26 Feb 2013

A leading Fylde Coast school has let its pupils have the last word on a three-year, refurbishment programme that has seen its facilities transformed and its Grade II listed buildings restored to their Victorian splendour, by inviting them to add the finishing touches to a construction and interior design project that has cost £4 million to undertake.

Rossall School’s imposing 160-acre campus is so large that its upkeep is akin to the ongoing care and attention lavished on the famous Forth Bridge, and it has been so since its construction in 1844. Now though, it’s just been the subject of an intensive refurbishment programme, aimed at restoring many of its listed structures to their former glory, whilst introducing new, modern study and accommodation facilities for its 700 pupils: a large percentage of which come from the local community. And, as the whole purpose of the programme has been to enrich the lives of pupils on campus, Rossall decided to let its more senior students put their own stamp on the new day and study rooms in the Houses by allowing them to construct furniture and add soft-furnishings in rooms that provide a home-from-home environment for boarders and day pupils from across the Fylde and beyond.

The programme has resulted in new, hotel-quality accommodation for students, to appeal to the discerning boarding market, together with the creation of modern, comfortable study and day rooms to cater also for the increasing numbers of day pupils attending the Fleetwood co-educational school. New sports, leisure, administration and catering facilities have featured in the overall contract and the catering operation alone accounted for £0.5 million of the investment; resulting in state-of-the-art kitchens and an ultra modern food servery to cope with the 1,500 freshly cooked meals produced each day.

Painstaking restoration of the buildings in Rossall’s quadrangle took many months to complete and employed the skills of the school’s own specialist maintenance team (with years of experience working on its Grade II listed structures), which was responsible for cleaning facades weathered by a century or more of winds and salt spray from the Irish Sea. Lime mortars, as used by the original Victorian builders, were applied for re-pointing, in line with English Heritage regulations. The finished result is most striking on the eastern facade of Rossall’s landmark Tudor style archway and towers, which are now back to their original mid-19th Century condition. The school also had the task of replacing over 1,000 bricks in this area, necessitating the use of materials similar to those used in the original construction of the Tudor towers, when over 65,000 bricks were handmade and fired in kilns specially constructed on site by the hundreds of Victorian craftsmen employed on the contract.

The man responsible for giving a new lease of life to Rossall School’s Victorian heritage, estates manager, Jeff Tebbutt, is delighted with the end result of three years hard work and planning. He said: “Looking after a campus of such proportions is always a logistical feat, but when a large percentage of the building stock has historical importance, any refurbishment project becomes more complex. Indeed, restoration is not only a much slower process on listed structures, but also much more costly than on buildings without protected status. And, it’s not only on facades that building projects can be tricky, there are significant considerations when constructing new, modern interiors for structures built in the Victorian or earlier periods; therefore design, choice of materials and construction methods are critical factors. Even then, an old building will throw up some surprises, calling for a rethink of plans, but it’s a far more rewarding process than a new build when the project’s finished.

“We now have some of the finest student living and study accommodation in the independent education sector, together with a truly 21st Century catering facility, which would put to shame some of London top hotels. However, despite our investment, we’re planning already for the next phase of development and are soon to unveil plans for another tranche of renovation work on site worth a further £1million, so we’re not resting on our laurels.”

Rossall’s investment in new facilities continues at a time when some schools in the independent sector are shrinking or having to merge with others for long-term survival. Despite the market conditions, during the refurbishment period the School has increased pupil numbers recruited from the local area (with figures in infants and juniors up by 38%) and together with a healthy boarding population, is bucking the trend in the region.

A further £1 million is planned for investment over the course of this year, with more accommodation and study areas earmarked for an upgrade and the west facade of Rossall’s towers in its main square due for restoration. In addition, the facade of the senior teaching block, adjacent to Broadway, will also be restored to its original condition as part of the planned programme of works.