Morgan Sindall Construction holds topping out ceremony for £12m Orion Academy

Morgan Sindall Construction has hosted a milestone event to celebrate the halfway stage in its work to build the new, £12 million Orion Academy, on the outskirts of Oxford.

Orion Academy is one of six SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) schools in Oxfordshire operated by The Gallery Trust, a special multi-academy trust based in Oxford. Once complete, the new build will deliver 108 school-places for pupils with SEND.

The specially-designed facility, significantly larger than its predecessor, is being built on Knights Road, and will allow the school to increase its intake of pupils, which currently range from ages 10 – 18 as well as increase staffing numbers. The school is being delivered as a tandem build to avoid disruption to pupils’ education, with teaching continuing in the existing building while the new school is constructed on an adjacent plot.

A celebratory topping-out ceremony was held to mark the occasion. Representatives from Oxfordshire County Council were in attendance; the council having previously appointed the main contractor to the project through the Department for Education construction framework.

Also present were representatives from The Gallery Trust, including Jane Horne, Chief Operating Officer; members from the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP); as well as members of the senior leadership team at Orion Academy.

Morgan Sindall Construction representatives escorted the attendees in socially-distanced groups for a tour of the site, followed by speeches from the site team and area director, James York. The event was held in strict compliance with current Covid-19 health and safety guidelines, with all attendees maintaining social distancing and wearing protective PPE.

The first phase of work involves the delivery of the main single-storey 2,700 square metre building, the main frame of which has now been erected. It comprises 14 general classrooms: 12 for pupils aged 10-16 and two for students aged 16-18.

Construction of a space in the middle of the school called The Bridge is also ongoing. This will act as a therapeutic base and social area and can be configured to accommodate both group and individual work.

Specialist rooms for science, art, music and design will also be built, as well as a dedicated space for life skills where pupils can practice domestic tasks to prepare them for independent living beyond school. There will also be a large dining area and separate games hall, with an attached gym.

James York, area director at Morgan Sindall Construction, said: “We are really pleased to have been able to host this topping out ceremony and to celebrate the hard work of our project team and partners.

“Engaging the next generation is a key priority for us and we are working closely with the council, stakeholders and our fantastic supply chain to ensure that pupils and staff are properly supported and feel involved in the project. It’s fantastic to see the new school coming together and we look forward to completing the first phase of work later this autumn.”

Cllr Liz Brighouse, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children, Education and Youth Services, said: “We are really excited to see the Orion Academy project reaching this construction milestone. When completed, the long-awaited academy will help produce huge educational benefits for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. The county council is delivering on its commitment to provide first class education in high-quality classroom environments for all of Oxfordshire’s children.”

Kay Willett,  Chief Executive Officer at The Gallery Trust, said: “The Gallery Trust is delighted with the progress made on this exciting build and thank all those involved, including the project and site teams, for their commitment to providing such a fantastic new school.  The pupils and staff at Orion Academy are thrilled at the prospect of moving to the new building, where they will benefit from an environment offering state of the art facilities and a wide range of activities.”