Civitas Academy, Reading School Building

Civitas Academy Reading School Building, Berkshire Education Architecture, Award, News

Civitas Academy, Reading School

Contemporary Education Building in Berkshire, Southern England – design by HCC Architects

17 Dec 2017

Civitas Academy, Reading School Building

Civitas Academy Reading Building

Location: Great Knollys Street, Reading, Berkshire, England, UK

Design: HCC (Hampshire County Council) Architects

Transformation from Goods Yard to School: Civitas Academy, Reading

In 2012 there was an expected demand of 2520 additional primary schools places across the Borough of Reading by 2017. A site selection process was developed from a review of the current and previous admissions and the establishment of a new academy in the Oxford Road area has become a key regeneration project for the local community.

Photos below by Jim Stephenson

Civitas Academy, Reading School Building

The project received funding of £6m through the Government’s Targeted Basic Need programme in 2013, with the remainder coming from Council investment. The construction value of the project was £8.3m

Civitas Academy, Reading School Building

The new school is located in a dense residential area called Fairview, occupied by both residents and employees of the local businesses, all of whom have responded very positively to the development. The project brings a new community centre into the heart of the area. It is anticipated that its enhanced visibility and accessibility will further increase community integration. The building is used by both Civitas Academy and Reading Borough Council’s Fairview Community Centre. Both occupants are delighted with the project which provides the much needed facilities in such a way that they are each able to benefit from the shared building.

Civitas Academy, Reading School Building

The Community Room and School Hall are able to be opened up into a single space, providing one of the largest publicly accessible meeting spaces in this part of Reading. Various public consultations were held during the design development phases, which were well attended. The local public support throughout the project was very positive and both the Academy and Community Centre played a key role in engaging the local community.

Civitas Academy, Reading School Building

The design and layout of the school is ingenious and was very much shaped by the tightness of the site. The inventive response created a public facing, very welcoming and accessible frontage. The Community Centre is integrated into this frontage which is residential in scale and sits well into the existing Victorian terraced street scape. The school steps up dramatically in scale to the rear of the site. The classrooms face into the most surprising and valuable feature of the project, a courtyard which is a child friendly, safe and nurturing haven, a much needed resource within the town centre.

Civitas Academy, Reading School Building

The Civitas Academy site was identified for the school development for two key reasons; it was located in the heart of the area of demand for school places and it was in the freehold ownership of Reading Borough Council. The site had a varied past, being used both as a fairground and a Great Western Railways goods yard in the 19th Century. Just prior to this development, the majority of the school site was occupied by light industrial units to the North and a small area of parking to the South.

Civitas Academy, Reading School Building

The nature of the site in terms of both its location and pre-existing uses presented challenges to the project. Existing businesses on the site had to be relocated through a Compulsory Purchase Order, the lengthy nature of this process resulting in limited access for surveys during the design development phase. The constricted nature of the site also presented issues in terms of access for construction. The design sought to maximise and shelter external play areas for the pupils by moving the building form towards edges of the site, thereby requiring Party Wall Act negotiation with adjoining owners.

Civitas Academy, Reading School Building

The site sits within the flood zone which necessitated elevating the ground floor level of the building. Drainage attenuation was required to be kept within the site, and the ground water levels were extremely high, both of which constraints required the careful coordination of a shallow attenuation tank which occupies a large proportion of the central courtyard space.

Civitas Academy, Reading School Building

The urban nature of the site presented challenges with regards to air quality issues and potential noise pollution from the adjacent railway and bus depot. The large interchange of Reading Central Station is immediately to the north of the school site, resulting in the requirement for a lengthy period of air quality assessment during the design phase. The high noise levels from the mainline railway also directly informed the building layout. A three storey classroom wing was proposed as an acoustic buffer and this could be naturally ventilated by virtue of facing the key occupied spaces directly away from the noise source.

Civitas Academy, Reading School Building

Numerous potential on-site contamination sources were identified and the detailed investigations revealed that, particularly beneath the footprint of the old warehouse, there were issues with ground gas and contaminants likely to impact upon the underlying aquafer, largely due to the historic uses of the site. Elevated concentrations of contaminants within the soil were identified however by covering the site in hard and artificial surfacing any potential contamination was mitigated.

Civitas Academy, Reading School Building

The surplus arisings had elevated concentrations of hydrocarbon contamination and were disposed of. The presence of elevated CO2 concentrations necessitated the requirement for a foil backed hydrocarbon resistant protection membrane beneath the building.

Photos below by PR:

Civitas Academy Reading School

Civitas Academy Reading School

Civitas Academy Reading School

Civitas Academy Reading School

The building is seen as the first step in breathing new life into the residential Fairview area of Reading and the next phase of that process will be improvements to the adjacent Victoria Park. Prior to the Civitas development, Victoria Park suffered from crime and antisocial behaviour and the ambition is that following the development it is ‘reclaimed’ by the local community. Due to the relocation of the Fairview Community Centre, the old exhausted building is shortly to be demolished with the net result of an increase in the size of the park. In addition to this, planning permission has been gained for new pathways and trees across the park. Together with the forthcoming renewal of the local leisure centre, every effort has been made to ensure the long term vitality of this area of Reading, and Civitas is a very positive and much needed first step.

HCCA – Civitas Academy, Reading from Stephenson / Bishop on Vimeo.

Civitas Academy, Reading images / information from HCC (Hampshire County Council) Architects

Hampshire County Architects

Address: 90a Great Knollys St, Reading RG1 7HL
Phone: 0118 467 6720


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Civitas Academy, Reading School Building – page

Website: Reading, Berkshire