Project Update — Building For Better | Meadows Primary School Upgrade
“When Alchemy came on board, they just got it – they had an amazing working relationship with me, an amazing working relationship with Project 12 [Architecture].”
A focus on collaboration, empathy and commitment create a drastically improved learning environment for the young students of Meadows Primary, giving the children, staff and wider community a facility they can be proud of – while also increasing enrolments.
A refurbished learning centre, a brand-new school wing and landscaped play areas transform the learning experience for students and teachers in Broadmeadows.
Alchemy was selected by VSBA to rebuild and refurbish Meadows Primary School, along with landscaping the grounds and creating a new playground. This was on the back of successful work completed by Alchemy, also through VSBA, at primary schools in Camberwell, Abbotsford, Merri Creek, Dandenong and Pascoe Vale.
“About 80% of our kids speak English as an additional language, and our classroom buildings were very open plan, with no set walls, and horrible acoustics”, explains Meadows Primary School Principal Anthony Potesta. “We’d had to engage other builders to partition walls in spaces just to allow for the influx of kids as enrolments grew. Teachers tried their best to come up with solutions but they were fighting a losing battle”.
With the strain of lockdowns taking its toll on the economy, the Victorian government started to supply funding into the education sector to help keep things moving. This meant a surprise package of funding for Meadows Primary School, which Anthony felt humbled and grateful for. The school was on scope to get enrolments from 375 up to 575, but was already over-enrolled and struggling to service its students’ needs. This expansion of students would have been impossible without an improvement to the existing facilities. “We were pushing up to 400 and were already over our enrolment limit when all this happened so the timing was great – the stars aligned, it was absolutely perfect”.
There was a close and organic collaboration on this project between the school, the architects – Project 12, and Alchemy. After the initial kick off meeting, the work began – defining what it was the school needed and how best to create solutions for its key challenges. “We went through the process with the architects, and they just absolutely got it from the start” says Anthony. “They could identify a lot of the negative aspects of our current spaces that were just not conducive to learning”.
The work was broken into two stages – the first was a small refurbishment of Learning Centre 1 (LC1) along with the new building in stage 2. Dale Perkins was the Site Manager on the project. “Previously in LC1 they had 8 classes in one area, divided by bookshelves, so we went in there and created 5 classrooms with walls and modernised the spaces”. On completion of stage one in March 2022, stage two commenced and that was completed in July 2022.
“When Alchemy came on board, they just got it – they had an amazing working relationship with me, an amazing working relationship with Project 12”, remarks Anthony. “Dale the Site Manager just got the kids, got the staff and he really ingrained himself within the school – he was here for just about a year.”
Overall works included an entirely new classroom building comprising 10 classrooms, staff work areas, a sound proofed meeting room, staff and student amenities, a multipurpose room, a storeroom, a cleaner’s store, a communications room, and toilets. In addition, the outdoor spaces have also been improved with landscaping and a new playground. The refurbishment covered LC1, and included a new roof for that building, as well as modernised, clearly-divided new classrooms.
“Prior to the build, we’d done a lot of work around trauma-informed practices and inclusive education, and our staff never really got the opportunity to implement it because of that open plan set-up. Now that we’re in very contained, very smart-built classrooms they’re able to implement that knowledge and practice.”
With enrolments increasing from 380 to 500 within a year, the shift from 22 makeshift classrooms to 30 purpose-built classrooms, means the ideal learning environment has been created to support everyone. There is space now to employ more teachers and staff and the impact on the school community has been obvious. “Prior to the build, we’d done a lot of work around trauma-informed practices and inclusive education, and our staff never really got the opportunity to implement it because of that open plan set-up. Now that we’re in very contained, very smart-built classrooms they’re able to implement that knowledge and practice.”
There is also an impact on the broader community, with a strong sense of pride now evident amongst students, teachers and parents in the quality and finish of the build. Where previously the facilities felt like a rabbit warren of corridors and pathways, now the space invites people in so they feel welcomed and comfortable. “Project 12 understood exactly what we were after”, says Anthony. “They were phenomenal in the way that they worked with us. They understood the trauma informed approach, they understood exactly what we were trying to achieve. We did a lot of work around inclusive education as well and what that means to be inclusive – from the furniture to the tech, to the soundproofing, to the spaces, to the light coming in, they were really responsive to all that stuff – absolutely nothing was too hard for them.”
Creating quiet spaces where kids can focus has made an enormous difference. Details like how the landscaping wraps around the building, the allocation of a 600 x 600 table for each student, along with their own tub and chair, has brought a new sense of purpose to the students and given them valuable agency over the personal space they can now call their own.
“Alchemy surpassed our expectations on this project, through really effective communication and because they were really transparent. I knew everything that was going on, the link between them and through APP – the project team, the architects, the VSBA. They had some incredible challenges to work through which covered shutdowns, supply shortages, and price increases. They were able to manage extremely tight budgets on extremely tight time frames. Pauline especially went above and beyond for us. She basically discovered the underlying cause for some issues, and now we are so much more understanding of our site. We always felt that they had our best interests at heart.”
Pauline Bastiaens was Project Manager on the build and enjoyed the experience of working with the Meadows School Community. “When you gel with the school principal, the staff and the architects like we did on this job that makes it a great experience”, she remarks. “The Principal, Anthony, was great on this project, very cooperative and accommodating. It brings a collaborative approach to the job that makes everybody’s life easier.”