The editor of the OnLion news team recently interviewed the Headmaster concerning “The Heart Project”, a programme of new developments to the school due to take place over the next few years.
Editor: Why did you decide to name the new project “The Heart Project”?
Headmaster: The name, The Heart, came out of the initial discussion we had with the architects. I made the point that the school didn’t have a central area or a heart around which all school life could take place. The heart will take the form of an atrium behind what is currently the Red Lion block. The idea is that it will become a place where all the boys can come together and we can connect their academic life with the social activities of the school.
Editor: With regards to the Red Lion block, will the new building replacing it keep that name?
Headmaster: There are various thoughts on that, the Red Lion comes from the crest of William Jones and there are thoughts of calling the new building the William Jones Building to celebrate the man who founded the school. At the moment we don’t really celebrate William Jones, except in the William Jones room which will no longer function the way it currently does because there will a be a similar conference room in the new building which should suit its purpose better.
Editor: And what will happen to the current William Jones room?
Headmaster: The thought at the moment is, and this is a long way down the line, that we will eventually renovate the library and that room will become the new entrance. The overall idea is to move through the entire school updating and improving the facilities we currently have.
Editor: How far do you think this scheme will benefit the lives of the boys?
Headmaster: Hugely. The classrooms will be of a much higher standard and larger. If any of the boys have visited the new Grange building, the classrooms will be of a similar standard to those. The classrooms will also of course be equipped with all the best equipment, and will maintain a pleasant temperature in all weathers. We wish to maintain the look of the heritage buildings so the new building will have what appear to be chimneys but are in fact heating and ventilation ducts. This all helps to maintain an ambient temperature much as is the case in the Grange which was, of course, designed by the same architects.
Editor: With regard to the classrooms, will they still be History and English as they are in the Red Lion block?
Headmaster: The current thinking is that they will be History, English and Maths. Maths at the moment is very spread out and this will bring the department together in one place. The areas which were Maths will then be available to other departments which are short of space. We have one or two candidates for those classrooms but that’s still under discussion.
Editor: So we’ve established that the aim of the scheme is to create a centre to the school. Why do you think that’s important?
Headmaster: I think it pulls the community together and I think people benefit from social activities. I also think that the lunch-time experience will be more leisurely and perhaps a bit more civilised than it is at the moment. For example, boys will be able to come out of lunch and have a coffee in a more relaxed environment. I think it’s important to have a community and for boys to be together and make friends in that community environment, for there to be what is, in a way, the pulsing heart of the school.
Editor: You mentioned lunch, at the moment the general opinion is the canteen at HMSG is slightly superior to ours. Do you think we will outdo them once the project is complete?
Headmaster: Well, the new lunch hall will be a superb building and a completely different lunchtime experience. However, that won’t be happening for a while so there are plans for an interim refurbishment to the dining hall before then. That won’t be a big renovation though, considering that we will be replacing the building a few years later.
Editor: Moving onto the boarding house, what do you think are the benefits of the 6.2 boarders having their own space?
Headmaster: We’re looking to produce a kind of pre-university atmosphere so the boys can get a sense of what university life is like, a bit like a hall of residence. We can operate that house in a slightly different way than we would a house with younger boys in. We do want the boys to stay loyal to their old houses so there will be a connection to those houses still, but we’ll also allow the boys to be more involved in decision making within the house. At that age the upper 6th should be the most mature members of the school so we should be able to treat them as such.
Editor: And will boys from the day houses be able to visit their friends in the new boarding house?
Headmaster: That’s something that we’re going to have to discuss, but one of the benefits of the new boarding house is that it will be right next to the 6th form day house. There will be a sense of continuity, where the day and boarding houses will be adjacent to each other, but I think whether day boys will be allowed to visit the house will have to be decided by the housemasters and tutors. Of course at that stage the focus should be on academic study and the fact that they have their own house will support that; there will be resident tutors in the house to help the boys with things like UCAS applications and so on. We also think there will be an opportunity for day boys who’ve never boarded before to get a sense of what it’s like to do so before going to university.
Editor: Are you worried that the developments will disrupt school life when they’re taking place?
Headmaster: Well, as they say you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs but the idea of performing the developments in phasing means that the disruption will be kept to a minimum. There will also be some very good temporary classrooms for any subjects that are temporarily without a department. If we then carry the project straight on, other departments can then move into the same temporary classrooms. At some point we’ll have to have a temporary dining hall as well. However we will work as hard as possible to minimise any disruption.
Editor: It seems as if you will eventually be remodelling almost the entire school so I suppose my final question is, is it more important to modernise or should we try to maintain heritage within the school?
Headmaster: We won’t be touching any of the original heritage buildings and the new Red Lion block will look as much as possible like one of the other heritage buildings. The last big development to the school which produced those buildings was in 1864 and they haven’t been touched since then which will of course remain the same. If all phases of the project take place then this will be almost as big a development for the school as that. We think that now is the time to make a development as significant as that: we are after all, at the beginning of the 21st century and also will soon be celebrating 400 years as a school in 2014.
Editor: So we’re able to modernise the facilities of the school while still retaining its heritage, in a sense the best of both worlds?
Headmaster: Exactly and the wonderful thing about Monmouth School is that it’s been here for nearly 400 years doing an excellent job and I think the old buildings symbolise that, whilst the new buildings will continue to develop the reputation of the school and make a superb environment for boys to live and study in for many years to come.
Editor: And what a good a note that is on which to end this interview. Thank you very much.