The weather was unseasonably mild for late October. This week as I approached it, the Church High old building seemed tranquil and at ease basking in the watery glow of the sun’s low autumnal beams, despite a large container ready to receive the next load of rubble & debris still lurking in the dark shadow cast by the URC next door.
So good was the weather and briskly clear the air, one could almost have mistaken it for Springtime. Indeed the number of windows opened wide to the air this week was suggestive of spring-cleaning in process rather than the fact that the destructive trail of the internal strip-out had now clearly advanced down to first floor level. Today, in addition to those of the ICT Suite, all the Staff Workroom windows were now open to the world. It must be draughty inside!
Silhouetted against the blue sky, a tall red crane now standing in position within the Junior School grounds was a clear indicator that preparations were now underway for the next stage of the new build – construction above ground level for the very first time.
Indeed, a close-up shot was able to pick up a large mass of light grey metal girders lying along the surface of the building’s foundations. Apparently the first lorry load of steelwork had just arrived that day.
Today on my weekly visit, I arrived at the bottom of Tankerville Terrace with my camera just in time to catch the old black metal car park gates being removed and finally carted away. Only old gates, I know, and not very pretty ones at that, but still sort of sad to watch.
It was evident straight away that there was a lot of hub-bub and activity on site today. To my left, I noticed that the scaffold rubbish chute, having now clearly served its purpose at this stage of the work, was in the process of being dismantled by a team of men.
What this now allowed was a clear view of its entry point into the building. The shaped coping stones had been carefully removed from the sill and were piled up to the right of the window’s base.
A close-up view clearly showed scaffold poles forming a sort of stairway up to the window and, up against the familiar pale-blue paint of the upper walls of the room, what looked like a noticeboard removed from the wall now standing propped up against it. Room 7 clearly looked very different now to when I last photographed it just before we left for church on the final day of Church High in 2014.
The approach to the gates of the Junior School grounds confirmed that there was indeed a lot of activity on site today. Red metal moving behind the trees to my left, sharp bursts of harsh, grating noise punctuated by occasional flashes of sparks were unexpected.
However, once positioned at the site entrance, the focus of activity became clear. The metal fire-escapes off the Staff IT Room on the third floor and Social Staff Room on the second, which exited onto the kitchen roof before reaching the tree-lined pathway between the two schools, were now in the throes of being blow-torched.
Hot metal is only metal, I know, but memories of the Staff Room door being swung open, its brass door-knob roped onto the handrail on balmy summer days, came flooding back; also even more distant memories of times further back when staff used to sit on these stairs to enjoy the sun at break and lunchtimes. It always was a sun trap.
Directly in front of me, there was plenty of activity on the new build foundations too. The piles were in the process of being prepared for the final capping off with concrete to support the steel framework.
To my right, it was pointed out to me that the huge blocks of white concrete stacked where the Junior School car park used to be were the first delivery of floor beams waiting for the next stage of work.
Wednesday 7th October proved to be a very bleak, wet and rainy day, but, initial curiosity having by now been replaced by a growing sense of purpose, photographers intent on creating historical record are not to be put off. The old Church High building looked far from happy today; however, as all writers know, background weather can make the world of difference to the mood and tone of any scene. Nonetheless, it was hard to shake the word ‘dismal’ from the mind.
The scaffolding rubbish chute was now complete and appeared to be ready for action. It was noticeable today that there were now two layers of metal gating in situ, the black Church High staff car park gates standing out in stark relief against lighter, brighter new ones; the bent centre metalwork had not been obvious before this and made it look like at some point there had been a ‘run’ on the gates.
The row of white windows flung wide open, presumably to dispel the dust, and loud banging noises emanating from within indicated that the reconfiguration work of knocking down internal walls had by now progressed along the third floor top corridor to the ICT Suite.
A big, thick, bright-blue cable (the colour the Church High front doors were painted when I joined the school in the 1980s), now a permanent feature of the school frontage, was fed through a small window in one of the original building’s red-brick gables and made it clear how all the power needed for this work was being supplied.
The curious knock-on effect of this was to draw attention to a tiny little room hidden away in the eaves whose existence would have been largely unknown to many pupils and staff otherwise very familiar with the Church High building. Originally, these upper rooms were used by domestic staff, but latterly this one, accessible only via a little hatch in the wall at the very top of the main staircase, was where the main IT servers were situated to keep them cool.
Other than this, from the outside not much change could be discerned in the old building today, but it is funny how being forced to focus on a limited area of something either allows one to notice new features in it or can bring forgotten things back to mind.
An observant sound engineer I spoke to in April, up here testing the internal walls of the old building, had noticed that the rectangular end section of the main façade was made of newer bricks and I was able to confirm that it was indeed a 1930s extension. But it would take a very observant person – or someone who knew the School’s history very well indeed – to notice that the third floor of this extension, although very well-matched, is actually made of different bricks again. Our main ICT Suite was originally the old School Library – a much-valued and long-awaited library which was finally brought into being in 1935 after a protracted period of fundraising on the part of governors, staff and girls alike. The earlier two-storey extension is clearly visible in this early 1930s photograph of the Church High School frontage viewed from Haldane Terrace.
A clear view of the Junior School grounds was blocked by a lorry today, but, beyond it, it was just possible to see that the piles needed to support the weight of the new build steelwork were being dug.
Walking down Tankerville Terrace this week, even from a distance it was evident to all that old Church High building was slowly coming back to life again after its long period of enforced hibernation.
The most obvious change to meet the eyes of regular passers-by was the sight of two of the dormer windows of the old building’s top corridor flung wide open to the air. The sound of loud echoing banging noises emanating from within left it in no doubt that the internal strip-out of fixtures and fittings was now underway.
Presumably to aid this work, what appeared to be a rubbish chute positioned underneath one of the windows of Room 7, a former Mathematics classroom at the end of the main corridor, was in the process of being constructed by a team of scaffolding contractors.
Even before one arrived at the gates of the old Junior School grounds, the sound of heavy machinery in action made it clear that excavation work on the new build foundations was now in full swing.