“This has just given us a massive rocket-like boost,” exclaims Midhurst Rother College principal Dr Joe Vitagliano, as we tour its impressive new building which is fast nearing completion.
As he explains, this is a project extremely close to his own heart, having been a pupil of its predecessor, Midhurst Grammar, which gave him a solid grounding for his future career.
His sense of enthusiasm is infectious as he talks vividly of just how much of an impact the new site is already having, with everyone equally eager to set foot inside the building this September.
With an expanded number of more than 750 pupils across its secondary school and sixth form set to pass through its doors, there will be special emphasis on maths, science, business enterprise and ICT computing skills.
Inhabiting a digital age, it’s the focus on the latter that will be of critical importance to the building. There will be a total of 950 computers available throughout the site, making this is an environment truly equipped for the 21st century.
Underlining its credentials, there will be some innovative features such as thumbprint recognition for access to areas of the college and full CCTV monitoring throughout.
Crucially, there are some valuable additional features being made available for wider community use. These include an astro turf football pitch, a field studies area, a theatre accommodating several hundred people, a hair and beauty salon, and a music recording studios, plus plans are well under way to provide an adjoining youth centre.
It’s only as we set foot inside what is still very much an active 12,000 square metre construction site, with a hustle and bustle of 160 engineers, plumbers, labourers and electricians, that its impressive scale becomes truly apparent.
From its distinctive entrance foyer area featuring a sixth-form library building above, to its central administration unit housed in a striking drum design and providing additional sixth form areas, there’s no doubting this is a fascinating building that commands striking views of the area from its top-floor viewing platform.
Though its furnishings have yet to arrive, it is very clear that, like the recently opened Regis School, its key design motifs of flowing, open hallways are light years from the tired building it has replaced. Pupils are presently ferrying between three sites including a science block adjoining the new build, which the principal says is testament to their patience and enthusiasm.
“I can remember when I was at the grammar school, it was a tired-looking building even then, so this was definitely needed. It has been a project and a half, but we have had a great working relationship with the construction team, Balfour Beatty.
“There’s a real excitement about this place and we are delighted that it is going to be delivered on time in July, so there won’t be any disruption to teaching time with the start of the new term in September.
“There have been a lot of comments already from students and families – we want this to be a place for the community, not just the school that runs until 3 or 4pm. It should be open from dusk till dawn.
“This is why we have put in things like the astro turf, amphitheatre, theatre plus radio and TV facilities,” explains Dr Vitagliano of the construction scheme that has been two years in the making.
He reveals its design has been inspired by taking some of the best elements of other academy schools around the country and giving it its own distinctive styling.
While there have been some concerns originally expressed over the demise of the grammar school in favour of its new guise as an academy, the principal believes it was a decision that has been fully vindicated in terms of improving attainment levels. There now appears a genuine weight of optimism for the new site’s ambitious plans.
“Since we became an academy our results have been up – last year the figure was 12 per cent up on last year for those getting 5 A*- Cs and we are expecting even better this year.
“There’s a real feeling of space about the new site. It’s anything but dingy and I think it will inspire learning and spark the imagination of youngsters.”
Balfour Beatty project co-ordinator Phil Brindley reveals it is proving a particularly enjoyable site to work on, with the company promoting a policy of employing as many local sub-contractors (including several apprenticeship placements) as possible.
He says: “It has been really good here. Our biggest challenge is in working on what is a live school site with pupils using buildings opposite us, but it has not in fact been too difficult. There’s quite a team working here, 160 in total, and we’ll be finishing it by the end of June.”
Project manager Jon Nerval explains that he is confident the college will be fully delivered on time. “I think this will give everyone a real lift. Coming out of a tired old building to something like this is a wonderful opportunity. I can see it being a really good school and it has been brilliant to work on it.”