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A family affair at Port Talbot ‘super school’

Mum, gran, aunt and of course student-in-waiting: the whole family has turned out for Open Doors to inspect Port Talbot’s new ‘super school’.

The family group spanning three generations is keen to see where young Caitlin will be studying in just a few months’ time. The prospective pupil herself seems interested – if a little embarrassed by the enthusiasm of so many family members.

Bouygues is welcoming them and others from the community to its project to relocate two existing sites into one gigantic school for the south Wales coastal town.

The new £30m facility will combine Groes Primary School and Dyffryn Upper and Lower Schools, and is being built on the site of the old Groes / Dyffryn Upper buildings.

Ysgol Cwm Brombil will house 1,200 secondary students, 210 primary pupils and nursery children. Work started on site last spring and the school is scheduled to open in October just a few weeks into the 2018/19 academic year.

Bouygues project director Mike Baynham is at pains to explain that, though the school won’t be opening bang on the start of term in September, that was always the plan.

He goes to great lengths to illustrate how rapid the contractor’s programme actually is – 74 weeks, as opposed to around 120-odd on similar previous projects – and having nailed preconstruction in just 24 weeks.

It’s not just speedy builds Mr Baynham has a passion for; in tandem with Bouygues community engagement officer Nick Toulson, he takes every opportunity as we tour the site to talk up the benefits of a construction career, as well as the various ways to enter the industry.

The sector’s digital revolution and variety of roles are high on his myth-busting agenda. “We don’t just dig a hole, pour in concrete and fill that with a load of structures,” Mr Baynham tells his audience. 

With young Caitlin listening on, the Bouygues team also highlights the increasing diversity in the industry. “We have a female welder on site at the moment,” the project director says. “We also have two women who started in admin but are now training to be a quantity surveyor and site manager respectively.”

As we weave in and out of the immense school’s labyrinth of corridors, the scale of the site really hits home for the tour group. There will be 13,500 sq m of internal floorspace, covered in 740 tonnes of steel frame and featuring 78 miles of data cabling, to name just a few highlights.

Locals Janet and Hugh have a grandson who will soon be learning within these walls, and Hugh explains how they have a particular interest as they look after the young boy several days a week. He and his wife peer into numerous halls and classrooms, acknowledging the bright and spacious environment being created.

Bouygues has been involving the community significantly since starting on site – even having local choristers sing in the shell of the school hall as part of a topping-out ceremony in January.

The family group of our party ask more and more questions as the tour continues, joking with Mr Baynham about future jobs as our visit nears its end.

The huge efforts of the contractor’s team to forge strong relations with local people shine through, with Open Doors proving an excellent opportunity to cement these further.

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