NSW Chapter visit new primary school in re-purposed building

Published: Sunday 21 June 2015

The CEFPI NSW Chapter site visit this term was held at a shiny new primary school in North Strathfield, a short drive west of the city.

Our Lady of the Assumption (OLA), the 150th school in the Sydney Catholic diocese, is located in a growing urban community. Due to the population growth in the region a new school was needed, so without the availability of a spare plot of land, the 1970 former Telstra Training Centre is being repurposed into a primary school with room to grow. The project architect is Knut Menden of BVN .

The afternoon commenced on an upper floor, in an unrenovated and abandoned space, to give a sense of the challenges ahead. When we headed downstairs, the transformation of the lower space was outstanding. Fiona Young from BVN outlined the vision for the school and Knut explained how they set about to provide flexible and open learning spaces using materials that create a warm atmosphere.

At the event Principal Cathy Young and Mark Rix, Head of Communications at the Catholic Education Office in Sydney outlined the challenges of promoting a new school to the community, however a physical school that didn't actually exist yet. It was wonderful to hear the perspective of parents Jacinta and Greg as they passionately talked about their decision to send their son to OLA.

At enrolment events in 2014, prior to the new school year, the team created the vision of what learning would be like at OLA. The school commenced at the beginning of this year with the adjacent cottage fitted out as an interim school, a large open shared space for all the new students. Once the first stage was completed the students and their teachers moved in on 1 May. At present, in Stage 1 of the development, there are almost 70 students, with capacity for 120. As the site develops OLA will be a two stream primary school eventually with 450 students.

The design of the school is around a central spine, 'the bridge' which connects the spaces. This is a raised platform above the floor level of the learning spaces. It has a range of uses, for movement, a sitting step, a stage and at two points fun wooden block pits have been built in. Movable screens and joinery that includes shelves, cupboards and seating nooks produce a variety of spaces for learning and storage. The administration is visible through glass, ensuring that everyone is part of the community.

Double glazing on the street side enables daylight and natural ventilation on the street frontage. Large bi-fold doors to the courtyard side open the space to an external timber deck, blurring the boundary between inside and outside.

The NSW Chapter is grateful for the community at Our Lady of Assumption to allow us to spend time at the school after hours. A huge thanks to the Principal, Cathy Young, her amazing staff for their wonderful insight and hospitality, Paul Gibson, Peter Clark and Mark Rix from the Sydney CEO and Knut Menden, Fiona Young and the crew at BVN for making the afternoon such a great success.

Anne Knock, Chair
NSW Chapter - CEFPI