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Teacher takes a swing at old school hall as 22m academy scheme gets under way

7 Sep 10 Pupils returning to classes at Francis Combe Academy, Watford, are seeing the first signs of a 22m design & build project now getting under way.

The Maple Cross office of regional contractor Kier has begun demolishing the first of the 50-year-old school structures, to make way for a major improvement and modernisation programme that will see a new academy rising from the footprint of the old campus.

The Francis Combe Academy is being built by Kier London, working with architect ACP and West Hertfordshire College, which is sponsoring the academy. Kier has also been confirmed as preferred bidder to rebuild and refurbish Bushey Academy, which Hertfordshire County Council has designated as a batched scheme together with Francis Combe. The £28m design and construction scheme at Bushey is expected to begin at the turn of the year.

The demolition programme at Francis Combe was officially launched by a member of the academy teaching staff, Lorraine Wright, head of learning for performing arts and media, who won the chance to knock down the old main hall in a charity auction.

Lorraine successfully bid £120, helping to raise funds for the academy’s former principal, Nicky Williams, who has left to work with orphaned children in Mombasa.

As well as sitting at the controls of an excavator and being shown how to operate its mechanical “claw,” Lorraine also took a swing inside the old school hall with a club hammer and a pick-axe.

She said afterwards: “I have had a love-hate relationship with the hall and its stage ever since I came here 10 years ago, as it doesn’t work quite as I would like it to for school performances. I had always joked about smashing it down and when the charity auction came up I grabbed the chance to make it a reality.”

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Kitted out in safety gear, Lorraine took a ten-pound hammer to the front of the stage and wielded a pick-axe to break up its flooring. “This has been a great way of working off my frustrations. A lot of people might dream about this kind of thing, but for me it suddenly became a reality.”

Lorraine is now looking forward to seeing a new multi-purpose hall take shape, providing bigger and more flexible accommodation to stage more ambitious school productions. “We can be a lot more adventurous,” she said. “The new building will take us to another dimension.”

Kier has erected a suite of temporary accommodation units for the academy’s 1,300 pupils, who will continue to be taught on site throughout the project, due for hand over at the end of 2012.

The work involves demolishing around 80 per cent of the original school in Horseshoe Lane, Garston, and rebuilding it on the existing footprint.

The Kier team has drawn up a three-phase programme of demolition and rebuilding operations, to enable the academy to remain open throughout the two-and-a-half year programme.

“As with all our education projects, a key goal is to ensure students and staff can continue as normal,” said Kier project manager Peter Dixon. “We are making every effort to minimise noise or potential disruption through detailed planning and programming on this very busy site, which has tight restrictions on working space and storage.” 

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