’ room for one-to-one teaching.

Lavatories, disabled facilities and a shower room are accessed off the corridors, and also directly access the playground at ground-floor level.

Whilst the whole school is installed with wireless technology, allowing laptops to be used throughout, an ICT room has been provided for formal computer lessons, but may be adapted in time to a general technology room. The music room, resembling a maple leaf on plan, allows for both individual and ensemble practice areas in its irregular shape.

The main hall is entered by the school from the heart of the building, and by the after-hours community from a dedicated foyer with lavatories and the food technology room which doubles as a small kitchen for the ‘Wide Awake Club’ and community users.

The hall has a timber-sprung floor so that gymnastics and badminton can be fully enjoyed, and is naturally ventilated. High-level windows have electrically operated blinds for blackout during a school performance. Acoustic panels line the upper walls to allow the space to be used as an auditorium for plays and concerts. A studio room doubles as a stage behind sliding folding doors in a proscenium arch, and as the activity room for the ‘extra hours’ club.

The school office commands the entrance lobby, which acts as a security zone before entering the school proper. It adjoins the headteacher’s room, central store, reprographics room, interview room and medical room, with the large staffroom beyond.

Externally, the L-shaped school shelters the playground from the adjoining roads, and the pupil entrance to the west is sited diametrically away from the vehicular entrance. Greater Manchester Police were consulted throughout the design stage to give advice on security.

The corridor walls have been deliberately kept neutral, with only three blocks of strong colour to the end walls at infant, junior and library areas: these act as visual way finding. The corridor really springs to life at dusk – the ground and first floors are linked by two curved light wells: allowing for floor and wall washers to shine a play of changing light colours onto the blank canvas of the double-height wall.  The effect is magical, and can be seen through glass block panels set at high level in each classroom and thence to the street outside. On evenings when the school is in extended use, the building comes alive: gently changing colour from within.  

Other feature walls, such as the double-height wall to the west stairs, are designated as display walls, and the architects hope that the central roof light well will be decked with kites to filter direct sunlight from above. Signage has been kept to a minimum. Bold classroom numbers have teacher names on a slide beneath, and simple pictograms illustrate the music, ICT and food technology rooms.


Trafford MBC was determined that the new school should be as energy efficient and environmentally friendly as the capital budget would allow, and this became a major driver in the environmental services design and solution.

The whole building is naturally ventilated, thus revisiting the empirical solutions of the Victorian era that were a feature of the old school. The load-bearing masonry construction and high levels of insulation allow for a high thermal mass to keep the building warm in winter and cool in summer.

The whole school is heated by under-floor hot-water heating pipes from gas-fired condensing boilers, designed to supplement the natural heat gain from the large south-facing windows.

The high ceiling levels in the classrooms, particularly at first floor where the junior classrooms follow the mono pitch of the roof line, allow for heat to rise in occupied classes. Automatic controls, using data from an external weather station, and internal air quality sensors, operate window louvers to introduce fresh air into the classrooms, whilst hot stale air is automatically ventilated to large stacks, whose terminals are a feature of the new school.

These stacks march along the roofline of the main classroom block and are attenuated to prevent cross talk between ground and first-floor classrooms. The terminals, shaped like cardinals’ hats, consciously reflect the ventilation cupolas of the original school and are part of the high-profile approach to teaching the need for all of us to save energy.

In addition, rain water from the roofs is recycled as ‘grey water’ – pumped by a wind turbine to a holding tank for flushing the lavatory cisterns, and thermal solar panels on the south-facing classroom roof are used to pre-heat the domestic hot water.
All these high-profile energy-saving measures are also intended as a teaching aid to emphasise the importance of looking after our planet. At the heart of the school they are brought together in a plasma display screen which graphically illustrates the energy savings made through sun, wind and rain; and which also links to the central BMS serving the schools throughout Trafford MBC.

School history

Navigation Primary School takes its name from the Bridgewater Canal running nearby, and the theme is echoed in the compass rose set into the floor of the main entrance foyer, aligned north–south.

The rose’s centre incorporates a time capsule for the school to celebrate its new building, commissioned exactly 100 years since the foundation stone was laid for its predecessor.  Externally, the original Edwardian terracotta over-mantles with BOYS and GIRLS have been placed either side of the front entrance path, and the existing foundation stone placed beneath the new.

Navigation Primary School is a wonderful example of a school which looks to the future through its sustainable agenda and its wish to be a community resource. But, in doing so, it also clearly values the history in the community and the memories of the previous school, cleverly incorporating details into the new building so that the past is celebrated.

Sharon Wright




Taken from 21st Century Schools

Learning Spaces