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Skibbereen's impressive new Community School takes shape

October 16th, 2015 11:55 AM

By Siobhan Cronin

Skibbereen's impressive new Community School takes shape Image
A stunning shot by Tom Vaughan of the new Skibbereen Community School, taken recently from the air

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A natural amphitheatre, a nature walk, a large special needs unit, a fully equipped gym and state-of-the-art labs and equipment are some just of the treats that will be in store for students of the new Skibbereen Community School when it opens in September 2016.

A NATURAL amphitheatre, a nature walk, a large special needs unit, a fully equipped gym and state-of-the-art labs and equipment are some just of the treats that will be in store for students of the new Skibbereen Community School when it opens in September 2016.

Located at the top of Pound Hill in the town, the school is close to the proposed town by-pass which will, it is hoped, be eventually accessed from the main Cork Road.

The impressive school, which comes about after an amalgamation of Rossa College, Mercy Heights and St Facthna’s De La Salle, will be kitted out for 900 pupils, but with an expected roll call of about 850 on day one – in September 2016.

The school is one of four currenlty being built nationwide as a public private partnership (PPP) project, which sees the Department of Education – funded by the National Development Finance Agency – working closely with construction company BAM.

And what’s most unique about these PPPs, is that the school, once it is built, will be managed by the facilities management arm of the company – BAM FM.

This means that everything –  bar the teaching staff themselves – will be under the remit of BAM for the next 25 years.

BAM will kit out the school, maintain it, clean it, heat it, in a type of ‘landlord’ role, looking after the needs of both pupils and staff.

After that time, there will be an official ‘hand over’ of the school, when the Department will then be deemed 100% owner of the property.

‘Basically, BAM design, build and run the school,’ says Ballydehob native Tom Vaughan, who is the facility manager at Skibbereen Community School.

Tom will have an office on-site for the duration of the 25 years, overseeing a broad brief, which includes grounds maintenance, energy management, caretaking, cleaning, parking, safey, security, pest control, waste management, telecoms, and more.

‘I have worked with BAM for ten years now, on many different projects, so this project was ideal for me,’ the West Cork man explains.

While the Department will be in charge of the teaching staff, Tom says BAM will take on the existing caretaking staff from the three current schools. ‘They will be employed on the same pay and conditions and will have a choice whether to make the move or not,’ he says.

He estimates that there will be 5-6 full-time staff, along with additional suppliers and contractors.

Although the build has a May 2016 deadline, BAM will then spend the summer putting the final touches to the massive structure and fitting out science labs, art rooms and other specialised classrooms, with state-of-the-art equipment.

The site spans 20 acres and the school itself comprises 10,800sq m, over two floors. The size of the site means there is capacity for additional space, if it’s needed in the future.

Inside the school, a large general purpose (GP) hall acts as a centre piece, which has an impressive music room to one side.

The music room opens onto the GP hall, featuring a demountable stage, making it purpose-built for concerts, awards ceremonies and shows.

Projectors will be installed in the practical rooms, instead of blackboards, and the metalwork and woodwork rooms will all have start-of-the-art equipment, sourced by BAM.

The art room will even have its own kiln, for firing pottery.

Staff will get a modern, well-equipped staffroom and kitchen, with their own workstations, showers and use of the gym.

The gym itself, which is separate to the indoor and outdoor basketball courts, will be fully equipped and may, after a few years, be offered to third party groups and clubs for their use, outside of school hours.

 There will also be a First Aid room (with recovery couches), a student canteen, a Career Guidance room, a Library, and other as-yet unspecified general purpose rooms.

BAM also supply the telecoms infrasturcture, up to the power points in the wall, while the Department will provide the actual IT equipment.

Tom says the school is in talks with Ludgate over the possibility of linking up with the 1000mb broadband promised for the town.

CAT 6 cabling, which is capable of accessing the high speeds, is being installed in the expectation of securing a high quality service.

Under the Energy Management brief, BAM is hoping to secure an A2 energy rating. This means the school will make use of LED bulbs, be well insulated, and have solar panels for heating the water systems.

It will also feature high level south-facing glazing to make the most of the sun’s heat and it will keep a close eye on its green energy monthly targets.

But one of the most impressive aspects of the school is the extensive and purpose-designed Special Needs Unit (see panel).

It is expected that local artists will soon be invited to submit proposals for artwork for both the grounds and inside the building.

Outside, the school will have some impressive landscaping, including an amphitheatre for concerts.

There will be a nature walk in a figure-of-eight, for pupils to make use of during break times. 

There is also provision for a courtyard with island seating and tables, basketball and soccer/GAA pitches, bicycle parking, and a separate wheelchair access/pedestrian path from the Cork Road into the school grounds for those who don’t want to drive directly to the school gates.

Tom believes the amphitheatre is rather unique among the BAM school projects. ‘That came about largely because of the natural fall of the land at that point,’ he points out. 

The tiered grassy ledges of the theatre also feature wonderful views over the north side of the town, out across the Cork Road.

At the moment, the school buses will be able to park outside the school gates, as the road is a cul-de-sac until the proposed town by-pass is ready for construction.

This means there is ample parking in the school grounds for staff and for drop-off and pick-up times.

If, and when, a by-pass becomes a reality, buses will access the school carpark, as parents will have greater access along the by-pass road.

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