Although not visible from the western hemisphere, March 9th saw a total solar eclipse occur. In Jesmond, it certainly felt as if we were sitting in the moon’s umbral shadow. It was cold, dull and very wet. With the passing of winter, I thought I’d got away from having to make do with shots of grey steelwork, even greyer skies and heavy rain. But clearly not. Despite progressing fast, even the intricate steelwork of the Church High old building circulation extension appeared dreary in poor light behind bare, skeletal tree branches. And once inside the new-build structure, it was even duller again.
I believe that the plans for both buildings have changed slightly since their launch, but no updated images have been produced yet. The original new build plans of June 2014 which were on display at Church High for Heritage Open Day were certainly very colourful and showed the ground floor as containing an open plan dining area, the Main School Hall, a Fitness Suite, the kitchen and two stairways. The kitchen I know was originally intended to be at the very back of the building, which makes sense aesthetically, but it was moved to the front in an attempt to lessen disturbance to St Mary’s Court residents behind us by the ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ of food delivery vehicles.
The Hall will sit in the centre of the new building’s ground floor; it is designed to extend up into the first floor too to allow more height. The new build’s interior is fast taking shape now and, despite steel girders piled everywhere, the double-height Hall’s footprint is clear.
The very back wall of the building, the side furthest away from Tankerville Terrace, will be largely made up of glass. Because of this, moving towards that area today my images were a lot brighter.
As can be seen from the Ground Floor plan, the Dining Area will be L-shaped. Its spacious open plan design will no doubt prove a popular recreation space for the girls at break times too. For this purpose, a glass doorway will be installed to lead out onto an area of hard landscaping forming a social space between the two buildings.
The hard landscaped social areas around the site will be created using pale grey paving stones as Nick White showed myself and Zoya Zaman (Head Girl) at the Topping Out ceremony on February 23rd.
Whilst the prospect of such high-spec modern design features on the Church High site is intriguing, for me at least, the excitement is invariably counter-balanced by sadness at the loss of other things. A good example of this is the large, colourful ceramic tile collage of Tankerville Terrace & the Church High building, made by the girls to brighten up the yellow breeze block walls of the back staircase in the 1998 Barbour Wing extension which housed the new art rooms.
Because it had survived the strip-out and was still present when I was given a tour of the old building on February 24th, I rather foolishly dared to hope that the mosaic collage was going to be retained. That would have been a really nice touch and very fitting too, as it was of Tankerville Terrace after all. But it was sadly not to be. I had asked Wates that if it ultimately was still destined ‘to go’, it could be bagged up and passed over to me for safe-keeping. Unfortunately, as with the old staircase, it turned out I didn’t ask the right person.
When I arrived on site today, I was greeted by a smiling Peter the Gateman who said he had a present for me. Entering his cabin I was presented with 7 ceramic tiles from the collage – a couple a little chipped – which the guys, knowing I valued the mosaic, had saved for me. Although I was very grateful and thanked them profusely – it turned out they had rummaged through a skip to salvage the only tiles which had remained intact – my emotions were mixed. It wasn’t the first time I had felt upset and frustrated in my quest to preserve Church High’s heritage – and it pains me to know it won’t be the last time either. Peter’s kind nature led him to enthuse about the aptness of the random tiles which had survived – none of which were of Church High, I sadly noted. Variously depicting a section of a tree, sky, a male face and a female face, in an attempt to soften my disappointment Peter enthused that they could make up a little story of The Garden of Eden. It’s nice to know there are at least some people on site who understand the importance of old stories.