Burgschule Nieder-Olm: redesigned schoolyard with play castle and other great playground equipment
By Verena Dörhöfer (Büro Dörhöfer & Partner) and Ulrike Gebauer (SIK-Holz)
How did the Burgschule (Castle School) get its name, although there is no castle anywhere in sight? This question was raised by landscape architect Verena Dörhöfer when she was awarded the planning contract for the redesign of the primary school’s schoolyard. After some research, she found out that there was indeed a castle on this very spot. At the beginning of the 13th century, the “Laurenziburg” was built on this spot. At first, it was used to defend and control the Mainz-Palatinate border, it demonstrated the power of the Electorate of Mainz and was of administrative significance.
The castle originally consisted of a four-towered fort surrounded by a rampart and a moat, which could be accessed via a drawbridge. Following armed conflicts in the 14th century, the complex was expanded and fortified, and in the 16th century it finally became a noble residence. War, plague, famine and lack of financial means left their marks. However, there were also periods of peace and prosperity.
At the beginning of the 19th century, part of the castle fell victim to Napoleon’s road construction plans, which provided for a direct link between Mainz and Paris. The remaining parts of the building were in fact transformed into a school back then. It was not until 1957 that they, too, were demolished to make way for the new building of the Burgschule in its present form. Unfortunately, the spirit of the times did not allow the historic fabric to be preserved. The result was a school building that was typical of the 1950s/60s, with a neatly laid out schoolyard comprising tarred and paved areas and neatly planted trees. Later on, some playground equipment was added.
In the first half of 2018, the preparations and planning for a fundamental redevelopment of the schoolyard began. In connection with the redesign of the schoolyard, new play opportunities for the more than 400 children of the Nieder-Olm primary school were to be created. The concept was developed in close cooperation with the children, their parents, the parents’ council and the teaching staff. A few pieces of play equipment, such as a spacenet, horizontal bars and the table tennis table were to be reused; the trees and the circular seats were to be preserved. However, many more climbing and balancing elements, a large slide, a trampoline, more horizontal bars, recreation and retreat areas, but also a lot of space for free, unstructured play were on the wish list.
Adventure/ activity area
The planner incorporated the idea of the four-towered castle with a rampart, moat and drawbridge into her concept. The design was to use a combination of robinia wood and brickwork. Verena Dörhöfer was able to win over SIK-Holzgestaltungs GmbH. Specialist consultant Ulrike Gebauer was enthusiastic about the idea and successfully implemented it together with the in-house design team. The compact play castle stands on four concrete corners, which are clad with quarry stone masonry. A circular wall walk with battlements between the towers offers splendid views in all directions. Hideouts, various ascents and descents, a rope maze, a large net to sit or lie on in the middle and a large curved slide offer a high play value. Here you can reinforce your skills, build muscle strength, improve your motor skills and coordination, support one another by teamwork and give free rein to your imagination in role play. Two diagonal ropes were used to indicate the drawbridge; the rampart and moat can be made out in the coloured EPDM surfacing all around. The trampoline is integrated into the surfacing.
The second island with synthetic safety surfacing under trees.forms another area designated for play, physical activity and coordination. In addition to the reinstalled spacenet, a balance course and numerous boulders offer the opportunity to try out your skills, but also offer scope for social interaction and retreat.
Large open spaces were deliberately planned to provide scope for various ball games. As is well known, it is especially important in everyday school life to be able to let off steam, to assert yourself in a group and to play by the rules. In addition, the table tennis table and mobile playground equipment are also available here.
Areas designated for social interaction
Coloured seat pedestals under the trees, sitting stones and the circular seats invite users to meet, talk and exchange ideas. At the same time, they are used in conjunction with the open spaces as a setting for school events and performances.
A somewhat separated part of the schoolyard also serves as a retreat. Here is room for creative play without structural specifications, such as drawn hopscotch courts.
Area close to nature (optional)
Separated by a small gate, the area designated for experiential, nature-based education is located on a lower level. In the coming year, a school garden is to be designed here, in which the children can connect with nature in community with others, learn about planting and gardening, learn to focus and recognize interrelationships. Up to now, seating blocks and a lounging net have served as additional retreats.
On April 13, 2019, the redesigned schoolyard was officially opened, of course with a medieval festival. Custom-designed coats of arms and a “castle song” written and composed specifically for that purpose were presented, medieval tournaments, bookbinding, writing with quills, making musical instruments, medieval board games and games of chance, various handiworks as well as exhibitions presenting “arts and crafts”, “castle construction”, coats of arms, shields, paintings and window paintings provided a wide variety of entertainment options. Of course, culinary delights were not missing, and neither were music and dance performances as well as storytelling.
“The new outdoor area has already stood the test of time. Since its completion in autumn 2018, the area for playing and lingering has been very well received,” said Edgar Jäckle, headmaster of the school, at the opening ceremony.
Stephanie Heieck, a senior government official of the Neustadt Arbeit- und Dienstleistungsdirektion[KH1] (ADD) stressed in her welcoming speech that “learning and playing are closely interrelated” and that “many important skills are acquired through community and physical activity”. Stephanie Heieck said that 70 per cent of primary school children today did not get the required 60 minutes of physical activity; so such a well-structured outdoor area would be ideal.
Client: Verbandsgemeinde Nieder-Olm Overall construction costs: approx. 275,000 € Construction period: June-October 2018
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