Thalwil secondary school – ready for the future

Allreal is renovating and extending the Feld/Berg secondary school in Thalwil, with the work including the construction of an underground sports hall. Building schools requires a different approach...

School’s out for summer! It wasn’t long ago that pupils at the Feld/Berg secondary school in Thalwil were receiving their reports in their classrooms. And now their school is a building site! Tradespeople are at work wherever you look. And right in the middle of it all is Christian Wanner, a site manager who has worked for Allreal for many years. “The school summer holidays give us five weeks to get all the work done that simply isn’t possible on a normal school day. Who wants to write an essay when a wall is being knocked through on the floor above?” Therefore, as well as constantly inspecting the quality of the construction work, Wanner’s main consideration right now is ensuring that everything is completed on schedule. Remember that surprises often pop up when working on renovations. Think unexpected pipes that don’t appear on any plans! In cases like that, solutions have to be found and decisions have to be made – without wasting any time whatsoever. Another reason for the focus on the timings can be spotted on the walk across the school grounds on the way back to the construction site office. There’s a hole measuring almost ten metres deep in what was a sports field back in the winter. It’s the construction pit for a new underground double sports hall. After passing another two buildings, the building work on a new classroom extension is well underway.

“In reality, we’re working on six projects all at once here,” explains Wanner, pointing at the plans in front of him on his desk. “We’ve already set up a temporary classroom for some of the duration of the construction project. Once the new sports hall is finished, we’ll be turning the old one into workshops. Last but by no means least, we’ll be redesigning the outdoor areas.”

Construction site classroom

The fact that the construction work has to be planned around lessons, school holidays and the sports hall timetable is just one of the challenges of working around an ongoing school operation. Safety is another key aspect, with Allreal always taking the utmost care to prevent accidents on the construction site during all of its residential and commercial projects anyway. Staff are given full training and construction sites are inspected at regular intervals. But safety takes on a new dimension when a construction site is located right next to a playground. And this is especially important along the access routes used by construction site traffic.

See also our report on workplace health and safety

On a positive note, there is plenty of scope to incorporate the construction site into lessons. That’s good news for teachers! In his 14 years as a site manager for Allreal, Christian Wanner has taken many classes on tours of his builds. “I’m always happy to take time out of my schedule for a school tour. Most recently, as part of a prevention exercise, the schoolchildren could sit in a lorry to get an idea of the blind spot for themselves. Some of them were amazed to see just how big that blind spot really is and the exercise certainly left an impression on them.”

And at secondary school level, when the pupils are thinking hard about their future career paths, it can be useful to have a construction site at school. What a great opportunity to get to grips with jobs in construction and the building sector as a whole.

More space and a community venue

With the number of school-age children steadily on the rise in the municipality of Thalwil, the secondary school capacity needs to be increased. The answer is to extend the neighbouring Feld and Berg schools, which are separated by a single road. There should be room for 20 classes to learn here in the future.

Towards the end of 2020, the people of Thalwil voted in favour of a renovation and extension project worth around CHF 26 million. Four planning teams had been invited to take part in a global solution competition, which Allreal won in April 2020 together with the architecture firm Baumschlager Eberle Architekten.

The most challenging aspect from an architectural point of view was the fact that the Feld school built back in the 1950s in the traditional Swiss Landi style is a listed building, meaning it can’t be built up or knocked down. In fact, no changes can be made to its outward appearance.

The whole project is centred around the new double sports hall being built under the existing sports field. A circular pavilion is at the heart of the development and is set to be the only building visible above ground. At the same time as the public voted in favour of the building project, extra funding was also allocated for the creation of a venue that could be used for events. And so the double sports hall has been designed as a multifunctional venue with space for around 300 people.

A new classroom extension is being added to the Feld school, with one existing annexe being demolished to make way for it. With a few internal modifications that can’t be seen from the outside, the existing sports hall – another listed building – can be turned into a workshop for practical lessons. Meanwhile, work at the Berg school is set to change the layout of classrooms and common rooms. Plus, earthquake-proofing measures are being taken. The final stage of the project is set to see the outside space being redesigned and the road changed to combine both school campuses into one.

Laughing, Christian Wanner is off again, with his measuring tape and notebook in his hands. “It’s completely different to building an office building. The nice thing about school builds is that you get the chance to interact with so many different groups of people. You have the teaching staff, the caretaker, the school committee, the municipal real estate office, the unions and the general public, who voted in favour of the project. Everyone involved in a school has their own opinion. They all come with their own expectations, ideas and stories.” And you have to always stick to the budget, schedule and quality standards too. That’s why Allreal was chosen for the job.

In recent years, Allreal has renovated, extended and built lots of school buildings. Examples include the Grütli sports hall for the Noam school in Zurich, the Steinmaur school campus and, most recently, the Feld school building in Richterswil.

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