Grace Academy, Darlaston – thermal mass meets sustainable acoustics

Grace Academy, Darlaston, recently completed by main contractor Kier, was recognised recently for achieving excellent acoustic standards, by a group of high profile architects from across England.

The architects visited the Academy to celebrate the successful use of sustainable acoustics within a thermally activated concrete design, which complies with, and in some areas exceeds, BB93, the acoustic design standard for secondary schools. They were also treated to an acoustics presentation in the new lecture theatre by Ben Burgess, from RPS Birmingham, the consultant behind the succesful design.

The acoustic environment in schools can have a significant impact on the ability of students to hear their teachers, understand their lessons, and concentrate properly on their learning.

Shane Cryer, Educational Environments Concept Developer with Ecophon, said that some schools are really not fit for purpose and explained:

“It can be difficult to memorise and focus on lessons if there is even a small echo, or high background noise levels;  this can be a particular problem with concrete structures like Grace Academy’s new building.

“Sustainable acoustic rafts and wall panels have been installed in classrooms, and the entrance atrium, to absorb unwanted noise, creating a calmer learning environment. This high acoustic standard set by Grace Academy Darlaston is likely to assist greatly with an increased attainment level for all pupils.

“Lecture theatres in particular can also have significant acoustic problems, such as flutter echoes, due to high ceilings, with sound bouncing laterally between the walls.  Students may either hear everything twice or experience poor speech intelligibility. However, with the careful positioning of wall absorbers, under the guidance RPS, the acoustics in Grace Academy Darlaston’s lecture theatre are on a par with the best in the country.”


David Shaw, Principal, Grace Academy Darlaston, said:

“We are extremely pleased with our new building which was built for around £1,750 per square meter, compared to the former BSF schools programme average of £2,200 per square meter, without compromising on a high standard of acoustics.”

“This helps to improve the concentration and focus of our students in the Academy, contributing to the whole learning environment. Where the acoustics are good, attainment levels go up and behaviour improves.

“We are also extremely proud of our lecture theatre which has excellent acoustics, and is used every day for college assemblies, special guests, and gives a university feel to our students’ learning.”

Bernard Rose, Design Project Manager, Property Services, Walsall Council, who joined the architects on their visit to the Academy, added:

“I like to think that acoustics across the Academy have set a benchmark for acoustics performance, and could be used as a model for best practice going forward.

“It is interesting that a compliant installation at construction doesn’t necessarily mean that it will perform as the designers & occupants might expect.

“Grace Academy reported the noticeable flutter echo in the lecture theatre (as seen in the above video) that had not previously been highlighted within the measurable criteria under the Building Bulletin.  This has now been significantly reduced after consultation with the project acousticians RPS.”

For further information contact me, Shane Cryer.

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