From our first proposal to the Council in July 2011, to the centre opening it's doors in September 2018, the Ravenscliffe@Spring Hall project was an epic one.
RHS presented the Ravenscliffe@SpringHall proposal to the Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council (CMBC) scrutiny committee in July 2011. The project gained unanimous support from councillors representing all political parties, with an agreement that Ravenscliffe@SpringHall should be treated as a matter of urgency. Subsequently, CMBC committed £1.5m to the project in autumn 2011.
CMBC then commissioned IBI Group, architects who have designed similar projects complete a feasibility study and to see if it was viable to build at the chosen site; after all the great idea was simply just that, until it could be confirmed that Spring Hall was indeed suitable for the development in question.
Returning in November 2013, IBI confirmed that it was entirely plausible to proceed with the development; however they suggested that a building to the specifications required by RHS would cost in the region of £2.4m, which naturally presented a problem; namely a funding gap of £900,000 plus the additional cost of equipping the centre to the highest standards.
With no further capital available from Local Government at that time, the onus to meet this shortfall was left with RHS. With that, RHS wasted no time in beginning a huge fundraising drive in early 2014 with the aim of securing the £900k required. This funding had to be in place by June 2014 in order to proceed with the project.
For a team of school staff who had never undertaken large scale fundraising before, meeting the shortfall in CMBC’s timeframe was a daunting prospect. With the help of Senior Executives from Lloyds Banking Group, RHS developed a strategy taking on three different approaches; community fundraising, grant applications and making savings closer to home.
It became quickly apparent that the community would play a vital role if RHS were to succeed in its ambitious plans. The School launched Buy-a-Brick, Cornerstone and Keystone Funding schemes and large-scale community events were organised to raise the profile of the project and generate much needed funds. These were held every few months, and included a Dress Down for £1 event, which raised £15,000 and included 42 Calderdale schools, and a Spring Ball which raised £9000. This approach also enhanced that of the countless individuals who took and continue to take part in sponsored events and have made personal donations since the project was first launched.
A second approach was to make grant applications to large national charities and organisations. RHS was always aware that this was likely the best way to attract large amounts of funding within the strict time frame. By June 2014, this team had attracted an astonishing £293,382 in grant funding.
Fundamentally, the Spring Hall Project was our idea. The Council's contribution started the ball rolling; however we were aware that if we were to make our dream a reality, we would have to contribute ourselves, particularly as the national issue of austerity in public services became prevalent. This had been apparent for a number of years, and thus RHS, through prudent spending, was able to commit £400,000 towards the project accrued over the last few years.
As D-Day loomed CMBC, in recognition of our tireless efforts, agreed to commit an additional £100k from local government reserves. In just 8 months, with the invaluable help of CMBC, grant making organisations and many hundreds of people across the country, RHS had raised an astonishing £900,000 to move one step closer to making the Spring Hall dream a reality.
Unfortunately, just when we thought the project was gathering momentum, RHS was hit with significant legal and logistical problems resulting in long delays outside of its control. This also coincided with pressures on the CMBC legal department from other areas of local government. As a result, despite the best efforts of both RHS and CMBC, it wasn’t until September 2015 that these issues were fully resolved and the project was ready to proceed to the next stage.
In October 2015, a planning application was ready to be submitted with a projected “Spade in the Ground” in Spring 2016. Following a meeting to finalise the costings and designs for the project, it was a significant blow to learn that the revised build would now cost £2,633,000, a full £233k more than budgeted for. This increase was mainly due to inflation and the increased cost of raw materials over the intervening two years. Having battled to reach £2.4m, RHS was left in the position where it simply had no more money to contribute, and would not be able to generate the required £233k shortfall in the short term having exhausted all its reserves. Moreover, the project could not proceed to a full planning application until this shortfall could be met.
RHS was left with no choice but to re-engage local and national government in order to agree a solution to this funding crisis. After speaking to CMBC, RHS was offered and subsequently negotiated a provisional prudential loan, at a preferential interest rate, in order to meet the shortfall, repayable over 10 years. This is a fall back position, and would only be taken if required. It did however allow the project to proceed to a planning application. At the same time, due to an increase in projected numbers in September 2016 and a subsequent increase in statutory funding that RHS were in a position in January 2016 to commit a further £100k to the project.
In January 2016, RHS received final costings for the project at £2,721,000 representing a further increase of £88,000, comprised mainly of contingency for the build itself. To prevent further delay, RHS Governors approved an increase in the provisional loan agreement (with hope that the contingency wouldn’t needed) and a planning application was submitted for approval on February 2nd 2016.
A decision was expected on May 11th 2016, however in the weeks leading up to that point concerns were raised about the design of the western elevation of the building, mainly focussed around the arrangement of windows. Our architects were asked to re-draft the plans, and re-submit them for approval. We received word on 29th January that the planning application had been successful.
Throughout Autumn 2017, RHS and CMBC worked hard to agree a final project budget prior to the development being advertised for tender. Again, due to inflation and materials increasing in price, the total cost of the project rose again. This prompted further value engineering to bring the project back in line with budget.
An initial tender date was set for January 2nd 2017, however in the days leading up to this it became apparant that there were some concerns over the nature of the soil that would need to be excavated. If contaminated, this would have seen an increase of £80,000. Fortunately, the soil tests showed that the ground was inert, and the project was advertised for tender on February 2nd 2017.
ESH Construction were appointed as contractors following the tender process, and works began on site on July 3rd 2017. The projected build period was 39 weeks, with handover scheduled for April 2018. Works proceeded in earnest until inclement weather put a halt the proceedings in February and March of 2018. A combination of the "Beast from the East" and a structural change to the courtyard balustrade pushed the completion date back into May.
However, further delays pushed practical completion of the project into the summer holidays and with September looming, the School were becoming increasingly nervous that the building would not be ready in time. As contractors worked around the clock, Ravenscliffe was finally given the keys to their new centre in the last week of the summer holidays, welcoming the first cohort of students through the doors just a few days later.