A legacy of excellence

Building on more than 140 years as a place that fosters ambition alongside preparation, The Cathedral Grammar School has opened a new classroom block that effortlessly balances tradition with forward focus.

Students heading into class at The Cathedral Grammar School’s new boys’ preparatory block are reminded of their school’s unique history every day. The school’s motto and founding date – ‘Semper Fidelis 1881’ – appear in glazing throughout the smart new two-storey building. In English, the motto is ‘Always Faithful’. It is strikingly apt for this proud independent Anglican school that has prepared generations of students for productive, engaged adult lives.

The Cathedral Grammar School has responded to damage caused by the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes in a carefully considered way. Designed by Warren and Mahoney, the new concrete and red brick classroom block completes the process of recovery and fits seamlessly with the rest of the campus beside the admin building. Earlier phases of redevelopment included refurbishing the 1924 specialist block as a state-of-the-art music, science and art facility, the opening of a new award-winning junior school on Kilmore Street, and repair and restoration of heritage-listed Inveresk House

“Over the years since the earthquakes, we have undertaken major refurbishments on every building as well as replacing those lost,” explains school bursar Geoff Cain. “The last piece of the rebuild from the earthquakes has been the boys’ school.”

The Cathedral Grammar School is structured to support students at every stage through their formative years with a preschool, a junior school and separate preparatory schools for girls and boys.

As a heartfelt ‘thank you’ for having gone through the post-earthquake years with the school, last year’s Year 8 boys finished their final term in the new boys’ preparatory school and had exclusive use of the building for 10 days. The $4.7 million block, built by Simon Construction, opened to all Year 4-8 boys from the start of this year.

“It has been very heart-warming to see this project through and to welcome the boys and staff into this beautiful, modern building,” says school principal Scott Thelning.

Seamlessly linked with the adjacent admin building and the school’s central playground area, it already looks like an established part of the school and is wonderfully equipped to support the school’s culture of nurturing, knowing and growing, today and into the future. This is no accident but an expression of careful planning and design, as well as an impeccable build process led by Simon Construction. The new block rests today on seismically strong foundations.

“It will stand the test of time and look wonderful for years to come,” says Scott. “The school has been here since 1881 and is proud of its history and traditions but is also a forward-thinking school and wanting to make sure it is providing students with an environment and a culture and an education that is mindful of the future they are heading into. It was very important to us that this was reflected in the building’s design and build. From my perspective, that goal has been achieved, and we’re delighted that the project was delivered on time and on budget.”

Geoff observes that taking the time needed to plan for this new building fed into the project’s success: “Our design brief to the architect was reasonably detailed.”

Externally, the design very deliberately references the existing buildings and historical context. In briefing Warren and Mahoney Architects, the school clearly communicated what teachers and students wanted and the importance of having a strong connection with the broader school environment. The timeless form is simple and efficient, with everything in the right place.

“Some of the cues for the new building were informed by the admin building, along with the library and the pre-existing heritage building and we also drew on the existing material palette of timber and brick,” notes Jonathan Coote, Warren and Mahoney’s South Island head of design, who led the design team. “From inside, there is a wonderful segregation of the view into snapshots. Each classroom is connected to the outside world.”

Treatment of the concrete ground floor façade with a projecting pilaster design echoes the architectural style of other school buildings. Above, the building rises to a high twin-pitch, finished externally in red brick cladding with a slight pattern shift that creates a pleasing ripple effect.

Inside are eight very spacious classrooms – four on each floor, grouped in pairs – all fully equipped for modern digital learning. The classrooms are a generous 70 square metres and this, together with small class sizes, supports the school’s ‘every child, every day’ philosophy. Each pair of classrooms shares an adjacent break-out space, with additional rooms for specialist audio-visual learning and other uses.

Conveniently sited PE changing rooms, a large senior common room, pinboards and e-bulletin screens are among other inclusions. Extensive storage at the front of each classroom was directly inspired by a layout in the refurbished specialist block. A wide stairway connects the floors. The block has great views of the surrounding campus and Hagley Park.

From site clearance to completion took only 13 months. Key to that was good communication between all involved.

Boys educated here will be well-prepared for future success. The Cathedral Grammar School is today strongly placed for a bright future.

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