Opening a new chapter

South Staffordshire College now boasts a new high-tech campus thanks to a £6.6 million refurbishment project

South Staffordshire College is home to more than 20,000 students across its four campuses at Lichfield, Tamworth, Cannock and Rodbaston. Its Cannock Campus has undergone a £6.6m refurbishment to create a major new education environment and a flagship seat of learning which marks a new chapter in South Staffordshire College’s history.

Since the formal ceremony to lay the foundation stone of the new County Mining College in Cannock on 22nd November 1928, the college has served the needs of the local community and beyond with its programmes of continuing and further education. Many tens of thousands of students have passed through its doors and gone on to succeed in their chosen professions, including university professors, heads of companies and chartered engineers.

The original building has been extended several times since the 1920s with a third floor being added during the 1960s. January 2009 saw the merger combining the resources and expertise of Rodbaston College, Cannock Chase Technical College and Tamworth and Lichfield College to become South Staffordshire College.

The brief to East Midlands architects Maber Associates was to strengthen links with the wider community by making the building more welcoming and improving internal access and refurbish the existing college building to achieve a BREEAM ‘very good’ rating.

Major changes included both structural and architectural improvements, delivering a more stimulating and open environment, using a new glass­-covered main entrance, improved public access to the ground-floor facilities including a café, hair and beauty salons and the Little Learners children’s nursery. These were all carried out in compliance with strict planning constraints, as the building is located in a conservation area.

A robust and formal building of classical proportions and detailing, main contractor GF Tomlinson ensured that the materials used in the new build were of an equally strong appearance appropriate to the inner-city setting and reflected the modern urban curriculum taught at the campus. The exterior masonry was cleaned, giving a fresher look and the new glass-covered entranceway has added a modern element to the frontage.

A new three-storey atrium space has created a central heart to the building, giving a welcoming atmosphere to the campus and providing a multi-functional space for students and visitors to receive information, advice and guidance. This main focal point features a glass roof and an augmented reality introduction from South Staffordshire College’s chief executive principal Graham Morley. Balcony areas have been created by opening up the first- and second-floor inward window openings to encourage a more open, light and airy feel to the building, creating a courtyard effect and allowing easy access to learner services, hair and beauty reception and the café.

Students can also take advantage of dedicated areas around the campus, including independent study zones and a collaboration café where they can use iPhone, iPads and tablets to surf the net, work or just chill out.

The improved learner facilities include new ICT suites, an upgraded ICT infrastructure, therapy rooms and showers. Internal reordering of circulation and enhanced means of escape has led to improved internal access, whilst access from the car park has been simplified and the creation of new ramps and staircases at the perimeter of the building has improved the overall access to the building.

Internally, simple white renders maintain the classical characteristic of the building, while bursts of bold-coloured feature walls add a contemporary feel, enhanced by shots of neon lighting from colour changing light columns at hi-tech styled workstations. A mix of glossy, bright-coloured finishes and metallic sculpture seating also add vibrancy to the crisp white areas.

Learners on Cannock Campus can also have access to the latest educational technology, including a 4D immersive learning space; an interactive creative space created through LED lighting, giant projection and surround sound; a collaboration lab; classroom space designed for small groups working on projects and a state-of-the-art Mac suite showcasing pioneering technology and innovation to promote a unique learning environment.

The build incorporates A-rated construction materials chosen from the Green Guide and solar panels have been installed on the roof to offset energy consumption and support a BREEAM ‘very good’ rating.

Maber worked closely with Derby-based project managers Armsons and the local conservation officer in the restoration of the original sash windows with additional secondary glazing to respect the heritage of the building.

Attractive soundproofing panels suspended from the atrium ceiling are an architectural feature and provide adequate acoustic insulation to prevent any disturbance to effective teaching and learning caused by noise. The roof design allows natural ventilation and incorporates high shading and insulating properties, which allow natural light to pass through. The creation of new staircase towers outside the building has freed up internal space to create improved learning and toilet facilities on all levels.

Graham Morley, chief executive principal, said: “South Staffordshire College has taken a further step on its journey to success. The facilities at Cannock Campus really are outstanding and the future of learning has now definitely arrived at South Staffordshire College.”

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