Pulling up to the site of Islwyn High School on Friday afternoon, the heavens opened. Even by Welsh standards, the downpour was biblical.
Sited on a former colliery, the rain-soaked ground is a deep, sludgy black, in contrast to the bright and modern structure taking shape upon it.
Among the Open Doors visitors is local resident John Bridges, who is already impressed by what is emerging on the site. “I used to walk the dog around here,” he says. “I wouldn’t have believed you could get a school in this space.” But efficient use of the land is at the core of the project.
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Willmott Dixon started on site in August 2015 and is now halfway through a 90-week programme that will complete in April next year.
The new school for Caerphilly County Borough Council will replace two existing institutions and initially cater for nearly 1,200 pupils.
The design aimed to be as efficient as possible from the off to avoid the need for value-engineering, with the programme currently running on time and budget.
At present, 95 workers are on site, though many have left for the weekend as our late-afternoon tour proceeds, leaving us to explore the structure in relative peace and quiet.
Willmott Dixon operations manager Dave John guides us round, explaining what the area’s kids can expect from this state-of-the-art institution.
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While our tour is predominantly local residents, Dave tells us about some hugely rewarding tours given to young children during Open Doors Week.
“Construction has changed: it’s a more professional place to work nowadays,” he says. “I can tell these kids about how there’s 95 on site, but 50 others working on the project off site.”
Communications manager Marie-claire Overton agrees that the opportunities are changing: “Our operatives carry iPads, not pen and paper. We can say to kids that if you like IT and computer programming, construction is for you.”
We check out the impressive sports hall and spacious corridors, making our way up to one of the art classrooms that offers remarkable views across the beautiful Welsh Valleys.
One visitor mentions that her grandfather worked on the colliery, and that sense of community is something Willmott Dixon is at pains to recognise by engaging with the area, keeping people informed and working to leave a positive legacy.
Local resident John says such efforts are definitely appreciated. ”It’s excellent they’re doing so much work outside of the project,” he says.
Islwyn High School
Contractor: Willmott Dixon
Client: Caerphilly County Borough Council
Start date: August 2015
Completion date: April 2017