Making the school estate work harder and the money go further

How we helped Tolworth Girls’ School realise £13 million of investment in their school estate

Sara Waterfield
Director at Lytle Associates Architects

As an architect, I love designing school buildings. I also love seeing those buildings being built, and used, and enjoyed. But there’s the catch. In order to build a new building schools need money, and space. In the current climate these can sometimes be in short supply.

Sometimes schools are lucky enough to have surplus land that they can sell. But the decision to sell is never an easy one. Is the land truly surplus? Or is the school simply “selling off the family silver”? Building Bulletin 103 gives area guidelines for school sites, and allows an artificial pitch to be counted as twice the area of a grass pitch, but applying these formulae is only the start of the feasibility process. Planning policy, Department for Education restrictions, Sport England playing pitch strategy and the school’s own long term strategic vision must all come into play.

At Tolworth Girls’ School they had an area of land that they had never used and was genuinely surplus to requirements. Perfect. Except the land was also contaminated. A brickworks claypit in the 1930s, the area became a lake for a while before it was backfilled with rubble from bomb damaged buildings during the second world war and then with excavation from the A3 Kingston by-pass. The high cost of remediation was always going to be beyond the reach of the school. But would it be so high that it would put off potential developers? And would the land even be capable of being made suitable for housing.

The school mitigated this risk by entering into a promotion agreement with a strategic development company. The promotor took all the risk and would only receive their share of the proceeds when planning permission was granted and the land was successfully sold.

The challenges on this project were many and various. Addressing the contamination demanded extensive surveys, ground monitoring stations and a comprehensive remediation strategy. Permission was required from the secretary of state for education to sell the land. Sport England had to be consulted. A local authority recreation centre and private gymnastics club both had shared access which had to be maintained throughout. Viability had to be established. Public consultation exhibitions arranged.

There was the small matter of the planning application and urban planning design guide. Not to mention the need to design a new road to access what was, until that point, a landlocked site. Hardly surprising that the process took over four years. Finally, in the summer of 2015, planning permission was achieved.

The land was sold and three years later the school are already enjoying a new dining hall, laboratories, IT classrooms, a complete new sixth form centre, astroturf, levelled playing fields and access road. The phase two building comprising performing arts, studio theatre and English departments was completed for September 2018.

Involved with the school since 2011, Lytle Associates have provided professional advice and support at every stage from initial Feasibility and EFA approval, through planning and Sport England negotiations to construction and project management. In addition to these developments. Lytle Associates have successfully helped the school obtain over £2 million CIF funding for complete replacement of heating boilers, pipework, radiators and hot water services, electrical wiring sub mains and infrastructure upgrades and fire and emergency system replacements including new fire doors.

Tolworth Girls’ School is an academy with the same budget constraints as every other state school. With our help, they have transformed their school campus and delivered some enviable new facilities for their pupils. An already great school has been inspired and uplifted. They have recently been judged outstanding by Ofsted.

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