And Handover Was Duly Achieved: Homeward Bound, 26th August 2016

My personal record of the Tankerville buildings’ renovation process is now complete, but there was still a small section of time remaining before Handover, when the site was awash with last minute activity.  So, for one last time, Giuseppe’s camera eye can tell that little tale.  Besides, this was now the penultimate full week of the Summer Holiday and, as I would already be going into School the following week to unpack crates and get settled in, I had no desire to be there at all.  In the interim, a great deal was accomplished on site during those last four days.  Inside both of the buildings and also in the grounds.

Groundwork to make the frontage presentable is underway.

In the courtyard at the back of the Old Building, since the paving had been completed long ago, only a washdown with a hose was needed.

However, a lot of work still needed to be done to the large paved area between the Old and New Buildings, the so-called Pupil Plaza.  Giuseppe shows us there were no paving stones in place there at all, even at this late stage, and the bike stand was only just being fitted.

The Pupil Plaza will clearly not be in place for Handover Day.

From Wednesday 24th, Northumbrian Roadworks Ltd. had been very much in evidence on site, various machines working at full-throttle laying down tarmac for the Carpark – which is in the same place it used to be – and for the base of the all-weather sports pitch.

A Northumbrian Roadworks grit dropping lorry and a huge steamroller are just two of the vehicles working on the Carpark on the afternoon of the 24th. It must have been noisy!
The tarmac base for the all-weather pitch has already been laid and the area had been re-fenced with new, more robust metal mesh. The meshing didn’t used to be a bright, shiny green, so this was a huge – and unexpected – improvement.

As you already know, the application of the New Building’s bronze cladding turned out to be an extremely long and drawn out affair, but I was still surprised to see there were still small sections being put in place during the very last week of the job – on the underside of the entrance over-hang.  I think the sourcing of this high-cost, high-quality metalwork played a part here.  Finished, it looked great.

The cladding looks dazzling in the sunlight.

Inside, the wooden ceiling of the Dining Hall was very nearly complete and was looking wonderful.  This whole re-fit process has involved an awful lot of give-and-take.  In this instance, a lot of wood having been removed from the Old Building in the strip-out stage, as we know too well, I wasn’t expecting so much of it in the new build.

The wooden slatted Dining Hall ceiling is nearly complete (above) and it is now time to clean all those floor tiles (below).

Once all the flooring was clean, it was time for the furniture to be put in place.  If you’ve got keen eyes, you may have spotted that the sofas and material-covered, circular teal and grey stools for the informal seating area to the left of the entrance door were already stacked up in one corner.  For a big, big lorry was already at the door.

A long line of bright, white vans and a huge furniture lorry looks very impressive against a glorious blue summer sky.

I am always in awe of the fitness of removal men.  The things they have to carry are often very, very heavy and, however well-designed buildings may be, one doubts an architect takes into consideration the demands of moving fixtures and furniture in and out when they design their building.  No doubt stairs will be an occupational hazard wherever these guys work, but at NHSG there was a lot of glass too!

Although the New Building’s green-tinged glass stairways look lovely, they must have been tricky for the men moving the furniture.

The new school was designed to include what the architects called ‘break-out areas’ throughout.  This is the reason why what most people would consider the key feature of a school, library study spaces, are smaller than they were.  The seating purchased for these areas features built-in mobile device plug-in ports in the arms.  In the Old Building, there’s an area like this outside the Head’s Room.

The sofas for outside the Head’s Room had arrived. Sharp eyes may spot a purple chair propping open the door to the administration area (the far end of the Church High Dining Room) which was not there by the time School re-opened!
It isn’t put in place yet, but the Staff Room now has furniture.

Each of these break-out areas also has its own information monitor.  Church High folk will remember there was eventually a veto on self-posting of notices on the walls of the building.  A rule which was always broken with abandon when Year 11 and Year 13 left, it has to be said.  In the new NHSG, there are not even noticeboards in public areas.  It’s a Wi-Fi age and notices for clubs, etc will show on screens.

All the information display monitors were now also in place.

The New Building was clearly starting to come-together and the combination of its design and modern furniture was impressive.

The new build is a big space.  The scale may surprise some and the corridors are very long.

At this time, the building was still littered with bits of white paper.  This is how Wates communicated the work that still needed doing.

The readiness of both buildings ultimately depended on a small army of cleaning staff who worked steadfastly behind the scenes.  Anyone who has ever moved house, never mind having building work done, will know just how much dust and detritus is generated.  Where does it all come from?  With a renovation on this scale, it shouldn’t surprise folk to hear that the cleaners were with us for quite a while.

The cleaning force were NiC Services Group.

Back outside once again, everything was being made spick and span.  Machinery was loaded up onto lorries for the very last time, the pavement was swilled clean, the perimeter fencing buffed to a shine, the exterior planted areas all tidied up and the new signage erected.

Once Peter the Gateman’s domain, the old Junior School entrance to the Tankerville site is now virtually unrecognisable.  I will always miss the natural climbing greenery, but when you and I look at the little boundary wall, we know its little tale of perseverance. Up, down, up, down – but ultimately still there!

Outside the Old Building, the frontage was being given back what estate agents refer to as ‘kerb appeal’.  The bin store beneath my old desk may still be a bin store, but it now sported new wooden gates.

A teal-handed person clearly closed the gates!

And the big hole in the original privet hedge was a big hole no more.

Perhaps just a ‘privet-screen’ at the moment, but Nature will have her way.  It will all meld together, eventually.  Most things in life do.

However unlikely it may have seemed at times, Wates did get their Handover to GDST on that afternoon of August 26th, 2016.  Which meant that, finally, the remaining Church High staff and I would be completing a hard-won full circle as we moved back into Tankerville.

The Handover is Complete: After a photo-call in the new Hall, Wates’ Alan Andrews and Nick White present Hilary French with a beautifully-crafted wooden presentation casket, which now has pride of place in the NHSG entrance foyer.  Inside is a bronze plaque, a booklet detailing the re-fit and also the original Newcastle High/Church High School front-door key.

Whilst on the subject of full circles, it seems fitting to end this post in exactly the same way.  Can you recall the opening image at all?  Well, behind those two men in hard hats, the front door is still very green!

Wake Up Time & Sleeping Beauty’s Roses, One Year On, 22nd August 2016 (3)

Jasper Rees’ Daily Telegraph Online review of BBC2’s new TV series ‘A House Through Time’ begins with the comment, Telling human history through a pile of bricks and mortar is not a new idea. Julie Myerson’s book ‘Home’, which told of the previous occupants of her house in Clapham, was published in 2004′.  If you missed Episodes 1 & 2 of this fascinating series, I’d highly recommend catching up with them on BBC iPlayer.  I wasn’t aware of Ms Myerson’s book when the desire to start digging beyond the redbrick walls of Church High took hold of me, but I’m sure it’s a good read.  The people who lived before us – walking the same floor, doing exactly the same things – are never very far away from my mind.  I recall being enthralled by a BBC programme called ‘The Millennium Oak’ based on the fact that an English Oak can live for a thousand years.  This 1999 BBC natural history documentary invited us to imagine the tale an oak tree might tell of the changes it has witnessed and the dramas that unfolded around it.  The programme gave me the idea for a creative writing task with my Lower Fourth English class at Church High that year – Majorie Whinfield’s ‘Hadrian’s Wall: A Dramatic Monlogue’ featured in the Millennium magazine – so it’s no surprise it triggered a blog .  In August 2016, we can only guess the reverberations in the old walls as the last elements of the refit fell into place.  ‘Here we go again?’

The old, familiar red-brick walls on August 22nd were now preparing to become Newcastle High School for girls- again!

Giuseppe was now taking far fewer Clerk of Works photographs, as you’d expect with the job nearing completion, but those he did take still provide an insight into the state of the Old Building at the start of Handover Week.  It was mainly finishing touches left to do, but the following shots do show just how ‘close-to-the-wire’ things were at this stage of the game.  To use a theatrical term, this ‘get-in’ would not be the smoothest.  A couple of the images in this post do date from a slightly earlier period of the re-fit, but, as those areas haven’t been focused on before, I’m including them at this stage of the tale.  Here’s a reminder of Church High Reception as it was after packing up in 2014, when our Admin Staff left the building for the last time.

Lynda Lant, Church High’s Senior Science Technician, signing out on July 11th, 2014.
I always thought the Church High entrance had a very tasteful, modern colour scheme.
Inside the School Office, Peter Keen, Church High’s Bursar, writes down the forwarding phone number for Eskdale as IT Manager Steven Farrell, Bursar’s Assistant Brenda Cavagnah and Site Manager Gentian Qeku say Goodbye to Lynda.
Church High’s IT Team, Steven Farrell and David Cocallis, waiting for the Reception desktop computer to shutdown for the very last time. Together, over the coming weeks, these two would have to remove all the IT equipment from Church High, reinstall what was being retained at Eskdale and merge the databases & information systems of both schools into one. It took them the entire holiday, but this unenviable task was duly completed in time for the start of NHSG in September.
Lesley Ferguson’s smile will be missed by all.

In 2016, just over two years later, this is how Reception now looked.

Church High’s pale wood and glass vestibule doors have been replaced by full glass.  Like the previous doors, this is keypad operated.

The whole entrance area of the Old Building has been opened up.

The new NHS entrance & reception area has an open plan configuration. The School Office is now based in the room most recently used by the Head Mistress at Church High.
The Reception desk has a seahorse engraved in the wood.

The Office of the original Newcastle High School was a very much smaller affair.  When I joined Church High, this tiny room to the left was known as the Waiting Room.  As you can see from the detail of Oliver & Leeson’s plan of the 1899 building’s Ground Floor below, the room which has now been demolished was originally conceived as the Head Mistress’ Room.  Then called the Lady Superintendent.

Detail of Oliver & Leeson’s 1889 plan for Newcastle High School, showing original positions of Office and Head Mistress’ Room [Image used courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives].
The Lady Superintendent’s Room at Newcastle High as it was in 1910 when Miss Gurney was Head Mistress. Doesn’t it look glorious? [Image used courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives].
Although it is has been retained as the Main Entrance, the old front door is no longer at the heart of the school – where a Head’s room really needs to be.  The centre of the Church High Junior and Senior School sites is now the newly-created circulation extension, which is where the NHSG’s Head Mistress’ Office has been positioned with one wall entirely of glass looking out onto the big beech tree in the grounds.  At the fitting out stage, Giuseppe’s uploads included shots of both work in progress here and the architect’s design proposal.

Architect’s drawings for the west wall of the Head Mistress’ Office (above) and the east wall (below).

At the time of photographing, as the images below clearly show, things weren’t ‘quite there’ yet, but it was all made ready in time.

There will be little privacy for NHSG’s present and future Head Mistresses, but, to counter-balance this, the room’s outlook is sublime.

Hilary French converses in the new Head Mistress’ Room.

The new Head Mistress’ Room is still entered via the same corridor as it was in 2014 though – just a little further along it and to the left this time and not the right.  The easiest way to orientate you if you knew Church High School is to imagine you are queuing up at the Dining Hall door and then when you are let in, you turn immediately to your left.  I have manned that lunch queue many a time, of course.

The Church High Dining Room.  Yes, the one you were never allowed to leave by! But nobody cared on School’s very, very last day.

Where the staircase used to be on that corridor, there is now a lift doorway, of course.  Times change, but I miss all the old dark wood.

Although still awaiting a handle and its locking mechanism, the doorway to the new lift.

There was clearly a lot of touching up still needing to be done to the grey paint on the walls of this main thoroughfare, even this late on.

Even when we were moved in, scuffing, etc, to corridor walls continued to be a problem.

Giuseppe’s photos also show us there was an awful lot of time and effort going into carpet protection here and throughout the school.

In the new-look, one-level LRC, library flat-packs were being built upon a sea of plastic.

Above in the Hall, now the Sixth Form Common Room, things were further ahead.  The carpet was uncovered and the new wood shiny.

The ‘No Entry’ sign on the now teal Hall doors was now serving a very different purpose.
You can see here why Giuseppe thought the custom-built steps up to the old stage were his favourite modern addition to the Old Building. And we know that both the old and also the original stage are still there underneath.

But I wasn’t aware of any of this, of course, as I turned my back on the Old Building that sunny afternoon.  My attention had turned to seeking out and photographing those Church High roses – one last time, one year on.  Tankerville House was literally basking in the sun.

The Main Building may soon have been about to wake up to change, but, across the road, Tankerville House was still a closed-off time capsule. On that day, a true Sleeping Beauty.

Connal Stamp saw me and crossed the road to say ‘Goodbye.’  We knew by then that some Wates’ staff would remain in Westward House for a while to oversee the settling in process, but young, trainee staff like Connal and Amy were moving on to other jobs.  However much I wanted to move back into Tankerville, this was still a sadness.  They had become like friends to me over the last year.  And Conal did have one last act of friendship to deliver that day.  He had come to tell me about one last ‘archeo-toy’ find that Amy was holding for me.  It turned out Hilary had taken it for me by then.  When I opened the envelope in her excite presence, I think she was more than a little non-plussed by that little blue plastic policeman!

Wates’ trainee Conal Stamp poses for a ‘goodbye’ photo in particularly nifty footwear!

I took the following photograph with a romantic notion of showing the same roses, one year later on in time, encroaching even further across the dark green door.  Nature taking hold again.  Princess Briar Rose.  Aware there was a poem entitled ‘The Last Rose of Summer’.

Sleeping Beauty’s Briar Roses: One Year On.

But I hadn’t reckoned on what I noticed as I was preparing this post.  The passage of time doesn’t always go hand in hand with progress.  And, of course, you need care, attention and nourishment if something is to grow.  Instead of a profusion of briars, maybe a little thinner but growing ever wilder, Tankerville’s garden is in decline.

Summer 2015, above: Summer 2016, below.

‘Tis the last rose of summer,
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred,
No rosebud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
Or give sigh for sigh’.