Construction work on the foundations of the new build on the former Junior School site finally got underway at the start of September. My first visit with my camera was on September 11th, a warm and sunny Wednesday lunchtime when, even with the construction fence surrounding it, the old Church High building still looked very beautiful and leafy green against a clear blue sky.
The fencing around the former Junior School grounds now displayed the Wates’ construction site signage instead of Tolents’ and through the open gates I could clearly see and hear that the construction work on the new building’s foundations was already well underway.
The ground had already been levelled and a section of the densely-planted, hilly embankment which used to stand behind the Junior School soft surfaced play area had been sliced away and a line of retaining steelwork was in the process of being put into place.
One year after the merger took place, plans were finally unveiled for the new £11m building to be constructed on the Tankerville site.
The building project planned will involve the remodelling of the iconic Victorian Church High main building as well as a new extension designed by architects Ellis Williams to include a multi-purpose assembly hall, dining room, fitness suite, state-of-the-art science labs and additional classroom spaces, all to be constructed on the footprint of the old Church High Junior School.
The project, led by Wates Construction, also includes the preservation of the existing trees and landscaping of the whole site. The work is due to get under way this month, with completion scheduled for summer 2016.
In late August, just prior to the start of Newcastle High School for Girls’ second year still housed in the old Central High buildings, Wates Construction, having recently been awarded the contract for the NHSG new build, took possession of the old Church High site on Tankerville Terrace. The Project Manager is Nick White, formerly of Shepherd Construction who I met for the first time on 21st August.
A site office was immediately established in leafy Westward House, previously the home of Church High School’s School of Music.
Work started immediately on securing the site by erecting tall wooden hoardings along the whole length of the main building.
It has to be said, however, that if the beautiful Victorian frontage must be partly-obscured from view until the building work is completed in Summer 2016, then it is just as well that the Wates’ brand colours of lime-green and teal- blue are the NHSG colours too!
Although the intention is to maintain as many of the old building’s original interior structural features as possible, in order to ensure optimum circulation and movement around the new site, the modernisation process means that some familiar and much-loved features will be lost. One of these, very sadly from a personal point of view, is the beautiful wooden staircase situated at the north end of school starting just outside the door of the Headmistress’ Office.
Its highly-polished, hand-turned, dark-wood bannisters and spindles, smoothed by the touch of thousands of hands over the years, always spoke to me of a building with a living past and a strong sense of continuity and tradition. Indeed, I met my best friend and long-serving colleague half-way up those very stairs.
During my visits to photograph the demolition of the Junior School, I got talking to one of Tolent’s workforce who had already fallen in love with the beauty of our building. As we watched the wrecking machines levelling the 1970s building and speculated on the new state-of-the-art building it was making way for, Mark commented that the ‘real jewel’ was actually the old building standing behind us.
Having explained my connection with the building , Mark asked me to wait as he thought he might have something that would interest me. He disappeared into the main building and returned moments later with something in his hand. Despite its musty, dusty condition, I immediately recognised it, by its familiar dark green cover, as an old edition of the Church High School Magazine. How appropriate!
He then took me inside to see where it had been found and it transpired that as holes were being punched into walls during investigations into the condition of the old building’s infrastructure, within the boxed-in base of the main staircase a small stash of 1930s magazines had been discovered. Clearly this must have once been used as a storage area and the few remaining contents over-looked.
When I opened the front cover in search of the exact date however, my smile of genuine thanks deepened into a very wry smile. The magazine was dated 1934-35 and recorded the events of the School’s Jubilee year. The opening words of the Editorial were ‘Annus Mirabilis’ and reading on it was hard to resist coming to the conclusion that, by throwing up this particular copy of the magazine now, the building was not unaware of what was happening to it.
The Editorial went on to speak of ‘a second beginning’: ‘There had been that paragraph in the local Press at our inception – “Negotiations are in progress to commence a High School for Girls in Newcastle …… Whether there is an absolute need of such a school …… is another matter”.