Friday, 11 November 2016

Wate a Minute, Something's Wrong

Maisey North, the Trash's resident postmodernist architect writes...

It’s hard to tell what exactly anyone expected from the new building. It’s even harder to tell what exactly Wates expected from the new building (other than the obvious massive heap of cash - Ed). Did anybody genuinely expect a smoother workflow? Less congested corridors? More asbestos?

If, for some strange reason, anybody had high expectations of a building designed and constructed with minimal student and teacher consultation, those expectations have surely by this point been tempered by a host of practical problems.

A major issue is what the Head has reportedly referred to as “Traffic Jams”. The origins of the problem are multiple, but we should hope that an individual as distinguished as Jonald Donotvweski is able to understand them. Former/current students and teachers of Hampstead School may recall the infamous congestion of ‘the languages corridor’, a dependable obstruction to quick and easy lesson changeovers. While the new building does have wider corridors, narrow staircases largely negate this change. After a week and a half of school, the SLT have addressed this issue by designating one of three staircases a “down staircase”, and the other two as “up staircases”. While this is something of a solution, it is far from ideal, requiring constant enforcement by teachers, who probably have things (teaching?) to be doing. Such hackneyed solutions to foreseeable problems may not have been necessary had thorough student consultation taken place.

The new whole-school canteen (which coincidentally serves Halal meat - where have we heard that one before?) is also centrally involved in the complex web of one-way doors, motion triggered catapults, spirit gatekeepers and oversized Venus fly traps, what with food being a necessity and all. Two of the canteen’s four entrances points are strictly not-for-use during break and lunchtime (a set of back-doors and one of three staircases). Of the two remaining entrances, a ‘one-way’ system prevails, with a single entrance and exit respectively. Inevitably, the lunchtime flood of mass-migration students requires management, which requires policy, which after careful formulation in the Head’s head requires enforcement, by prefects, teachers and anyone who happens to be standing by the wrong set of doors.

On each of the new building's three floors there are gender segregated suites of toilet cubicles. Some students have expressed a dislike of, or moderate discomfort about the lack of an outer door, separating individual cubicles (which do have doors, a new feature for Hampstead), basins and hand dryers from passersby. As a result of the system of staggered entry to the canteen at break and lunch, a sizeable bunch of students awaiting admission is a regular sight, particularly during the first twenty minutes of lunch. In an act best described as “kinda dumb”, Wates have placed the ground floor’s toilet, washroom and water dispensing facilities directly adjacent to the canteen’s sole entrance (or at least the entrance point which is best suited as an entrance), which is often awash with aforementioned students. To retrospectively address this poor design choice, the ground floor’s toilet, washroom and water dispensing facilities are simply off-limits during break and lunch.

While throughout this article it is referred to as the “canteen”, it is in fact used for lessons, and as a poor replacement for the former sixth-form area. At first glance this does not seem entirely unusual or awkward; year rooms in the now-defunct “new block” were used for lessons. However, two lessons may occur simultaneously, without the soundproofing afforded by the walls that typically separate one lesson from another, creating a less favourable environment for learning, one which requires additional work on the part of students and teachers. With the loss of twelve classrooms to the lengthy process of re-purposing of the Science block, up to four classes, totalling 120 students, may now be held at once in the library, formally (dogmatically) referred to as the Independent Learning Centre. Again a lack of soundproofing is a problem, with felt-covered wooden movable display boards serving as crude partitions. Tangentially, the new building's practice rooms are not significantly more soundproofed than the old building’s, despite the 50-odd years between their respective construction dates.

It is tempting to simply accept these problems as ‘growing pains’, or see them as undesirable side-effects of a move for ‘the greater good’. There is some truth in such sentiments, but it is important to consider the substantial impact two years of disruption and the forthcoming months of an extremely cramped environment and unwieldy improvised classrooms have had, and will continue to have on the quality of learning at Hampstead School, as well as on the overall experience for students and staff. It must also be noted that the construction of the new building was originally scheduled to begin circa 5 years ago. After much delay, many of those who as Year 7s, 8s and even 9s were promised new facilities and a new environment have now left, either having seen nothing of such promises, or having experienced only the disruption and nuisance that are an unfortunate consequence of construction. Additionally, many of the problems highlighted in this article are near-permanent, being consequences of building design flaws. Such problems may perhaps not have arisen had Hampstead staff and students been more directly involved. It goes without saying, there is an inherent…

DISCLAIMER: This Hampstead Trash article has been written to critique the actions of the governing bodies of the school. This is so student readers can hear both sides of the argument, and formulate their own opinions on matters pertaining to their education.

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