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Build of Cregan House

The Plans

Sep 1, 1954
Build of Cregan House - KnockUnion.ie

THE extension of the College Buildings is a project which has long occupied the mind of the Castleknock community and has been a source of interested enquiry from pastmen and friends of the College. This is only natural, since—apart from the main toilet annexe erected in the year 1929—there has been no major addition to the college buildings for over half a century. That this is so is due mainly to the fact that throughout the nineteenth century our predecessors built with such enterprise and vision that they left us with a material fabric which could bear comparison with any similar establishment in these islands.

Indeed we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to those confreres of old. Whatever they built, they built well. The erection of the college chapel, the magnificent corridors, the boys' refectory, the study hall—all beautifully proportioned and lovingly embellished—has placed us forever in their debt. The College of course owes much to a gracious setting and a mellow landscape. But the same solicitude and care which the founders gave to the interior of the building they also bestowed on the planning of the grounds. I think I am right in saying that Castleknock was the first institution of its kind to possess a swimming bath, while the laying out of the crease, the building of the cricket pavilion and other amenities showed those pioneers to have been far in advance of their times. (Nor may we forget our more recent predecessors who, among other benefits conferred on the College, gave to the property so fitting an entrance in the much admired lodge and entrance gates. They were indeed giants in those days.

Over half a century has elapsed since those spacious days and however well our main purposes are still served by the college buildings we have long been conscious that modern educational requirements make the erection of a new building highly desirable. But we have had to wait, for a period of two world wars and their aftermath was scarcely a propitious time to embark on an ambitious building programme. We feel however that the time has now come to take our courage in our hands and I am therefore happy to say that plans for a new building have been drawn up by the College architects, Messrs. Downes and Meehan, whose senior partner is our distinguished pastman, Mr. Joseph Downes. As I write the quantities are being taken out by another pastman, Mr. Gabriel Cleere, and it is hoped that the actual building will commence about mid-September.

To erect a new school is a comparatively simple matter ; to build on to or beside an existing building is a very different proposition. Many problems at once present themselves. What is the new building to contain ? Where is it to be sited in relation to the old ? Should one continue "the building in the same style as the existing one or strike out in a contemporary style ? What reorganization is necessary in the old building ? Let me attempt to answer these questions, and in that order.

WHAT IS THE NEW BUILDING TO CONTAIN ?

The most obvious need of the College is the erection of a set of new class-halls, lighted, heated and equipped according to the best modern standards. For many years the number of class-halls was insufficient making it necessary to conduct class in the boys' library and playhalls. A number of the old class-halls were spacious and airv, but others were inadequate to their purpose. Furthermore they were scattered over the entire building : perhaps only a former Prefect of Studies can appreciate the difficulty of making his presence effectively felt in class-rooms as far apart as, for instance, the ' lower catacombs ' and the drawing hall, or Number II (next the boys' library) and Number 2 (beside the Sister's shop). Haud inexpertus loquor ! Into the new building must therefore go, as a first claim, an entire series of class-halls, including Science halls, and with them to round off the school unit, a new Prefect of Studies office and a new Professors' room.

If the reader will glance at the accompanying plans he will see how the class-halls have been arranged.

The ground-floor will contain seven class-halls, a Physics-hall with a Chemistry hall en suite. The first floor will provide another eight class-halls (making fifteen class-halls in all) with the Prefect of Studies office, an adjoining book-store and a Professors' room. Thirteen of these class-halls are designed to hold twenty boys in separate desks, one to hold twentv-five, and another to hold the much larger number of final year boys who come together for the President's Christian Doctrine Class.

Since the war years the numbers seeking admission to the College have been so large that we have been forced to invade the Priests' part of the building to provide dormitory accommodation for a number of boys. These extra boys will now be catered for in the top floor of the new building which will also contain two priests' rooms. We intend in the new dormitories to provide running water and indeed in due course to extend this amenity to the old house. In a building which will contain all class-halls and some sleeping accommodation it is necessary to provide lavatories, showers, etc. and these facilities will be laid out on each floor. Though we continue to be booked out two to three years ahead we do not intend further to increase our numbers as we are anxious to limit our acceptances to the number to which we feel we can give individual attention.

I think that our architects have given us an economically planned building which can be very efficiently run and I should like to take this opportunity of thanking Mr. Harry S. Robson, in particular, for the skilful and courteous attention he has given to our problems.

THE SITE OF THE NEW BUILDING

This was quite a problem and occupied our thoughts for many months. Indeed there were times when the writer felt that no matter where the building was sited it would be in the wrong place ! There was the peculiar difficulty that the College stands between two historic hills making further extension in the same line almost impossible. To build at the back of the College was not feasible, since the southern facade of the new building would face into the back of the old one thus depriving the class-halls of sun and light. After much searching of heart it was finally decided, with the concurrence of our architects, to build on the site of the existing swimming-bath. This must seem a drastic step but it possesses many advantages. It gives us a southern aspect ; it is fairly level ground and requires the least possible excavation ; it is very convenient to the playing grounds ; it will make the chapel a central feature of the back facade and also centralize the front entrance.

It may be asked why destroy the existing swimming bath ? Surely it could be incorporated into the new building ? The answer is simply that we have been advised that it would cost as much to retain and build round the bath as it would be build a new bath elsewhere, since the incorporation would involve a straggling irregular building costing far more than a compact one. Better, we think, to have a workmanlike building with a new bath than a less compact one with an old bath. We were furthermore influenced by the fact that, in our view, the existing bath was not suitably placed since it was too near the main entrance. This indeed seems to have been tacitly acknowledged since a shrubbery was planted to conceal it from the front.

Our readers however will be glad to be reassured that we propose to erect a new swimming pool near the cricket pavilion and preparations for this project will be commenced without delay. The new building is intended as a separate unit. This obviated the necessity of matching the scale of the old building which would have raised the cost enormously. Apart from the saving of expense a separate school unit has much to commend it. Indeed many of the leading public-schools across the water provided class-hall facilities in a separate building. The idea of containing school work within a modern efficient block and returning to the older college building for meals, recreation, prayer and bed is one which is not without appeal. And the building is so sited that it can later be joined, if desired, with the old. It can, in fact, be joined by a projecting block, to correspond with the Drawing Hall wing, which would give a symmetrical frontage to the College.

SHOULD THE NEW BUILDING BE IN THE SAME STYLE AS THE EXISTING ONE ?

There has been a great deal of research into the planning of schools in recent years. Standards have been formulated, and generally accepted, in such matters as numbers of pupils per class-room, space per pupil, heating, ventilation, artificial and natural lighting and the general layout of class-rooms in relation to corridors, stairs and ancillary rooms.

Not unnaturally these developments are reflected in the external appearances of new schools and the result in most cases is a type of building in many ways different from what was built, say, fifty years ago and usually quite different from any of the converted buildings of the period.

With considerations of this sort in mind the decision to build a block of class-rooms in close proximity to the oldest part of the College buildings presented a problem of harmonising old and new.

The question of building materials fortunately did not affect the issue. This is not to say that the new building will not be of different construction. It will in fact be largely of reinforced concrete for reasons of fire safety and for other reasons, but this will not affect the external appearance which in surface texture will be somewhat similar to that of the old buildings. The fenestration, that is to say the levels, spacing and dimensions of the windows, was another matter.

The spacing and size of class-room windows is one of the distinctive features of the modern school. This is not primarily a matter of appearance. It is the amount of light admitted to the pupils desk that matters. Secondly the heights of the windows one above the other, are governed by the ceiling heights and these, for reasons of economy, are nearly always less than we find in nineteenth century buildings such as the present College. Both of these requirements might have presented a difficulty if it had been decided to attach the new building to the old one, particularly at the south-east corner. The decision to detach the two appears to have solved the problem.

The new block will contain all the class-rooms in the College. To that extent it will be a distinct unit and to that extent it will be justified in having a somewhat different architectural character. On the other hand, being part of the College as a whole, some degree of harmony is called for and this it is proposed to achieve by the use of windows individually similar to those in the old building, by a similar roof treatment and by the use of plaster and stone for the externals walls.

HOW IS THE OLD BUILDING TO BE REORGANIZED ?

The new wing of course will contain all the class-halls necessary. Hence the old class-halls will find a new use. In recent years extra curricular activities have greatly multiplied—debating societies, music and gramophone societies, hobbies clubs, arts and crafts have been looking for a home. Most of the old class-rooms will be fitted to house these activities, while the prefects will be given a more commodious common-room. The present science-hall, one of the finest rooms in the house, will be converted into another library or recreation hall. At this stage however there is still a certain fluidity in our schemes of reorganization. One scheme however which we hope to carry through without delay is the conversion of the community dining-room into a refectory for first vear boys. One of the priests will dine with these younger boys and supervise their manners and behaviour. The priests in general, however, must look elsewhere for their meals !

I think it is readily appreciated nowadays that secondary education is not a lucrative employment. Our readers therefore may wonder how the project is to be financed. There are of course no government grants for the building of secondary schools. We therefore find it necessary to meet the entire cost by means of a loan from the bank, to be paid back in respect of capital and interest, over a period of years. In this matter we shall put our trust in Providence ; nor do we lack the confidence that those pastmen and friends of the College, who can afford to do so, will help to lighten our burden. After all is not the College motto " Some put their trust in horses and some in chariots but we call upon the name of the Lord " ?

Nos autem in nomine Domini.

Donal F. Cregan, CM.


The new building was officially opened 24 Oct 1956 and subsequently was named Cregan House in honour of the President who was so instrumental in its build.