Making Sense of School and Designer Relationships at Coatesville Primary School

Published: Tuesday 25 September 2018

On Tuesday, 18 September, award-winning Coatesville Primary School was the final tour for the Victorian Chapter’s 2018 Events Calendar. Attendees received a history lesson on how relationships between school communities and designers can lead to outstanding education solutions.

Rather than “bang on about flexible learning environments,” Principal Michael Jones and Wayne Stephens (Chapter Chair and Clarke Hopkins Clarke Partner) detailed the history of their partnership. This collaboration started in 2010. At that time, the School had just completed its Building the Education Revolution (BER) Project. This building was placed on the only piece of land available on site. It left the rest of the site relatively untouched. Like most Schools, Coatesville had developed in an ad hoc manner with the BER Building being the latest addition.

A History of Engagement
Though the BER provided the School with a new innovative learning environment (ILE), it did not solve latent problems with the site. The School had no heart. The master plan developed by Clarke Hopkins Clarke opened up the centre of the site. This created a central piazza connecting the BER Building, Senior Centre, Gymnasium, Junior Centre, and oval. This piazza provides the school with a heart linking all its learning communities.

Despite having essentially cellular classrooms, the BER Building did prepare the school for change. The School experimented with how to use the building’s limited affordances. Each term they used it in a different manner. One term classes were broken up by subject, the next by class. This testing informed ideas for the master plan’s first project. The Senior Centre.

The Senior Centre is a refurbishment of an existing building. It also acted as a prototype for all future work. The existing plan was divided by two oval shaped interventions. These elements breakdown the traditional classroom model into a variety of learning modes. At the same time, they provide meeting and utility spaces for teachers and students. In the learning areas, teachers’ desks have been removed. This has effectively eliminated the traditional front of the classroom. Doing this has freed students and teachers for more collaborative opportunities.

The Administration and Junior Learning Centre
Though it was fascinating to learn about the school’s history, the main emphasis of the tour was the school’s latest addition. The Administration and Junior Learning Centre. This building occupies a prominent location on Mackie Road. With the Gymnasium, it frames a forecourt welcoming visitors to the campus. This forecourt provides community access to Administration, the Gymnasium, and Canteen.

The site’s topography informs the split in the Administration and Junior Learning Centre plan. On its lower level are Administration and Resources. Administration has been divided into public and student zones. On the Mackie Road side, visitors are greeted by a traditional reception lobby. On the opposite, the reception desk is at a height comfortable for young students. This includes a step so that even the smallest preppies can get assistance. The Resource Centre occupies the lower space between junior learning and administration. Though noise levels were an initial concern, the students and staff have learned to modify their behaviour to adapt to teamwork and collaboration. Our group arrived at the school early. Standing in the Resource Centre, the lack of noise made it hard to believe that a few metres away were 125 primary school students.

Tiered seats lead from the Resource up to the Junior Centre. Integrated into the steps are shelves. At the time of our visit, artwork by the students was proudly on display. On the upper level, the Senior Centre skews the standard ‘open plan’ model. Like the Senior Centre, a central gathering space subdivides the plan. In this instance, the intervention is an angular form rather than the Senior Centre’s ovals. This subdivision breaks the larger space into a series of learning commons and classrooms. Each zone has its own affordances. These include sliding doors, wet areas, withdrawal spaces, and resource zones. It combines the best ideas from the BER and Senior Centre to create a variety of learning opportunities.

Improving Teaching and Learning
Principal Michael Jones provided insight into how the design has improved teaching and learning. According to Michael, “students need to feel safe and secure to be ready to learn.” The design of the learning environments provides that feeling. The warm colours, natural light, and connectivity provide a space that encourages personalized learning. To help measure this, the school created a survey. The results quantify the impact of the space on teaching and learning. The data shows that the students are proud of their school and enjoy coming there. Michael admitted that he enjoys coming there as well. Which is good, because otherwise he wouldn’t get paid.

A larger version of the survey image is available in the gallery at the top of this article

As joint winner of Learning Environments Victoria’s 2017 New Individual Facility Award, Coatesville Primary School was LEA Victoria’s last site tour for 2018.

Our next event will be the 2018 Victorian Chapter Awards on Friday, 19 October 2018. These awards celebrate projects, such as Coatesville, where the collaboration between schools and designers lead to outstanding outcomes. We look forward to seeing you there to celebrate this year’s winners. Perhaps your school will be one of them?

Article: Wayne Hay

Photos: Wayne Hay and Moonshine Productions