‘Children learn the history of the mining area while they play’

Journalism students at the Hogeschool PXL developed a series of articles about some unique redevelopment projects in Limburg. We are allowed to publish the result on Architectura.

‘The mine site’s history lives on in the school’, says director Indra Monten. Beringen’s mine site includes 100,000 m² of existing building assets. Mining activity has stopped and other features are now being injected, including Primary Schools’ Punishment! School with courage. The school is located in the middle of B-Mine and you have a view of the mine slag pile, the coal washing plant and the church and mosque. ‘It’s a very nice place to be and to be able to work’, she laughs. ‘The location has undergone a real metamorphosis to achieve this end result, but has been renovated with great respect for the past.’

‘We have made two very important interventions’, says Stefaan Evers, architect at a2o. ‘The first major intervention was to lower the floor under the building. The other major intervention is that we have created voids in a number of places.’ A cavity is an opening between two or more floors. It gives perspectives and creates a sense of space. ‘We have integrated a large staircase so that the entrance to the school takes place in a beautiful, spacious way’, it reads. It was first discovered that the structure was completely intact, so nothing needed to be changed. The building was previously standing, because it was a kind of depot for train parts that had their place under the building. The first floor started at a certain height and if we put the floor under the building a meter lower, it became a whole floor again. It’s interesting for toddlers and small children, so they don’t have to climb too many stairs,’ says the architect.

From tracks to pillars

The facade has been restored to its original condition. It is a very detailed brick facade. Because the building originally stood on its feet, there was no facade on the ground floor. ‘We have now made a wooden facade there because we did not want to affect the existing facade,’ explains Evers. ‘All the walls on the ground floor have been added in wood and glass and the staircase that was added to the top is made of concrete. A kind of corridor has been created between the columns and the new facade, which creates an outdoor playground for children. It is covered and there are benches and you can play. ‘Together with a landscape designer, we have transformed the rest of the square into a real playground’, it reads. ‘There are still historic elements such as the train tracks which were there from when the mines were still active and which are still visible.’ In this way, the architects created an ecological-historical landscape where the children can feel the history of the place while they play.

‘The whole school is actually built around the pillars that were already there. These are now also nicely integrated and you can find them in many places throughout the school’, says the director. You will also find many authentic elements in the gymnasiums and associated changing rooms. “The showers of the past have now become the changing rooms. The tiles and the door are even completely preserved,’ she says. ‘You can still see black streaks on the walls in the gym. The past is still very legible there.’ Below the building, where the wagons used to bring coal, is now a covered playground. The tracks have remained protected, but were partially filled in. “It is of course important that the environment is safe for the young children,” explains Monten.

‘It was a challenge’

‘I am very satisfied with the end result. I have worked at a2o for 16 years and this is one of my ten favorite projects. At a2o, we think it’s better to reuse something than to build something new on a meadow. It’s all the more fun because there’s so much history attached to it,’ says Evers. ‘We also have a happy customer.’ He believes that the highlight of the project is getting to know the building. ‘Working with buildings that are already there is very exciting’, it says. “Once in a while, problems arise, and then a solution must be found that also stays within the financial framework. It’s actually quite a challenge, but realizing a beautiful building within strict conditions is fantastic.’

A similar positive attitude can also be heard from other angles, such as the Mining Museum, which is also located on the site. ‘The buildings and structures here are very beautiful in their architecture and bear a very large part of the local past. If they are not used, they fall into disrepair, and that is a shame,’ testifies several guides. ‘A new function that also respects the original structure and functionality as in Straffen! The school building is fantastic. And that’s how a new generation that hasn’t experienced the mines learns them right away.’ Some, however, think it’s a shame that Beringen has waited so long with projects like this. “More could have been done much earlier for the mining past and the miners, and then we could have saved more buildings on the site. Now it feels as if they are jumping on the bandwagon afterwards.’ However, despite these negative points, there are generally positive prospects for the future of the site, thanks in part to the new school. Former miner Ivo Theunis is also enthusiastic. He tells more about the history of the place.

Listen to the audio fragment here.

Beringen honors the mining past

The new location also offers many advantages for Beringen’s mayor Thomas Vints. “This is the ideal base for organizing fun activities for the children, both during the school year and during holiday periods.” The extra breathing space for the already existing city childcare in Beringen-Mijn is also an asset.

The municipality has not ordered the construction itself. She was completely outside the project in relation to decisions and management. She only gave the green light when the applications came in. This does not prevent her from being proud of the building that the school has gradually become. In recent years, many old mining sites in Limburg have been restored and given new life. The punishment! The school in Beringen was one of many projects ready for the mining area, which itself is one of the best preserved in Limburg. With this and similar projects, Beringen wants to show that it is also ready to honor its mining past.

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