Award-winning Durham-based architectural practice, Howarth Litchfield, has announced timely progress is being made on its latest multi-disciplinary commission in the specialist education sector – the new £7.7m Discovery Special Academy project for the Department for Education (DfE) on behalf of Tees Valley Education Multi Academy Trust (TVEd) in Middlesbrough.

Following Tilbury Douglas’ appointment by the DfE Construction Framework as main contractor to design and build the new academy, Howarth Litchfield was appointed by Tilbury Douglas as part of its team, to act as lead designer with responsibility for providing a broad range of additional services which include Building Information Modelling (BIM), interior design and principal design duties.

The planning application for the new school building, which has capacity for 84 pupils and is located on the former Nature’s World site, was approved in March 2021. Work started on site in August and completion is anticipated in March 2022, ready for the start of the academic year in September 2022/23.

TVEd manages five academies – four of which are mainstream primary academies, catering for 4-11-year-olds, including two with specialist learning units.

Once the Trust had obtained permission to open a special free school, Discovery Special Academy began its life in temporary accommodation in September 2019 at the Brambles Primary Academy site in Middlesbrough.

Discovery Special Academy offers specialised support for pupils with severe learning difficulties, including those with physical disabilities, multi-sensory impairments and complex medical problems.

Helping to meet an increasing demand for special needs facilities within the Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland authority areas, the new build academy will be dedicated to delivering outstanding inclusive practice where carers and professionals work together to support the holistic development of the child in which all therapies are an integral part of pupils’ education.  All pupils will have an education, health and care plan to support their individual learning and health needs.

Keith Handy, project architect and a director of Howarth Litchfield, explained the thinking behind the design. He said:

“Specially designed interior spaces have been incorporated which allow for the integration of specialist therapeutic interventions such as rebound therapy, sensory stimulation, physiotherapy and soft play, which are key to the overall mental and physical development of the children.  The interrelationship between indoor and outdoor spaces and the variety of play and learning environments are essential design considerations to promote sound development.

“The new learning environment we are creating will fulfil the Trust’s and the academy’s commitment to fully meeting the individual needs of all pupils while ensuring the full integration of the academic, therapeutic and social curriculum.

“I am confident that thanks to our prior experience of designing for challenging education settings and our close collaboration with the Trust, we have come up with a design that will more than meet those needs for some time to come.”

The next stage of construction is to get the building weathertight and commence with the internal fit-out of services and partitions.

Mark Gardham North East Regional Director, Tilbury Douglas, added:

“We are delighted to be working with Howarth Litchfield again.  Their local knowledge, specialist education sector expertise and use of digital technologies, are well aligned to our approach to deliver exemplar education facilities. These credentials and lessons learnt from previous projects enables us to collaborate and drive efficiencies through all stages of a project to enhance the student experience.”

Jennifer Duncan, Principal of the School said, “We are excited about the new school building which will really transform the way that our pupils can learn and develop in a multi-sensory environment. The designs put forward by Howarth Litchfield combine all the elements for both physical and mental development of our children. We can’t wait to see the finished project and open our doors for the upcoming academic year.”

The project is being delivered as part of the government’s free school capital programme.

Other members of the professional team include specialist contractors – Fairhurst Landscape Design; BGP – civil and structural engineering; Desco – mechanical and electrical engineering and Apex Acoustics.