2100: a spacier odyssey

29th November 1996 at 00:00
Widcombe Church of England junior school in Bath is one of those schools that increases the price of local housing. As local prejudice tends to prefer the old to new, it took a risk when it demolished its premises - a dilapidated chunk of high-windowed Victoriana.

However, there's a feeling of continuity amid the sparkle and smell of its new building. The top of the Victorian bell tower is now a sculpture by the front door. Original stone cladding was plundered for the one-storey modern structure, which has a slate roof and 100 windows in hardwood frames.

"None of this was thought of five years ago," says Mark Harris, the headteacher. Although an architect's brief from 1986 was for refurbishment, changes in disability access and VAT legislation swung the scales against it. "Costings came out at Pounds 1.2 against Pounds 1.3 million," Harris says. "Rebuilding also gave a 100-year life expectancy instead of 35 and, had we refurbished, we'd have had the expense and disruption of relocating to mobiles." So they stayed in the old building while the new one went up in the playground in time for this school year.

The smooth finish is the result of a long, bumpy journey: agonised planning procedures and battles with the Bath Conservation Trust; six tenders showed a Pounds 250,000 price difference and fixtures and fittings, which would have been unaffordable had the school not shopped around.

The architect, Pat Benjamin of Nealon Tanner, is a man who knows how to winkle money out of the DFEE. "In general," he says, "an LEA pays less on a new school and more on a refurb." The DFEE also coughed up because Widcombe is attached to a diocese prepared to underwrite 15 per cent of costs - a sum that has nearly been met by the governors' money-raising schemes.

Mr Harris expects it to be there in the year 2100 and, eyes on posterity, the pupils have buried a time capsule in the playground for their children's children's children's children should they start afresh in rebuilt premises fit for the 22nd century.

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