Headmistress Samantha Price formally began the demolition of the existing hall, signalling the start of the most ambitious construction project in the school’s 96-year history.
Benenden has outgrown the current hall, which was built in 1938 when the school comprised 200 pupils. Benenden now numbers 550 girls, with 300 staff. It will be replaced by a spectacular new school hall and state-of-the-art music school.
The project is scheduled to be completed in late 2020 and is the flagship investment of the school’s Centenary Vision, a programme of enhancements to Benenden’s curriculum and facilities ahead of its centenary in 2023.
Ms Price said: “Today marks a significant day in Benenden’s history. The hall and music school are at the very heart of school life and this redevelopment will dramatically enhance the experience of each and every Benenden girl for generations to come.
“We are equally pleased that, through our multi-purpose new hall, we will be establishing one of the foremost concert halls in the South East, which will be available for use by the community.”
Benenden’s head girl, 17-year-old Freddie Flintoff, said: “The girls are incredibly excited by the prospect of these new facilities and we are all in the hall every day so it’s a really important space to us.
“The designs for the new building look amazing – it’s just a shame that I’ll have left the school by the time they’re built but I’ll definitely be coming back to see them!”
The demolition of the existing hall and music school buildings is due to be completed during the Easter holidays, with construction work beginning in May. The project has been designed by the multi award-winning Guy Hollaway Architects and the main building contractor is Buxton Building Contractors Ltd, while seven other companies have responsibility for elements of the project.
The project has been funded through sensible borrowing, school reserves and fundraising revenue.
Underpinning the exciting curriculum and co-curricular developments at Benenden, which include the introduction of the Benenden Diploma for Years§ 7 and 8, the Professional Skills Programme for the Sixth Form and a vast expansion of our outdoor education and partnership programmes, a series of capital projects are being undertaken as part of the Centenary Vision.
The first phase of these – the construction of an all-weather pitch and pavilion and eight staff houses – has been delivered and these were opened in September 2016.
The final event in the hall was a whole school service on February 14, the day before the start of half-term. Following a final rendition of the school hymn, all the pupils and staff processed outside to hear the school chaplain bid a final farewell to the building, before two prefects closed the hall doors for the last time.
After the service, many of the girls took the chance to touch the brickwork as a poignant farewell!
The new development will feature:
A new school hall with capacity for 750 people
Retractable seating so that the hall can be used for a variety of events
Bar area and catering facilities
A stunning full-height glass wall in the hall, which makes the most of the building’s position in one of the most beautiful parts of the school site
A recital hall with capacity for 150 people
More than 20 practice rooms and classrooms
A smaller performance room, IT suite and recording and performance booths
The music school will be linked to the school hall by a bridge through a stunning atrium, which will flow into the new courtyard outside