Whyalla Secondary School, Australia

Evolving technological advancement of classroom education

  • Aurecon’s role: Structural, geotechnical and civil engineering
  • Client: Cox Architecture and Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure
  • Project team: Architecture: Cox Architecture and Thomson Rossi; Project Manager: Turner and Townsend; Contractor: Sarah Constructions; Cost Management: Rider Levett Bucknall; Building Services: Lucid; Landscape Architecture: Aspect

Aurecon use steel for Whyalla’s new STEM-focused school pays homage to the local industry in South Australia.

Australia’s school education system plays a vital role in equipping students with the skills and knowledge they will need for their adult life. Education is the ‘engine room’ of the country’s future prosperity as the education system adapts and evolves in line with digitalisation to prepare our workforce for the future.

A new AUD100 million state-of-the-art secondary school will be built in Whyalla, South Australia, evolving teaching and education to lead the technological advancement of classroom education.

The three-storey school will replace Whyalla’s three separate high school campuses and be built with a science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) focused design. There is an ever-growing need to increase skills in the STEM sectors and the new Whyalla Secondary School aims to have a world-class, modern, learning environment for its students to be prepared for the future.

Key features of the design

  • STEM-focused design
  • Architecturally expressive form
  • Connectivity between indoor and outdoor learning spaces
  • Building design that responds to extreme weather events
  • Use of local steel for structural framing
  • Design with flexibility in mind incorporating large column free spaces and operable walls and facades
  • Landscaped plaza at ground level with connection to outdoor learning opportunities and recreation spaces
  • Double-court gymnasium, expansive sporting fields and courts that can be utilised by the school and broader community
  • A performing arts theatre

Harnessing the life blood of Whyalla

As the structural and civil engineers for the new school buildings, Aurecon paid homage to the major local industry in the Whyalla community by featuring steel for all primary framing.

The steel industry has long been the life blood of the local community, providing direct and indirect employment to the town for decades. It was fitting to utilise local steel for the new building frames to embed this legacy into the learnings for new students while supporting local industry and employment.

While different structural forms were investigated and tested, it was the use of structural steel that was most economic and best reflected the architectural intent for the building.

Large portions of the structure will be exposed as the steel framing and building services are expressed, to clearly show the inner workings of the school. The structural frame will provide a seamless connection to the interior elements of the buildings with the use of steel for the balustrading, stairs and cladding.

The precinct as a whole has been designed to harness local industry involvement across all trades with a strong collaboration with the local community to supply construction labour.

Flood treatment for extreme weather events

During the design process, Aurecon identified that the school site would be subject to significant flooding during extreme weather.

To mitigate the possibility of flooding, the floors were set above flood levels with an elegant ground swale to transport overflow water safely around the school and into the city’s stormwater network.

With the swale design as a gentle depression in the earth, weaving past the buildings, it can be utilised by the school and community under normal weather conditions as an extension of the general landscaping.

Design for flexibility in education

The sustainable design will mirror Whyalla’s unique environment and complement the city’s natural landscape.

A key aspect of the school pedagogy was the desire to create connectivity between the indoor and outdoor learning and social spaces.

The internal learning commons have been compactly planned around a central courtyard to create a visually stimulating learning environment, strongly connected to the natural outdoors. At the higher levels, externally-suspended plazas are provided for indoor-outdoor learning opportunities with the ability to connect directly to the internal learning spaces.

With the use of computational fluid dynamics modelling, Aurecon’s building services engineers analysed the saw tooth roof that covers the open areas. The modelling ensured that the roof design would be effective in maintaining access and comfort under wind-driven rainstorms, while still maintaining large open areas for natural ventilation during regular weather conditions. Staff and students alike will be able to enjoy the indoor and outdoor linkages for learning in all types of Whyalla weather conditions.

Across all roofs for the new school, the structural design also allows for flexibility of use in the future. For example, it will allow for the installation of solar photovoltaic panels to all roofs as demand grows from the original installation.

Located between the local University of South Australia and TAFE SA campuses, the new Whyalla Secondary School will cater for 1500 students from Years 7 to 12. The new school has been designed to reflect contemporary education environments and will focus on supporting future skills needs that lead to jobs. These buildings will integrate with the history and traditions of the existing high schools while creating its own sense of identity with local steel and connection to the natural environmental surrounds.

The new school is expected to be completed for the first students to commence in 2022.

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