Ysgol y Graig Primary School - Highly Commended Project of the Year 2023 

Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council

Highly Commended Project of the Year 2023
Project Overview

MCBC approached BGCBC to design a new 240 place Primary school in Cefn Coed in 2016.
Planning was submitted in August 2018 and Stage 3 design was completed in August 2018.
The project was tendered in September 2018 as a 2 stage D&B contract. Kier were appointed and after a
lengthy design development period, construction started in March 2019.

The construction programme was significantly affected by Covid and site conditions, and the project
completion was delayed by 29 weeks.

The building was completed in November 2021with the parking and pitch construction completion following
in February 2022

Project Name Ysgol y Graig Primary School
Project Location Pontycapel Road, Cefn Coed y Cymmer, Merthyr Tydfil
Project Start Date 2 December 2019
Practical Completion 15 February 2022
Project Value £7,360,000.00
QS/Cost Consultant Lee Richards
Structural Engineer CB3
Electrical/Mechanical Engineer Wayne Curtis SABA
Contractor Kier
Building Control MTCBC LABC
Architect Jim Allen BGCBC, ASL
Engineer Wayne Curtic

The site, located north of Pontycapel Road was the site of the former Vaynor & Penderyn Secondary school.

For a new primary school there were major problems including site area approximately 25% below the BB99 recommendations, a 4.5m change in level and an irregular shape with severely constrained site access for modern vehicles.

Early stage assistance was sought from Cardiff University School of Architecture (CRiBE) for the building zoning and orientation.

Because of the severity of the site constraints, alternative site options were tested and a nearby alternative site Godre’e Coed Fields, flat and sufficiently larger and with easy construction access was identified 100m to the south. Used by the community as a rugby practice field, an option was developed featuring an allweather pitch for community use after hours.

There was significant opposition by some of the community and an engagement programme was arranged. Following several public meetings, MTCBC Council determined the site in January 2018.

The topographical and access constraints set the location adjacent to Pontycapel Road with service access from Station Terrace. Site levels (ground floor in particular) were critical to ensure acceptable gradients for service vehicles and pedestrians at opposite sides of the building.

Pitches and parking areas were located on unused land adjacent to Godre’r Coed.

Staff and visitors were to enter from the south, with the major difference in site levels taken up by public
realm frontage consisting of a sequence of ramps and accompanying stair.

It was vital that the change in level be designed as an attractive public realm element.
To minimise the impact from street level, detailing was kept simple using simplicity and subtle materiality
with extensive use of landscaping to soften the overall appearance.

The original 3m high natural stone retaining wall to Pontycapel Road was in a poor state of repair and
although visually forbidding, Planning wanted it retained.

It was agreed that the corner portion be integrated into the final design but reconstructed in local natural
stone and reduced in height.

Representing a heavy contrast to the proposed buff brick, a buff brindle alternative was selected which
introduced some of the colour elements into the façade material.

Service and disabled visitor access were from the narrow Station Terrace to the north.

Locating the building as close to Pontycapel Road as possible and keeping the form compact allowed the
site area to be maximised for play areas.

Although transporting pupils around 100m off site is undesirable and poses safeguarding challenges, it was
agreed with the school and was the only feasible solution to the shortfall in site area.

The envelope was designed to be zero maintenance for the life of the building with robust durable materials
with excellent longevity selected.

The design to maximised natural light and ventilation while reducing overheating. The windows have both
fixed and openable louvres and employ ‘breathing buildings’ mechanical ventilation units.

Originally designed to use locally-sourced Durisol ICF blocks made from recycled materials, the difficulties
with complying with disproportionate collapse requirements introduced significant additional costs and was
substituted for SFS.

The limits on room depths for single sided natural ventilation, and requirement for natural lighting to all
teaching areas, created a form where classrooms were wrapped around a central atrium with a lantern
providing top light.

Communal areas have exposed soffits with acoustic rafts to maximise room heights for natural ventilation.

The atrium provided an additional benefit of generous shared breakout spaces for staff and pupils.

Large areas of internal glazing between teaching areas and other habitable ancillary spaces are a specific
feature of the design and work with the atrium to create an open and airy environment.

The atrium walls are punctuated by windows into stair lobbies, which along with the glazed balustrade
enhance the atmosphere of lightness and openness.
Main pupil toilets are open plan and accessed directly off corridors with no physical barriers.

The final design was developed following extensive discussion with the school and client team.

Cloakrooms are typically problematic in primary schools and the constraints on both building and site area
caused them to be located in circulation spaces. A design was arrived at where these were treated as ‘pods’
on the classroom walls. This has proved to be very successful, although additional hooks would be

Late in the design process, requirements were introduced to provide a dedicated community room, secure
ALN base and external childcare facility. This introduced numerous challenges, but functional solutions were

Externally the building makes use of a limited palette of tonally-compatible materials for the walls, and a
contrasting charcoal colour for the windows and flashings.