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Barwon Valley School Stage 1 Modernisation

Client VSBA - Department of Education and Training
Status Completed 2020
Country Wadawurrung
Location Belmont, VIC
School building facade with Australian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags flying, disabled car parking
Adults at table in breakout area next to boardroom and reception, children sit in wheelchair and play with blocks on the floor
Students sit in quiet nook adjacent to principal's office and reception, two reading, one waiting in a wheelchair
Student sits in window seat playing with blocks, adult makes drink in kitchenette in background
Staff member speaks with student at reception, student sits at table in adjacent breakout zone
Plywood mural alongside student entry features school emblem graphic artwork with trees, a star and a river
Boardroom with table and chairs, and tactile wall mural
Adult passes house-like storage unit and graphic wall murals
Timber tree-like kitchenette nook with light blue backing board and perforated ceiling panelsand perforated
Students scoot on outdoor exercise track, another student sits with teacher on timber tiered seating
Students use stepping and parallel bars for therapy outdoors
Students use exercise bikes in physical therapy room
School entry with metal and blockwork cladding, carparking alongside
Status Completed 2020
Client VSBA - Department of Education and Training
Country Wadawurrung
Location Belmont, VIC
Budget $ 2.1 million

For families of children with moderate to profound intellectual or physical disabilities, the weekday drop-off at school can be a traumatic experience. It’s often overstimulating, and a stark contrast from home that can overwhelm students, causing anxiety for parents and carers who seek a smooth transition to learning for their children.

At Barwon Valley School, we designed a larger, more welcoming foyer and administration zone that comfortably caters for multiple arrivals at once. This is a special development school with individualised learning plans for all students, so we pursued design interventions that would maximise ease for students, staff and families.

Interiors are friendly and calming on arrival, with muted blues and greens pairing with the warmth of plywood and brightened corridors. In consultations with staff, we learned the threshold of the building presented a major challenge for families, so we designed a sensory-based mural that runs the length of the entry corridor. Staff report many students calm themselves by running their hands along the panelling as they enter, tracing our nature-based graphic extension of the school’s logo with its rolling hills, river and trees.

Alongside reception, a tea and coffee area welcomes current and prospective parents and carers, offering a meeting place large enough to accommodate younger siblings’ quiet play. Here, a sliding door conceals a meeting room for staff and families, which peels back to cater for larger gatherings and events.

A treehouse-like cubby nook gives students a dedicated, soothing space in view of the principal’s office and administration. Careful acoustics throughout the administration building include perforated ceiling panels and fabric wall panelling, which dampen noise and soften the visitor experience.

With physical therapy so crucial to student development and wellbeing, we also designed an outdoor exercise track with a central, grassy mound for sensory play, and a fitness room that removed trampolines and treadmills from busy thoroughfares.

Photography: Blue Tree Studios