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Open Doors Week: School's almost in session for Willmott Dixon at Sevenoaks site

One of CN’s final Open Doors visits of the week is to Willmott Dixon’s Wildernesse site, on the outskirts of Sevenoaks, where the firm has demolished the existing school building and is currently constructing two new ones.

The former Wildernesse School was closed in 2010 and demolished in November 2014. The students merged with the nearby Bradbourne School for girls to form Knole Academy.

Trinity School, a co-ed Christian secondary, now sits in a series of mobile classrooms in the rain-soaked car park. It’s a temporary solution while the bulk of their new school is being built just a short way off.

Open doors 2016 willmott dixon wildernesse 6

Open doors 2016 willmott dixon wildernesse 6

The new Trinity School will open later this year

The structure of Trinity’s new school is already standing, with just M&E and other finishing works yet to be completed.

Next to this, Willmott Dixon is undertaking groundworks for a new grammar annexe of the Weald of Kent school, which has faced plenty of opposition and media attention since receiving planning permission last year, following extensive lobbying from Sevenoaks’ MP Michael Fallon.

Political opposition aside (the building of grammar schools is illegal, though the annexe is technically an expansion of the existing Weald of Kent), it’s been a relatively straightforward job for the contractor so far, though building manager Steve Smith admits this could change when Trinity moves into the finished block while works on the annexe continue.

“I imagine there will be some caveats in there because they’ll be live in this school with us working over [at the annexe site].”

Open doors 2016 willmott dixon wildernesse 4

Open doors 2016 willmott dixon wildernesse 4

The Weald of Kent annexe received the go-ahead at the end of last year

Last thing on a Friday, and with the weather taking a considerable turn for the worse, it’s heartening to see two others join the site visit: a young schoolboy and his mother, both of whom have taken a considerable interest in the upcoming site.

We’re given the project’s brief and a quick history lesson as well as a site-safety talk, before heading out to the site.

“We had some blocks left over [from the demolition]; we sent all of those to our apprentice’s college for them to use for the brick and blockwork and plastering”

Steve Smith, Willmott Dixon

I ask Steve if the contractor has been able to promote construction to the Trinity School students; he says the site is opened up on one Friday afternoon every month, allowing each class to see construction of their new school up to three times, introducing a different part of the process with each visit.

We walk past the groundworks where the annexe will be built. Due to the type of ground in the area, Willmott Dixon is having to mass-fill the foundations. Steel-reinforced cages will go on next, before a layer of concrete is added, Steve explains.

Much of the material from the former Wildernesse building has been used on the new site, saving up to 1,500 lorry movements in and out. Waste is segregated at every opportunity and Willmott Dixon is hitting 98 per cent diversion from landfill – the firm is targeting 100 per cent by 2020, Steve adds.

Open doors 2016 willmott dixon wildernesse 3

Open doors 2016 willmott dixon wildernesse 3

CGI showing the finished scheme

He also shares some of the educational benefits being brought about by the demolition: “We had some blocks left over [from the demolition]; we sent all of those to our apprentice’s college for them to use for the brick and blockwork and plastering.”

Inside the new Trinity school, we walk through the plastered hallways, staff rooms and classrooms, as well as peaking outside to where the playground will be in just a few months’ time. Another issue for the contractor has been the varied construction processes for the two new schools, with planning permission not being granted for the annexe until the end of last year, meaning they are both at very different stages.

“It would have been better [to work on them at the same stage],” Steve admits. “We can understand the reasons it didn’t get done; on the flip-side, we had all the space that we have down there that we wouldn’t have had if we were building it at the same time.”

Former Wildernesse School site

Contractor: Willmott Dixon
Client: Education Funding Authority; project managed by Kent County Council
Value: £19m
Start date: November 2014 (demolition)
Completion: September 2016
Location: Sevenoaks, Kent

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