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Simon Langton Girls' Grammar School to be demolished and rebuilt

By Joe Wright

Multimillion-pound plans to demolish a city grammar and build a new school on neighbouring land have been unveiled for the first time.

Following years of uncertainty, it has now been confirmed that the current main block at Simon Langton Girls’ will be flattened.

School bosses had previously pledged to save it from the wrecking ball, but the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) – which holds the purse-strings for any development –stressed its desire for a complete new-build.

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How the new-build grammar school will look (5404967)
How the new-build grammar school will look (5404967)

As well as a new teaching block, the school’s major reconstruction will also see the creation of a sports hall, multi-use games area and landscaped area for outside learning.

Hopes to remodel the existing Art Deco school, which was opened in the 1950s, would have cost £3 million more than a total rebuild, as well as reducing classroom sizes by as much as 40%.

Therefore, the school’s governing body last year voted to agree with the ESFA and began pursuing the new-build option.

Had they turned down the proposal, the grammar school could have been kicked out of the Priority School Building Programme, missing out on much-needed government money.

Now, 13 months down the line, the full proposals – which are thought to cost about £20m – have been revealed to staff, pupils and parents.

Hoped to be completed in a 75-week construction, the state-of-the-art replacement, which will be marginally smaller than its predecessor, will allow for site security to be improved.

Work on the three-storey project is hoped to start in May next year, with the modern block being completed in November 2020.

Demolition of the current school will then follow, with the school’s 1,100 pupils moved to the new facility.

The last of the work is set to be complete by the end of September 2021.

Despite feeling sadness over the loss of the current leaking building, head of school Angela Scully believes the new-build is a “big positive”.

“The essence of the school has been captured in these plans and that is key,” she said.

“It has been wonderful and we have loved being in the old building but we are making sure that its legacy is being passed on. There is a lot of history with this place; having a school built for girls after the war was so important back then.

The current school will be flattened
The current school will be flattened

“But in the 21st century you need to deliver a school building that is to 21st century demands.

“This won’t be cold in the winter – our girls can now be nice and warm. The plans have been shown to the pupils and the reaction was great… they loved it.”

The dining hall, sixth form common room, main hall, drama and art rooms will take up most of the ground floor.

A main teaching section with a range of subject classrooms will be spread across the second floor, while science labs and a large library will feature on the top level, where there will also be a balcony offering views across to the Cathedral.

A covered walkway will link the main block and new sports hall, which will sit partially below ground level.

The much-acclaimed existing building was dubbed the ‘Sunshine School’ due to the masses of natural light and wide corridors it boasts.

In a bid to mirror that design, developers say the new classrooms will “enjoy high levels of natural day lighting and ventilation”.

New sports facilities will be delivered (5361132)
New sports facilities will be delivered (5361132)

Unsurprisingly, an almost total rebuild of the school will result in the site map being drastically redrawn.

The geography block, music classrooms and careers building will be the only survivors of the school’s current make-up.

The new building, which will sit further back from Old Dover Road, will be built on part of the existing visitor car park, the current playground and part of the playing field.

Overseen by Canterbury architects the Lee Evans Partnership, a planning application is set to be submitted to Kent County Council in the coming weeks.

Senior design manager Martin Jones, from construction firm Kier, said: “The current school has come to the end of its design life.

“It’s freezing in the winter and baking in the summer, so much work needs doing.

“This new design pays homage to the original school, there are lot of windows and lots of brick – it is definitely not characterless.”

School executive head Matthew Baxter
School executive head Matthew Baxter

Matthew Baxter, executive head of both Simon Langton schools, says he is pleased the Department for Education “considered the school’s position very carefully”.

“Financially, they were not able to refurbish and renovate the original buildings to the higher standards of safety and comfort now common in schools, but took very seriously our concerns to preserve the ethos and ‘feel’ of the school,” he said.

“The designs show a sympathetic reflection of the current school buildings.

“Perhaps the most significant indication of the quality of the proposed building were the positive remarks made by the daughter of Sir Hugh Wilson, the architect of the original building and much of the post-war architecture of Canterbury.”

The drastic work set to take place at the school has long-proved divisive with parents and residents.

Following the unveiling of the fresh plans, Richard Davis – who has daughters at the school – criticised the new-build’s design.

“It’s an extremely characterless and ugly box,” he said.

“It’s meant to take inspiration from the original building but that’s just nonsense. All we’re getting is a box with some windows.

“The current school has curves and character but this is just completely rectangular.

“I thought they could do something interesting; not a work of art, but something which would inspire people.”

Mr Davis, however, is pleased the grammar school will soon boast high-spec facilities.

But he harbours disappointment over the school’s late publicity for an open consultation held on Wednesday. November 7.

“All we got was two days’ notice – that’s not how it should be,” he said.

“Because of that, the majority of parents have no idea what the new school will look like.

“When they have seen it, I think the response will be a great mixture.

“Most people want the current school to stay.”

Richard Davis is not a fan of the design of the new school
Richard Davis is not a fan of the design of the new school

Posting on Facebook, parent Amanda Horsfall Turner said: “Both my daughters came home saying they hate the plans for the new school building.

“A bit of a surprise for me as they were so excited about the prospect of a new school.

“They looked at the plans and said it could be a school anywhere like Herne Bay High, Spires etc.”

Phil Uzzell believes the plans should be given every chance.

He wrote: “Surely the quality of the facilities and education vastly outweighs any aesthetics or attachment to old crumbling buildings.

“Progress takes many forms. Let’s support the chance to move on and modernise. Most of our new cars look like boxes compared to those of the 70s and 80s, but they’re better cars.”

The site off Old Dover Road will be transformed (5361140)
The site off Old Dover Road will be transformed (5361140)

Despite last year branding the demolition plans “horrifying”, the daughter of the renowned architect who designed the original school now believes the fresh proposals are excellent.

Rosemary Morrison, who was just eight when the main block was opened in 1951, now considers the multimillion-pound scheme to be a resounding success.

She believes her father, Sir Hugh Wilson, would have been proud of the new design.

“I was very worried about them knocking the beautiful building down but it really does have to go.

Rosemary Morrison has changed her mind over the new-build proposal
Rosemary Morrison has changed her mind over the new-build proposal

“The new plans include quite a lot of my father’s original views and I love that – it’s very sensitive.”

Mrs Morrison last year said the school’s approach to demolishing the building “beggars belief”.

But after viewing the plans following an invite to the school, the Thanington Road resident said: “My father was a very modern architect and if he were here now he would also be saying ‘let’s knock it down’.”

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