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Somersfield all set for IB expansion

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Major expansion: Colm Homan, the Somersfield Academy board chairman, pulls on a room divider in the new, $5 million International Baccalaureate building, which was dedicated yesterday, as Dennis Fagundo, left, a school board member and the joint managing director of D&J Construction, which built the new facility, and Stacey-Lee Williams, the director of business and diversity, and Carlos Symonds, the head of the school, look on (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A new multi-purpose school building had its roof-wetting ceremony last night and will be ready for students when they return after summer.

The $5 million facility at Somersfield Academy was designed with flexibility in mind so that its layout can be altered as needs change and evolve.

About half of the building will cater specifically for pupils in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, which will be offered for the first time at the school this year.

It means that students will no longer need to move to other institutions to continue their learning after they complete the IB middle years programme.

Carlos Symonds, the head of school, said the facility will allow students “to remain here rather than having to leave at age 16”. He added: “Many of them start here at age three, so they can complete the journey.”

Dennis Fagundo, a school board member and the joint managing director of D&J Construction, which built the new facility, explained that Somersfield Academy was about 28 years old and its premises had expanded incrementally.

He said: “A piece of this was driven by adding those extra two years of school, but at the same time wanting to be flexible enough with the space because we need the additional infrastructure and facilities to support the rest of the school.

“We’re trying to be as cost conscious as possible.”

The building, which was designed by architects Cooper Gardner, has three floors as well as a rooftop level which will offer students bike parking and social space. Diploma programme pupils will enjoy a mixed-use common area that includes group meeting rooms and is to be furnished with lounge-style benches alongside touch screen televisions where they can work on class projects.

Another floor boasts classrooms that can be split in half by folding metallic whiteboards — offering suitable spaces for smaller numbers as well as wipe-clean surfaces where teachers or pupils can work or use for display.

The ground floor includes an art room, which will feature a kiln for pottery lessons, and can be opened out to become a larger area for special circumstances like exams, performances and student showcases.

Every level is kitted out with lockers — complete with charging stations for phones, tablets and laptops — and unisex toilets. The building also includes a dedicated area for special needs tutoring, a library, staff room and offices.

Colm Homan, the board chairman, said: “There was quite a focus on having lots of natural light but also for each of the classrooms to look on to the sports field.”

He explained that a nine-month feasibility study into offering the IB diploma programme was carried out about four years ago and, after positive feedback, plans were drawn up and a fundraising campaign was launched.

Mr Homan said: “The final piece of the puzzle was getting our formal accreditation from the International Baccalaureate, that came to us in April so we’re very excited to be able to offer the programme for our returning students in September.”

He added that the first intake for the diploma programme will be about 15 pupils who were already at Somersfield Academy, but applications were expected to be open to others next year.

State of the art: Somersfield Academy’s new $5 million building will house its senior International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme students, expanding the school’s offering at one facility (Photograph by Akil Simmons)