Looking forwards to the new Community Campus

The new community campus nearing completion.
The new community campus nearing completion.

It is now some four years since the first confirmation emerged regarding the plans to build a new Mearns Academy Community Campus. A lot has happened since then!

Behind the scenes there have been many, many planning meetings focussing on major aspects such as classroom layout right through to less immediately obvious aspects like colours of toilet units.

Work under way at the new Mearns Academy Community Campus

Work under way at the new Mearns Academy Community Campus

We certainly have benefitted from the significant input of many Aberdeenshire Council officers, but the commitment shown to the project by Depute Headteacher John Johnson has been immense. Reflecting on this, John commented: “It’s been a long process but the new facilities will provide a significantly improved experience for all pupils attending Mearns Academy Community Campus.”

Additionally, we have enjoyed a very positive relationship with the main contractors, Lend Lease, who have had quite a job to do – sometimes in very wet and muddy conditions. The scale of the project can be illustrated through the following facts:

n Over 40,000 cubic metres of soil (approx. 6400 tonnes) was moved in shaping the site.

n The building includes approximately 2950 cubic metres (approx. 7080 tonnes) of concrete.

Boxes packed at the old Mearns Academy.

Boxes packed at the old Mearns Academy.

n Heating pipework with a capacity of 17,900 litres has been installed with 9.3 kilometres of water service pipework.

n The building features 2663 square metres of glass and around 850 tonnes of steel.

Iain Cochrane, the project manager to Lend Lease, has said: “Seeing the new site develop from a green field to a new school and community campus fit for the 21st century has been an exciting challenge for Lend Lease.

‘‘Throughout our programme, we have worked with Aberdeenshire Council and the Mearns Academy staff to ensure that they have been kept abreast of the progress, and have hosted over 250 visitors to the project, including school staff, councillors, local community groups and other stakeholders. The feedback that we have received has been very positive and it is great to be able to create an inspiring learning space for future generations.”

Preparing the ground prior to the start of the build.

Preparing the ground prior to the start of the build.

What is now emerging is a tremendously positive asset for the entire Mearns community.

Some of the key features will include a theatre able to accommodate an audience of over 250, a canteen area and coffee bar that embraces the great view to the hills and a brand new community library. Additionally on the site will be a range of accommodation to support many activities led by the Community Learning and Development team and also there will be a police office.

The sports facilities (both for school and wider community use) will be transformed. Outdoors there is a full-size all-weather pitch, a full size grass pitch and a development pitch. Indoors there is an immense sports hall, a separate gym with a mirrored wall and a state-of-the-art fitness suite.

It is hoped these and other facilities on the new site will be used widely by all members of the community. Naturally though, given that the current school is decamping to the new campus, much of the activity on the site will focus on the vitally important ongoing learning and teaching.

With regard to this, learners’ experiences will be greatly enhanced.

Within the two main teaching blocks will be modern, appropriately equipped specialist rooms and indeed all classrooms will be equipped with IT and projection equipment. Corridors are wider, and the larger canteen will hopefully see an end to the current need for many young people to sit on the floor to eat their lunch!

The new facility will also be enhanced by a range of artwork led by local artist Mary Bourne and featuring designs by pupils that reflect on the location of the Mearns (between mountains and the sea) and on the local flora and fauna (including bulbs, berries and tatties).

Colour co-ordinated display panels will illustrate some of these aspects – suitably well-hidden within one of these panels is an attempt by the current rector to draw a golden eagle!

One key feature of both the building process and the finished campus is a commitment to embrace environmental awareness. The biomass heating system is seen as supporting this as are the very obvious solar panels on the roofs of the two teaching blocks.

Collectively these panels can produce 130 kilowatts of power. All of this creates a sound context for the continuing work of the schools Eco Group whose recent work resulted in the academy being re-awarded Green Flag status.

Returning to the actual construction of the campus, as you may be aware the completion date has been delayed by several weeks.

However, the initial target dates for opening remain as expected.

These are:

Campus opens for school and library use: Thursday, August 21;

Campus opens for other community use: Saturday, August 23.

A brochure indicating the range of services, specific hours and contact points will be distributed widely in the near future but some basic contact points are /remain:

Mearns Academy - tel: 01561 378817;

Community Learning and Development: tel: 01561 378298;

Library: tel: 01561 377298;

Sports & Leisure: tel: 01561 377519;

Lets: tel: 01569 766960.

A formal opening ceremony is planned for the autumn but before then a host of tasks including packing and unpacking of thousands of crates will happen. Then the existing site will be left empty until current plans for demolition are enacted.

With the building will go many memories of generations of people in the Mearns area. As illustrated by the huge turn-out at the recent Open Day, the school has been a key feature in the community for a long time.

Everyone is looking forward to the move, but a school is however much more than any building – however new, and at the heart of Mearns Academy being a successful school, are the people that work together there.

Thankfully, now, they will have the surroundings they deserve and a context in which Mearns Academy can enjoy a very positive future.