The history of Brookmans Park School
by Lilian Caras - First published 1983 (Revised May 2000)
Despite the length of time it took to complete Brookmans Park Primary School, Hertfordshire County Council's post-war school building programme as a whole was considered a great success. The 1944 Education Act had imposed great pressures on Local Education Authorities to improve on pre-war school facilities. The post-war rise in birth rates increased these pressures, especially in Counties such as Hertfordshire, which was on the edge of the 'Green Belt' and had to cope with new and expanding towns such as Stevenage, Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City.
In 1947 the County Council set themselves the task of building fifty new primary schools in five years. Since the traditional materials and skilled labour were in short supply, a new system of building was required.
Hertfordshire County Council pioneered a system of standardised prefabricated parts, which could be constructed in factories and only assembled on site. The first system was based on an 8'3" planning and structural grid using a steel frame. Once the frame was erected, the walls, doors and windows were merely bolted on. The design and layout of the school was also new. They were to be small in scale for children to relate to rather than for adults. The County built 180 schools using this system.
One of the biggest advantages of the new system was its speed of construction. and most of this was saved on the foundations. A solid foundation was not necessary for the new system. Instead, at the base of each vertical steel support of the structural frame, a concrete pad only was needed as a foundation. Thus the man-days necessary to build a new school were reduced from 7,448 for a traditionally built school to 4,3781 for the new steel grid system school.
Thus it took only nine months from start to occupation of the 160 place Brookmans Park School.
The new designs were not without their detractors, however. The amount of glass used in them was a cause of concern. One of the objectives of the new designs was to incorporate as much natural light and ventilation as possible in them. This resulted in the use, for the first time, of floor to ceiling glass. At their meeting on 8 June 1951 the Hertfordshire Association of Parish Councils resolved to write to Hertfordshire County Council stating that "where glass is fixed at, or near, the ground level in the new type of County Council School the Hertfordshire County Council be asked to provide some form of protection on both sides to the height of three feet, as, without such safeguard, it is considered to be dangerous to children". One representative at the meeting stated that "I am not criticising the new schools in any carping fashion, but there should be better provision made for the safety of the children. They are the best schools so far as light and space and have excellent accommodation and amenities." The strength of glass at low levels in these schools was up-graded in due course.
The architect's problem today, over the floor to ceiling glass, is not one of safety, but one of conservation of heat. Various methods have been tried in recent years including securing opening windows with screws and fixing door closers to all external doors.
Brookmans Park School itself attracted its share of local protest when it was built. Both the North Mymms Parish Council and the North Mymms Ratepayers Association were reported in national newspapers as protesting against the colour scheme used in the school. This was specifically directed at the panels of red, yellow and blue on the exterior of the school building. One objector said "Is it necessary to paint a school to look like a lido?... if the schools were paid for by the ratepayers, the latter should have some say in such a matter as the monstrosity of the school colour scheme". Another objector claimed that it was a requirement of the Ministry of Local Government and Planning that new buildings should be in conformity with their surroundings; yet at Brookmans Park they were painting a school in colours which in no way harmonised with anything in the neighbourhood". The Ratepayers Association said that the colours "cause agony for the people who have to lock at them every day". The colour scheme today is yellow, blue and green; the red has gone. At the first external redecoration of the school, after Mr Sidnell became head in 1972, he chose green for the assembly Hall panels instead of the original red.
Despite such minor problems, the primary children of Hertfordshire did get their new schools.
In its first survey after the 1944 Act the County found half the schools still in use were built before the 1902 Education Act. By 1954 the County could boast that one third of its younger children attended brand new schools. This was some achievement.
Brookmans Park Primary School is an excellent example of the vision of the planners at County Hall and despite the unavoidable financial restrictions imposed by central government (given the terrible post-war economic situation at the time) the village can be proud of the building provision for their children.
Change of Headteacher
After Mr John Sidnell took early retirement in 1983, Mr Robert (Bob) Bright was acting Headteacher for a short time before the arrival of Mr Peter Evans in 1984.
Nursery School opened in 1998
Since 1983, the building provision at Brookmans Park School has continued to be improved and developed, most notably, in 1998, with the opening of a new purpose-built Nursery School. Built at a cost of £80,000, this large prefabricated building was delivered in six sections and put into place by a giant crane in the autumn of 1997 - requiring the temporary removal of the School gates. The funding for the Nursery School building came from the School's own budget and savings. Initially the new building catered for twenty-eight children with plans to increase the number of places over time. The first children arrived on 7 January 1998 while the actress, Ms Dawn French, conducted the official opening on 9 February 1998.
Index - The history of Brookmans Park School