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Tonbridge School Smythe Library

Tonbridge School

Tonbridge School in Kent is currently undergoing refurbishment on its library building, providing the school with a more modern library to suite the changing needs of its users.

The Smythe Library exists to meet the information needs of the whole school community and to support all teaching and learning. It also provides a suitable environment for the acquisition of knowledge, quiet reflection or serendipity. Built by Sir William Holford in 1962, the library contains 23,000 volumes – some of which have been in the school’s possession since the seventeenth century.

Daniel Walder, Project Architect at BDP, who are working on the project said: “A lot has changed in terms of the way libraries operate, especially since 1962, so our job has been to bring the library into the 21st century to open it up and have more open flexible learning spaces.”

Work on the project has included the build of a new staircase to the south side of the building and an entrance lobby extension to the north side of the building.

Daniel added: “It has been designed not only to be a staircase but somewhere where people can sit and relax and enjoy the garden space to the south of the building. What we have tried to do is recognise that the staircase is not just a place for circulation but it can also be a place for dwelling.”

Many I.T aspects have also been incorporated into the design of the new library and spaces within the building have been developed, which means that they can be a lot more flexible and open.

“There is an alternative teaching space for experimental teaching,” said Daniel. “We also have things like ‘write on walls’, so there are whiteboard services where people can write on the walls and stick things on the walls.”

Design work on the project began in 2014 with construction work starting in July 2015. The main contractors on the project are Buxton Building and work is on schedule to be completed for July 2016.

Daniel said: “We were behind at one stage because there were a lot of unknowns like asbestos but we are now on track to be finished by the end of July.”

So far structural work has been completed and external finishes have been completed with work currently being undertaken on the internal finishes. As part of a separate project, a second phase of work is hoped to take part at a later date, which would include exterior landscaping and groundwork. If this phase goes ahead, the development would expand to include an external teaching space and an amphitheatre.

Work on the project has gone to plan but, some minor challenges have meant slight delays with the project.

“There are always challenges when you are dealing with an existing building,” said Daniel. “The building plan is quite a narrow and long plan and it is split over four floors, one of which was previously a basement, so what we have tried to do is connect the floors. The staircase is therefore a key feature because in an ideal world I think we would perhaps only be splitting over one or two floors, but having such a narrow building split over four floors has been challenging.

“We have also tried to involve learning support and the careers department within the library building, so we are trying to meet the needs of three separate user groups in one space, so that is challenging to have those different demands in one space.”

With BDP hoping to expand their work into the independent schools sector, this project has been an important one for them to work on.

Daniel concluded: “I think this project is really important for us because the independent school sector is something we are trying to expand into more. Tonbridge School is a fantastic setting to work at, so they have become a really important client for us.”

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