WELLS Blue School has lost the use of 20 classrooms after the discovery of significant cracking amongst all of the concrete floors in Kennion block and concern about the design of the flooring joists.
As a result, there will be an additional inset day on January 2, and some year groups will have to remain at home at different times for at least the early part of the new term.
The situation has been explained by Headteacher Mark Woodlock in a letter to parents and carers.
He said that investigations of the school buildings during last term found that the school does not appear to have any RAAC (Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete) present, which has been an issue elsewhere, but a review of the older parts of the school constructed in the 1950s “uncovered a major problem” in Kennion block.
A structural engineer “found significant cracking amongst all of the concrete floors and a further concern about the design of the concrete flooring joists themselves. The cracking is so extensive, potentially affecting the structural integrity of each floor, that he has closed the whole of that part of Kennion, pending further investigations.”
The school has lost the use of 20 classrooms as a result.
In his letter, Mr Woodlock sets out a plan for the first two weeks of term, which includes Year 7 and 8 students remaining at home from January 3-5, and Years 9 and 10 remaining at home in the week commencing January 8.
In the longer term, he says, “My feeling at present is that it will be a surprise if we can bring all of the school back on site before February half-term and it could easily be significantly longer than that. I say that not with great certainty because of the need for further investigations, but primarily to help manage expectations. We do not know, for example, whether Kennion block can be propped and repaired or whether a new build will be required. Our decision-making will be based on the professional advice that we receive.”
Here is the letter in full:
Dear parents and carers,
I am sorry for disturbing your Christmas break, but I have some important news regarding our school buildings that I need to share.
You will be probably aware of the national issues surrounding RAAC (Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete) and the difficulties that other schools have faced since the summer. We undertook investigations of our buildings during last term and found that the school does not appear to have any RAAC present. However, those structural investigations took us further, in particular to review the older parts of the school was constructed in the 1950s.
Our initial concern was Milton block. This proved unfounded as the issues that are present in that block appear to be surface-related, rather than structural. However, the structural investigations in Kennion block have uncovered a major problem.
Last week, after the end of term, a structural engineer was able to access behind the ceiling coverings and examine the concrete floor joists that run across the old part of Kennion block – largely Kennion vestibule and the classrooms in the adjoining tower. He found significant cracking amongst all of the concrete floors and a further concern about the design of the concrete flooring joists themselves. The cracking is so extensive, potentially affecting the structural integrity of each floor, that he has closed the whole of that part of Kennion, pending further investigations.
Our review of the old plans for the site suggest that this problem could extend further into science. To ascertain whether this is true, ceiling coverings in those classrooms will need to be removed, including any remaining asbestos, and therefore we will lose the use of those rooms until this is completed.
The consequence of these findings is that we have lost the use of the following rooms:
• all of the Kennion tower classrooms (mostly maths, but also some history, geography and PE), including the maths office;
• Kennion vestibule and all of the offices in the vestibule and down towards the old science building (this includes the Chaplain’s office and the room used for supporting Ukrainian students);
• The ‘old’ science rooms , KG7&8, K16/17/18 and the staircase up to the science department on that side of the block;
• In the ‘new’ science section, to ensure appropriate fire escapes, we will only be able to use three of the upstairs rooms;
• The WBSC entrance and the weights room are also closed.
The main corridors in Kennion that run alongside these rooms are able to be kept open, but there will be no access through the Kennion from one end to the other. We will be required to use the external access.
The sum total of this is that we have lost the use of 20 classrooms.
You will appreciate that this has been a very difficult time of year in which to move this forwards with any pace. We have already had contractors in last week to help us block up the entrances to the areas that we need to keep students away from.
In addition, I have been in contact with the Department for Education (DfE) to try to establish a timescale. It is fair to say that we have been able to create some short-term contingencies, but with the majority of people away for the Christmas break, there are still many questions that need answering.
With the loss of 20 classrooms, we cannot hold all our current students on site at the same time. The loss of classrooms roughly equates to the number of rooms required for just over two year groups at any one point. I appreciate how difficult this will be, but our plan for the first two weeks of the start of term will now be as follows:
Tuesday 2nd January
This will be an additional staff INSET day; there will be no students on site. We will use the day to undertake planning for the next few weeks and hope to be in a position to obtain resources from the closed classrooms.
Wednesday 3rd – Friday 5th January
Year 7 and 8 students will remain at home. Some generic tasks will be set for those students on google classroom, but we will not be able to deliver online lessons as we do not currently have the spaces to allow that to happen.
Students in Years 9-13 will be able to come to school.
Week commencing 8th January
Years 9 and 10 will remain at home. We hope by this point that we will be able to deliver online lessons, provided we can find suitable stations to allow staff to do so.
Years 7, 8, 11, 12 and 13 will be able to come to school.
We will change the arrangements for break and lunch. Year 9 will move to early break/lunch and all social/catering time will now take place in Bailey. This avoids any groups of students having to use Kennion for their social time, although the toilets in Kennion will still be accessible.
This plan will take us through the first two weeks and allow us some more time to see what further investigations reveal and what mitigations may be possible. I strongly suspect that beyond this point we will continue to need individual year groups to stay at home on a rolling basis. Our hope is that we can find ways to reduce the number of students absent.
Given the limited nature of the conversations that have taken place so far, I cannot give you any certainty over the medium and long term picture. We know that the next phase will involve significantly more investigations in those classrooms and that will take most of January. I have already raised the issue of temporary classrooms with the DfE and we are looking at all of the alternatives that may exist.
My feeling at present is that it will be a surprise if we can bring all of the school back on site before February half-term and it could easily be significantly longer than that. I say that not with great certainty because of the need for further investigations, but primarily to help manage expectations. We do not know, for example, whether Kennion block can be propped and repaired or whether a new build will be required. Our decision-making will be based on the professional advice that we receive.
Should you have specific questions, then please let me know. I will aim to keep you regularly updated on developments so that you can plan as far ahead as possible. Please also accept that this is a significant additional burden on staff and your understanding would be appreciated.
This news will obviously cause concern and it is not the New Year message that I would want to deliver to you. As a community, we have risen to overcome some extraordinary challenges in the last few years and it looks as if those skills and qualities will be called upon again. I have every confidence that our support for each other, as always, will see us through.