This Primary School is located on what used to be back beach area just 300m from the ocean. Formerly an area of swamp and River Red Gums, the landscaping now is bereft of larger shade trees. The original 1920s brick structure provides beautiful tall windows and high ceiling, but with little connection to the outside. The floor plan forms three sides of a courtyard with the fourth side enclosed in the 1970s with an open-plan 6 teacher unit. Since then the courtyard has been a thoroughfare; the place where visitors cross to get to the front door and enter the Reception area , where students traverse to see the Principal or get to the sickbay. Students were discouraged from using the courtyard during lunchtime and recess it being a space for staff on fine days for a little peace.
Following an intensive Master Planning process, it was agreed that the courtyard should logically become the heart of the school, the centre for outdoor learning, for links from classrooms to the outside spaces and interconnections with the library and STEM focused specialist classrooms which are being developed in the original 1920s building. In the longer term the Administration and Reception areas might be relocated to emphasise the importance of the courtyard as a student-centred learning area, the hub from where classrooms and specialists areas are accessed and which provides breakout from these spaces for small group and individual study and research.
The design alludes to the former red gum filled plains with the structure of the canopy designed as trunk and branches supporting the canopy which provides dappled light below. The light levels are maintained with alternating clear and solid roof sheeting. Air movement is ensured with the butterfly roof lifting up on the north and south sides and assisted by four large slow revolving fans on still days. Sound absorption is managed with perforated metal sheeting and colourful suspended acoustic panels alluding to multi-coloured leaves. For overcast winter days and after hours events, additional upward facing floodlighting is provided in the trunk.
Roofing the courtyard has provided all weather functionality. Gates mean equipment and furniture can be left outside. The old enclosed verandah along the side of the 1920s classrooms was removed to improve the direct connection with the new roofed outdoor space. Paving was relaid to improve accessibility. Timber decking added to overcome the step at the classroom doors and to help to define the different zones. Perimeter seating is a mix of straight and curved GRC benches which delineate the paving from the decking and assist with level changes.
This was a wonderful experience exploring options with the school and particularly working Shane and Jan in developing the Master Plan. This courtyard canopy is just the first stage of the Master Plan and we look forward to continuing to work together as the next stages of the implementation emerge.