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Class work

Class work

Lessons learned from the transformation of former St Martin’s School

Access to education for our children is something most local parents can thankfully take for granted. We live in an island possessing an excellent range of schools and colleges, accommodating young people from earliest years to the edge of adulthood and beyond.

Turn the clock back 150 years or so, however, and a very different situation emerges. A patchwork of educational establishments, a lottery of opportunity, a lack or even absence of choice.

Yet Jersey was on the cusp of change. Schooling would soon become compulsory (except during the potato season) and new government grants offered to encourage the construction of parish schools.

One parish to take advantage was St Martin. In 1900, it proudly opened the doors of a new school and welcomed the first pupils.

Generations of school children came and went. After more than 100 years of exemplary service, however, it was clearly time to ring the bell on the old school building – changing educational needs and expanding class sizes had finally caught up. In 2015, St Martin’s School moved to a marvellous new building.

Now, what to do with the old?

Loyally, St Martin’s parishioners determined to give their former school a new lease of life, a new sense of purpose. They wanted it retained at the heart of the community. But what should the community do with it? Determined to make the right choice, Parish authorities sought a partner capable of providing support and advice. It’s been a constructive lesson in successful cooperation ever since.

‘We were delighted to become involved in the former St Martin’s School project from the start,’ explains Rupert Myers, Managing Director of building consultants HLG Associates. ‘As a local company, we always take a special interest in Jersey’s built heritage and the communities it serves. Being trusted by the Parish to run the school redevelopment project was a great honour. It was also a little daunting, given the sense of good will towards the old school and determination to give it a bright future. But then taking on such projects and challenges is what HLG is all about.’

An early challenge was deciding what to use the former school for. While there was no shortage of opinion and even plenty of expertise within the Parish, having an independent professional partner on board soon paid dividends.

‘One of our first steps was arranging a survey to gauge views on possible building use,’ Rupert elaborates. ‘Then refining the feedback and suggestions – there were 35 in total – to present some achievable options to parishioners in a public meeting. Eventually, the Parish settled on a community centre with commercial amenities and outlets. Importantly too, parishioners stipulated it should be self-funding.’   

Having cleared this vital hurdle, and done the maths, HLG focused on moving the redevelopment project forward. An early gain was refurbishing and letting the former school caretaker’s house, thus beginning to generate income. Architects were appointed for the main project. Contractors selected. Potential community centre tenants secured. All the time, as Rupert underlines, keeping the Parish involved in developments and decisions.

‘Underpinning the whole project was the closest possible working relationship with the client. While this is our standard approach on all projects, a lesson we have learned from working within Jersey’s parish system is the importance of managing requirements and expectations. Take nothing and nobody for granted – the outcome is better for everyone concerned.’       

So as the old school redevelopment nears completion and tenants move in, does the project deserve an A-star or just B-minus? ‘Only time will tell,’ smiles Rupert, ‘but we do believe the school work completed so far puts everyone involved top of the class.

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