Built in the 1840s, the site of Dixons Sixth Form is a Grade II-listed former mill and coach house currently undergoing refurbishment to create a new sixth form. Most recently used as office accommodation for the NHS, this £13m refurbishment is due to complete in spring 2020. Here, we reveal more about the new life of this heritage building.

Formerly known as Douglas Mill, the mill was most recently used as NHS office accommodation until 2018, when the NHS vacated the building and it was bought by Department for Education (DfE) for Dixons Academies Trust. The DFE’s & Trust’s aim was to create the first sixth form unaffiliated with a school in Bradford; it was decided that Douglas Mill was the ideal building for this, with a capacity of 880 pupils.

Split into two phases, the project will be fully complete in spring 2020. Phase 1 comprised the mill’s basement – reconfigured as a kitchen and breakout space – alongside the ground and first floors of classrooms, library and breakout spaces, with these spaces beginning to operate as planned in September 2019. Phase 2 consists of the mill’s remaining floors, the coach house, and new build sports hall, and will operate as a live site.

The mill itself had been refurbished as recently as 2005 and remained in relatively good condition. Soft demolition was required to all floors, removing existing partitions and internals, and installing necessary infrastructure for the science labs, and replacement of carpets and decoration. Features like kinetic light switches have also been installed. These are programmed to specific rooms and are charged by people walking past and the switching on and off of the light, these switches require no cabling direct to the light. 

There were some structural challenges in the mill; steel had to be installed within the 1m thick external walls for the provision of disproportionate collapse. The building also wasn’t square; all the walls were at slightly different angles, as expected from an 1840s building. The existing walls and vaulted, curved soffits were left on show, providing a unique and vibrant learning space for students.

In contrast to this, the coach house was in an incredibly poor state, and had not been occupied for approximately 20 years. Pigeons had nested inside, there were structural issues, and a new roof was required and was repaired using reclaimed slate where possible, and matching slates sourced from three separate suppliers. New floors, partition walls, and shower facilities were also added to provide sports building with changing areas and offices. A new sports hall was built in the existing car park, with a steel frame and traditional stonework to match the mill and coach house.

A mine shaft was discovered underneath the planned location of the sports hall, creating another challenge. The discovery was made during a geophysical survey; drilling and grouting was carried out and the shaft was filled with stone and capped with rebar and concrete to ensure it was safe to build over.

Throughout its duration, the Dixons Sixth Form project has been providing benefits and social value to the local area. In 2019, the site team participated in Open Doors, providing the public with the opportunity to look behind the hoarding and see what building sites are really like, all while learning more about Dixons Sixth Form. Future students of the college have been invited for lessons on site, giving staff and students the chance to see progress at various stages of the project. The site team have also been working closely with Keighley College, working with its construction students via site visits, work experience and on-site shadowing.

The team have also built a bee garden with bee-friendly flowers in hard hat planters around the site compound, and harvest rainwater for cleaning boots. Members of the team have also engaged in career days and mock interviews at schools and universities in the local area to help the next generation into construction.

Dixons Academies Trust are extremely happy with the project to date. Wesley Davies, Associate Executive Principal at the Trust, said: "The work has been completed to a high standard with full client engagement along the journey…Douglas Mill has been transformed into a modern learning space whilst maintaining many original features and full respect paid to its Grade II-listed status. Finally, Kier staff have delivered on time and have been a pleasure to work with, and I look forward to seeing the final phase handed over in March."

Kirsty Dwyer, Operations Manager for Dixons Sixth Form, said: "Since first working with Kier, I have always had the utmost respect and confidence in everything we discussed and the outcomes. As we have taken partial occupancy of the building, I have found all your staff to be courteous, respectful to their surroundings, and very knowledgeable and attentive when asked for help or advice…Our taking ownership of our part of the building has been made so much easier with your continued assistance and help."

Early partial possession of Douglas Mill has been achieved following lean planning throughout the project with all contractors and the trust, this now means the Trust has early access to the lecture theatre and further classroom facilities allowing it to forward plan for the coming terms and new school year and also invite future pupil/parents to see the new teaching environment prior to committing to next year’s courses.

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