Thanks to the Old Xaverians Community for featuring SEMZ and Jon Purcell in their recent community newsletter as we discuss the Vertical School trend with Jon and Dr Ben Clevland. 

Jon Purcell OX 1989 talks about the concept of vertical schools.

With a rising inner urban population across Australian cities and increasingly scarce land availability, vertical schools are on the rise across Australia.  From pre-school through to high school and tertiary education providers, we are seeing facilities being built up, rather than spreading out at ground level with recreational spaces located within buildings and on roof tops.

As Project Manager and Superintendent for the $115m (2,700 student) Greater Shepparton College, the $84m Fitzroy Gasworks Senior Campus, and the $50m McKinnon Secondary College (amongst other schools and TAFE facilities) SEMZ are honoured to be playing a significant role in delivering Victoria’s largest-ever vertical public-school developments.

SEMZ Director Jon Purcell relishes the opportunity to take part in building the future of Victorian education.  ‘It’s exciting to be involved with education and improving Victoria’s educational facilities at this time of rapid growth.  SEMZ is honoured to play an active role in the delivery of multiple, large scale vertical education facilities for Victoria’s current and future student generations’.

Speaking at the opening of the SEMZ delivered Wonthaggi Secondary College earlier this year, James Merlino – Minister for Education, spoke of the recent increase in school enrolments across the state ‘It’s quite a historic time in education.  For the first time ever, we have cracked one million students in Victoria – primary and secondary school’.
Increasing enrolments hasn’t always been the case in Victoria.  A temporary lull in Melbourne’s urban population growth in the 1990’s led to the closure of hundreds of Victorian schools from 1992 to 1999, particularly in the older, inner Melbourne suburbs.
Inner-urban Melbourne housing and population growth in recent years, combined with increasingly scarce land availability have led to the need to re-think new school design.  While vertical schools are a fairly new concept in Australia, they are proving to be an effective solution to accommodating the modern needs of education delivery while utilising relatively small land footprints.
Discussing the design of vertical schools and innovations to teaching and learning spaces, Dr Ben Cleveland (University of Melbourne) explained that it’s not the verticality that’s driving pedagogical design development, rather it’s the lessons learned over the last decade from the delivery of new schools generally that’s aiding the creation of effective architecture for contemporary education. ‘The verticality is not the driver of learning space change in terms of pedagogical function.   Rather, the need for inner city schools has come at a time in Victoria when schools are being built with more fluid and interconnected environments that embody the advantages of complementary spaces that can accommodate different teaching and learning activities.’
Commenting on the distribution of these new innovative schools, Dr Cleveland points out that vertical schools are enabling the government to bring design innovation to inner urban suburbs.  ‘This more contemporary design for teaching and learning has been predominantly happening in the outer suburbs because that is where most of the new schools have been needed.  Now these new inner city vertical schools are being built with contemporary learning spaces too, and it’s likely that there will be a back fill process over time in the middle metropolitan suburbs as those schools need to be upgraded.’
New Vertical Schools ranging from four to seventeen levels are being commissioned across Australia.  The schools are designed to accommodate the full range of teaching, administration and recreational activities within larger, more complex buildings, with outdoor spaces often constructed on upper levels to complement limited ground floor outdoor spaces.
In differentiating the features of these new urban vertical schools from the traditional green field sites, the use of space and time is an important consideration. There is less outdoor space available and it’s the access to the specialist facilities and outdoor play space which can be challenging. Dr Cleveland points out that re-thinking the space/time operations of the school can alleviate problems.  ‘It’s necessary to re-think the school’s operations and look at how they are using time – for example, who is using outdoor spaces and when.  Rather than it being the norm that everyone has recess and lunch time at the same times of the day, it’s exploring the space/time equation more creatively.’ 

James Merlino and Richard Wynne, Member for Richmond, recently released designs of the new Fitzroy Gasworks Vertical School and announced early site works are now underway.

Designed by GHD Woodhead and Grimshaw architects, with Watpac Construction appointed as Head Contractor, the $84 million inner-north campus will accommodate senior students from Fitzroy High School and Collingwood College within a new multi-level school campus featuring a stepped rooftop space traversing four levels.

The school will include state-of-the-art general learning spaces, an arts and performance space, a digital design and technology hub, a wood and metalwork hub, and access to a rooftop terrace, outdoor basketball court and activity spaces.

Dr Cleveland emphasises the importance of carefully planning the design and intended use for rooftop and outdoor spaces.  ‘The outdoor spaces in vertical schools have to work a lot harder. The design must maximise the opportunity for every square inch to facilitate active play, exploratory play and passive nooks and crannies for students to find some respite – trying to accommodate the full spectrum of student activity, whilst safely accommodating students of various age groups.’
With experience in project managing new builds and upgrades to a rich variety of schools across Victoria, the SEMZ team relish the opportunity to work with highly skilled project teams to navigate the numerous challenges of delivering new educational facilities.  The unique challenges in building vertical schools include delivering safe and efficient access strategies, and determining the right design to serve the student population over coming years. The nature of the design creates an inability to expand and contract in response to fluctuations in student enrolments over time (traditional schools can add and subtract modular classrooms as needed, vertical school space is determined and fixed from the outset).

The ultimate challenge and measure of success for any new education facility is seen in the teaching population embracing the pedagogical philosophies expressed through the physical layouts of new flexible and collaborative learning spaces, be they delivered via single storey buildings or via vertical facilities.

In conclusion, Jon Purcell expressed that “The professional satisfaction we at SEMZ achieve in leading our project teams through the design and construction phases of new educational facilities is immense.  I am proud of the expertise we have developed over time, working with Architects and leading education specialists such as Dr Cleveland, to ensure design layouts, adjacencies, form and materiality match the evolving pedagogical teaching philosophies throughout the nation.  From refurbishments of existing facilities to low rise new schools in Melbourne’s growth corridors and the vertical facilities being delivered within Melbourne’s inner suburbs, the facilities are world class and will make an absolute and real positive influence for generations.”