On a vacant lot between Sint-Truiden station and the STVV football stadium, AG Real Estate realized a new building project for around 1200 students as part of the DBFM Scholen van Morgen. It has become a special project for several reasons. So this is 182St and latest realization in connection with the first Flemish OPP school building programme. With a surface area of approximately 17,950 m², it is also in the top 5 of the largest schools within this program. But above all, the concept fits perfectly into the environmental context. “Its location on the transition line between an urban and rural landscape, as well as the large height difference on the site, strongly influenced the concept,” says Roland van Bussel. “Our design literally makes the transition between the dense buildings in the city center and the small-scale buildings along the Fabrieksstraat. On the floor plan, it results in three buildings that fan out like fingers on the site. They lead the school towards the fruit tree landscape and at the same time draw the landscape into the school grounds. The typical orchard landscape will soon be drawn over the planning area as a green carpet to create even more connections with the surrounding landscape. In this way, we aim for an inspiring learning environment that contributes to the students’ well-being. On the station side we see the largest building volume, which houses the sports hall and cafeteria, while the smallest building is located on Fabrieksstraat. The fingers are connected through a central corridor.”
The sports hall forms the wall for a new town square. A (yet to be built) tunnel under the track bundle will connect the city center with the square and the new developments around it. The design of the sports hall corresponds to this square function. “In the plinth, we integrated windows that open onto the square. In this way, visual interaction between the people who play sports and the users of the square is possible,” says Roland van Bussel. On this side of the square, the ground level of the school grounds is on average 4 to 5 meters higher than on the Fabrieksstraat side. The designers use that difference in height to push the school building onto the site. The 5.5 meter high basement floor will be partially above ground on the Fabrieksstraat side, allowing daylight to enter the basement. This part of the basement contains the vocational school’s studios and workshops, including wood and metalworking, mechanics, plumbing and sanitary facilities, as well as a fully equipped training garage. Together with an auditorium, it all accounts for around 5,000 m² of underground teaching space. The remaining part of the basement will be used as a logistics area, parking garage and bicycle shed. The level above the basement is intended as a meeting place with an oversized entrance hall, offices, the teacher’s room, the sports hall and the canteen. The upper floors contain the theory rooms and a number of teaching laboratories. The school concept is designed so that parts of the school can also be used outside of teaching hours. The landscape around the school complex is loaded with all kinds of features, such as a sports field and stairs around the sports hall. Fine detail: The traditional school fence gives way to green hedges.
Stability design redesigned
The entire school facility is built in a concrete load-bearing structure founded on a foundation slab. “We adapted the original concept as much as possible to prefabricated elements,” explains project manager Patrick Kaes. “It results in a skeleton of columns, chest beams and vaults or wide slab floors. For the basement volume we chose hollow U-walls, which we filled in. It ended up that only the large staircases were cast on site, because of the intended exposed concrete finish. The choice for this extensive prefabrication was an absolute necessity to be able to respect the tight construction period of 22 months.” When adjusting the stability concept, the engineering office Arcade, commissioned by Houben – Vanderstraeten, also aimed to avoid as much as possible the planned heavy metal girders in the ground floor floor slab. “This allowed us to avoid the time-consuming treatment for fire stability. It required a thorough adaptation of floor thicknesses and structure,” continues Patrick Kaes. “The adaptation of the stability study mainly took place after the first spade had already been put in the ground. So it had to go fast. It demanded a lot from everyone involved in the project. But everyone threw themselves 100% , so we managed to bring this feat to a successful conclusion.”
The materialization of the exterior facades gives a nod to the green environment. The brick has a green sintering, the exterior joinery has a green accent and other facade finishes also have the natural hue. Inside, the school was finished with robust materials: polished concrete floors in the basement, ceramic tiles on the ground floor and upper floors. The ceilings are lowered from an acoustic point of view and to hide the techniques. The frames around the doors in beech wood are oversized to give a warm touch to the interior. The glass surfaces next to the doors bring daylight into the central corridors.
The choice of material was not only made from an aesthetic point of view. “This project was built using a DBFM formula. As a contractor, we are therefore responsible for the maintenance for thirty years,” explains Patrick Kaes. “From that point of view, we could come up with proposals for materials that have a long life or are easy to maintain. This resulted in us replacing the aluminum doors with steel variants. We also chose to build the interior walls entirely in concrete blocks: a plinth in a light gray concrete block with a white concrete block above. This solution has a higher mechanical resistance than plaster and also requires fewer painting jobs. It’s a win-win for us and the organizing body.”
Project with challenges
In this DBFM process, the contractor is responsible for ensuring that the school is built in full compliance with legal requirements and standards. This has caused many challenges. “For example, we developed open window parts tailored to the project,” says Patrick Kaes. “We have also devised well-thought-out insulation solutions and finishes for the ceilings in the basement to ensure that they meet both thermal and acoustic requirements. In addition, we went through a complex study to achieve continuous LED lighting in the corridors. It was quite a task to combine fire safety with aesthetics. So many searches for the optimal technical qualitative implementation. It’s nice and exciting, but it was still difficult to combine with the fixed deadline.”