SES combines the natural with the high-tech to create two new schools in Surrey’s capital town

Labelling SHEPHERD Engineering Services (SES) a bunch of swots may be taking thing a little too far, but they certainly took on double the school work after winning a £4.4m contract for both Pond Meadow Special Educational Needs School and Christ’s College Secondary School, which share the same site in Guildford, Surrey.

Surrey County Council’s plan was to bring the two schools together on a site which was, until recently, occupied by Christ’s College alone. The overall contract value for the functional, although undeniably striking, red-brick buildings was a whopping £24.6m.

The three-storey Christ’s College wholly replaces a predecessor built in the 1970s, which catered for 1400 students. In recent years, however, numbers had dropped to 500, meaning that the school was far too large and costly to maintain. The original school was demolished before m&e contractor SES started work on site, with the new facility set to house a maximum of 750.

Just a stride away is Pond Meadow School, which has been designed to accommodate more than 70 students from nursery level up to age 19. Its interior is divided into three zones configured around a central courtyard.

The northern zone occupies the lower school, the southern one houses the senior school, while the central section houses a shared gymnasium, hydrotherapy pool and dining hall. The school’s special needs status resulted in a somewhat atypical fit-out for the m&e team. Autistic children, for example, are known to obsess about fixtures and fittings, so switches have been installed in cupboards, and light switches have been concealed in painted, wall-mounted, medium-density fibreboard units.

“Pond Meadow is interesting from a services point of view, as some of the kids are severely disabled and have to lie on mats on the floor during classes,” explains m&e project manager Cliff Brand. “We couldn’t install regular downlights – they would shine directly on the children’s faces and prove uncomfortable and distracting.

“Instead, we went for indirect lighting – uplighters where the light reflects off the ceiling. There’s also a lot of natural lighting in both Pond Meadows and Christ’s College. This works especially well in the former, as unlike Christ’s Church it is a single-storey building, and this allows for daylight toplighting throughout. The lighting control system means that artificial lighting dims down automatically according to daylight levels.”

The outdoor environment contributes more than lighting to Pond Meadow’s services strategy. Natural ventilation, via manually operated high-level louvres, is also used throughout Pond Meadow. For the three-storey Christ’s College, SES opted for a bespoke central heat recovery ventilation (CHRV) system developed by Nuaire.

Energy savings were high on the priority list, so SES chose Oventrop Aquastrom T plus multifunction, domestic hot-water, secondary-circulation valves to control the heating and hot water systems in both new-builds. This choice was based on requirements specified by m&e consultant Atelier Ten. The valves save energy by controlling temperature and flow in the domestic hot-water systems, and also facilitate hydronic balancing.

Christ’s College’s second-floor plant room provides the domestic hot water and low-pressure hot water for a mixture of heat-recovery air-handling units for classrooms situated around the perimeter of the building. Larger spaces have underfloor heating, with central air-handling units on the roof.

Underfloor heating was chosen throughout Pond Meadow School for health and safety reasons. The risk that some children with severe learning difficulties might burn themselves meant that more conventional heating systems were out of the question.

“The downside is that it’s a slow-reaching system,” says Brand. “All in all, though, it’s a nicer method because you’re heating the occupied zone rather than the room.”

Both schools had been redesigned by the time SES got involved with the project – not unusual for a government schools contract. Brand thinks that more could have been achieved by involving the m&e contractor earlier on in the design stage.

Brand also regrets that SES did not introduce more prefabricated works.

Although Christ’s College was completed in time for its first intake of students, the nine-month Pond Meadow scheme was handed over three months late. SES insists this was down to last-minute client changes.