How many bricks are there in the Sports Hall? It was a game some staff used to play in the summer at exam invigilation time. I didn’t. Numbers have never been my thing. But if one of my ex-colleagues reading this remembers, perhaps they could tell us via a Comment. I know a post on the Sports Hall should probably be focusing on PE, but, as an English teacher, I spent most of my time there invigilating.
Up until April 6th, the Sports Hall was the only place on the main site I hadn’t visited with my camera. This wasn’t just because it wasn’t my natural domain. As the building is to be retained as part of the new school, for a long while it remained untouched, a safe storage space. However, learning that Wates were working on it now, since Peter was needed on the fork-lift again, Eddie took me there today.
As can be seen from the plans, to allow optimum space for the new build, only a narrow alleyway now leads to the Sports Hall entrance.
If you can recall the original plans when the Sports Hall was built in 2002, you will have spotted the difference. To accommodate the new building’s north-west corner, the angled section of the entrance lobby was demolished and the area sealed off ever since.
Thanks to photographs taken by Wates themselves and Giuseppe, you can see below how the entrance lobby has been reconfigured.
Eddie had told me they were busy creating two wet rooms in the entrance and, as we approached the building, the first thing I saw was someone hard at work in a trench installing new pipes and drains.
After ducking under the scaffolding, trying hard not to bang my helmet, I could now see the reshaping of the lobby interior for myself.
For a full tour through the old toilet & changing room areas and all four corners of the Sports Hall itself as I found them on the 6th April, there is a slideshow at the end of this post. However, the main impressions which struck me were not of sporting achievements, but of entering a time-warp which took me back to the summer of 2014. It was strangely disorientating, knowing how much had changed elsewhere on site, to see the store cupboard full of Church High equipment as it had been left. Also the exam desks and particularly the circular Dining Hall tables neatly stacked at the back of the hall.
The bright red bricks of the large donors’ plaque which was displayed on the side wall of the entrance lobby caught my eye next.
But it was the exam board regulations still in place on the walls and the flipchart showing the Church High centre number & details of the last exam propped up against the wall which affected me most.
However, something even more evocative awaited me in the far corner as we made our way back across the hall towards the door. Not only was there a lone exam desk and table still set up next to the central heating units now scattered across the floor, but the clock next to the basketball net on the east wall was still actually working.
Even now, the Sports Hall is still running on Church High time.
‘The April winds are magical, and thrill our tuneful panes’ wrote Ralph Waldo Emmerson, American essayist, lecturer and transcendental poet. I’m not sure what he meant by ‘tuneful panes’, but window panes were still the prevailing theme of the Old Build renovations on Wednesday April 6th. However, only a keen eye would notice that the double-glazing has now been replaced across the frontage of the original Newcastle High School building, including roofline dormer windows, but has yet to reach the 1930s north extension.
As you know, tree protection fencing has been in place throughout the construction process and this has worked very well indeed. One tree was lost at the back of the Sports Hall in December, however, but more will be planted there for screening purposes eventually.
There was evidence on site today of trees being planted in other places too, which was really nice to see. More green is always good.
Great progress has now been made with the New Build’s windows. On the north side of the building, only a few still need to be fitted.
The most impressive side of the building as far as windows are concerned, the west side, isn’t visible from Tankerville Terrace. This wall of glass is now complete, bar the doors. A brickie was at work there today finishing off a small wall, three bricks deep, at its base.
Do you remember pictures I took inside the Main Hall a few months ago? I told you that holes had been made for vents beneath the roof.
Well, as I left the site today, there was great excitement in Peter’s cabin. A new delivery had just arrived and was now being opened. A fascinated onlooker, I was as pleased as punch with myself when I correctly guessed what it was: the first of the Hall vents had arrived.
As I signed out and returned my safety kit at Wates’ Office in Westwood House, I popped into the back room to say ‘Hi’ to Conal who has previously guided me round the site. Westwood used to be the Church High School of Music, you may remember, and this room once served as a staffroom. Mr Noble certainly had a desk in here.
It’s strange how you look at buildings differently in retrospect. I had little need to be in this room while working at Church High and had certainly never looked out of its window. How bizarre that a view of such an unattractive backyard could prove so fascinating to me now.
Did you know that in the Chinese language, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity? The linguistic truth of this statement may be now open to debate, but John F. Kennedy used it in more than one speech between 1959-1960 and it has often proved very helpful to me. Both at points of crisis in my own life and with my students too.
As you know, I’ve felt pressured by being 3 months adrift with the blog, but, in keeping with Kennedy’s trope, the time lapse does have a flip-side. It’s now possible to use Giuseppe Ferrara’s images alongside my own in posts. The advantage for the blog is that ‘G’s’ focus is always on the most recent work, which he records with a far more technical eye than me. Also, as the client’s Clerk of Works, he not only has daily site access but is also free to go wherever he wishes.
Wednesday March 30th fell within the school holidays, two days after Easter. You may remember the posts I wrote over the Easter weekend focused on the ‘bigger picture’. They also introduced you to Eddie who works for D&L Groundworks. We’ll be saying goodbye to Eddie soon, he tells me, because all the groundwork is nearly done. He’ll probably be back for the finishing off though.
Because I wasn’t at work that day, I had more time on my hands than usual. So when Peter asked where I’d like to go, I said the old building – obviously. My impromptu tour only took in the ground and first floors, but was enough to get the feel of how the work was progressing. Also to make clear how well-timed my tour of March 12th had been. Now there were building materials all over the place.
From the moment we entered the old building via the opening in the brick wall of the bin store where the new side door is to be located, it was clear that the main work in hand at the moment was plastering. The whole length of the bottom corridor was now pale terracotta in colour as the skim finish was drying out. It felt like the building was finally starting to warm up, come to life again, after its hibernation.
This feeling of warmth was enhanced by the deep red glow of heat lamps positioned at intervals in order to help the drying out process. In places, the red light gave an almost neon glow to the plasterboard.
We arrived at the south end of the Main Corridor just in time for me to be able to photograph a huge piece of plasterboard being skilfully manoeuvred up the stairs by two workmen who had clearly done this many times before. As I commented on the high quality of the finish, Peter directed my attention to two men standing talking just behind us. It turned out that the man on the left was the owner of the company who had won the plastering contract for the project.
So how was the Main Corridor looking on March 30th? Let’s face it, this is the area of the building which is iconic ‘Church High’ and always will be now thanks to the respect EWA have shown the building. There have been some alterations though. As I said in an earlier post, my teaching classroom (Room 5) has been divided into three, so I will be the last person to ever teach in that particular space. Also, from the picture below, you can see that a radiator has been added and the ceiling has had to be lowered to accommodate all the pipework which building regulations now say must be up-a-height.
The need to lower the ceiling has had an ‘interesting’ effect on the distinctive semi-circular windows above the Hall entrance doors. Little alcoves have had to be created to accommodate the very top of the arch, which looks a little odd. Still, you can see they’ve tried.
However, it was the south door itself which drew my attention most. Unusually, it was all blocked off with red & white tape.
My heart sank when Peter explained why. A decision had finally been made about the hammer-beamed ceiling. There’d been talk of boxing it off, then of fixing white panels to the spaces between the beams. It was now definitely going to be painted white. The doors were sealed with plastic because all the moisture had to be removed from the wood before any paint could be applied. I could have cried.
The wrenching feeling in the pit of my stomach only intensified as we slipped between the plastic sheets of the Hall’s north door. I was greeted by a painfully familiar sight and sound. Dehumidifying units and the noise of heavy-duty fans at both ends of the Hall. Seven months prior to the merger bombshell dropping, my house was flooded on what has become known in the North-East as ‘Thunder Thursday’. I spent a month during the summer of 2012 living with the noise of fan and dehumidifier 24/7 as my house dried out. That’s not something you forget, I promise you. It’s been a tough 4 years.
If anyone has lived in that kind of environment, you’ll know it gets unbearably hot, so I didn’t envy the carpenter working on the stage. The staging is to be kept and incorporated into the new design for this space which will now become the Sixth Form Common Room. Lucky them! The platform is to be extended at the window side and shaped into an arc. I’m sure the carpenter will make a good job of it.
Before my tour came to an end, there was just time to take a quick look at the progress being made in the Main Corridor classrooms. Old Room 3, which most recently served as Laurence Fleck’s English classroom, is being prepared as a ‘Sample Room’ and seems to be coming on well. It’s been painted white (of course), the trunking for the state-of-the-art Promethean teaching wall is all in place and the ceiling will soon be finished. Paul Carmichael, who you’ll hear more of later on in this blog, was inspecting the progress today.
I can’t leave the building without ‘touching base’ in my old room, even though it’s now three separate rooms. Today the new windows were all open. For the first time ever, because these windows open at the bottom, I could actually touch the ivy cross. That’s now all dried out too, of course. Some days are much harder than others.