The earth moves

Every day more trees

For most of 2019 so far, work has been in preparation, assembling the ingredients to build the park, and setting them out ready for artistry and engineering. Many people have thought this simple: flat site, paths, trees, job done. But until the demolitions were complete it was not possible to assess fully the state of the ground across the site, covered for many decades in buildings or tarmac. Immediately, one thing was obvious – the strange smell of gas from the stagnant nature of the ground. Now the buildings have been ground into hard core, the topsoil retained in one corner, and surplus material removed. The aerating worms should be wandering in.

Currently, the main emphasis is on digging the huge drainage system. The site is completely covered in deep, red clay – hence the Figgate Pond and Portobello pottery and brickmaking. The plans approved in early 2018 provide for long ditches along the two lower level sides, to collect water that hasn’t drained into the ground. This week a huge trench has been dug, like some 18th century canal – which will store the water from a once in 200 year storm, holding it back from flooding the area and allowing it to drain down naturally.

The SUDS pond

The Sustainable Urban Drainage System (SUDS) is now a common sight on building sites across the city – surface water is no longer collected by the main drains. It is new but not novel.

Meanwhile, a rumour ran that the Council had resiled from an agreement to build a major installation for advanced skateboard users. The story was that the cost of the drainage works had exceeded the budget and the funds for the skate area were going to take the hit. This led to an on-line petition demanding a return to what had been promised. No public document about this promise has emerged but the Council did declare on 11 February:

“We are going to provide a wheeled area/skatepark in line with the planning permission for the park and the area it covers will not be reduced from original proposals.

“The area will not be a large scale destination skatepark only suitable for older children and others on skateboards.  The largest part of the facility will be an area with some small scale humps and bumps suitable for all ages of children who are able to cycle, scoot, roller skate etc.  We will also provide some elements in one corner of the facility (e.g. ramps and rails) which are more suitable for skateboarding.  

This is absolutely in line with what was proposed and requested during the planning process. “

Clearly, the drainage should take priority as it would be difficult to install that later, whereas the shape of the park facilities will change over its life as tastes change. It looks good so far.

The new path to the north eastern gate

Sun, and the park on a roll

Our photograph today shows the last few chunks of the old building and the new north path to Hamilton Terrace being rolled out. To the right, beyond the path, is the new SUDS pond; the area to the left will be trees, with areas for various activities in small clearings.

St John’s fits the scene.

A wee hill

There is a lot of earth-moving in the Park. Some of it is housekeeping, storing topsoil, creating hard core, digging the SUDS system but some is creating the promised features. Near the path from Hamilton Drive to the rear entrance of St John’s Primary School there was a lot of activity which has now emerged as a new hill, Built with a core of clay, probably from the SUDS pond, it has now been iced over with topsoil and trees planted nearby.

This should be no surprise as it was clearly shown on the approved plans although few of us had done the calculations as to exact height and shape. In fact, for the mathematicians, it looks a bit like a sine curve or possibly a Gaussian distribution – whatever it is, it is evidence that the Council continues to keep its promises. What was in the plans is to be built.

A hill, not too far

Ground, ground

The rubble left from the demolition is now being put through a machine roughly like a combine harvester. A digger, sitting on the top of a pile feeds the hopper, the crusher grinds the material, and it issues up a conveyer belt to make a new, neat mountain of hard core. This has been underway for a week and there may be a few more days of this.

The site is being rearranged, offices moved and trees planted. Mini-hills have been created – the park will not be flat.

Meanwhile, Scottish Gas Networks continue to wrestle with old gas mains and preparations are being made to dig the overflow drain from the SUDS system. This may mean traffic restrictions in Hamilton Drive and Hamilton Terrace in the week beginning 28 January.

Arthur’s Seat looks down on a rubble heap

Trees!

The First Plantation

Suddenly, just 4 weeks since the old building on the site was demolished, a whole new atmosphere exists. From one side there is still the dust bowl as the rubble is sifted, sorted and shifted – with about 400 cubic metres to be retained as hard core for surfaces. The dust is a white-out at times even with heavy water spraying.

Meanwhile, on the west side, trees in some numbers have been planted which will give them a good start for the spring. Behind the trees, the ground is being prepared for more works – some very flat ground, contrasted to grand heaps of rubble.

Shifting Rubble

Tidy, tonnes of it

The pile to the left is the top soil retained from the west side of the site, the rubble to the right is about a quarter of the old building – the rest is away.

The metal in the middle – mystery?

It all begins to look like a Park


There is still rubble on the site of Treverlen Park but at the current rate of working that could be gone by 18 January. Meanwhile, the paths across the park are being marked out and the top soil is spread. So from some angles it really does look like a park.

The next big task is the construction of the drainage channels, called swales in the trade, which will bring the water to a SUDS pond in the corner where the nursery used to be. The pond is expected to be dry most of the time – it is basically a soak away – but will have an overflow to the street drain. The construction of that will mean closing, in whole or part, the corner of Hamilton Drive and Hamilton Terrace to take a pipe round to the main drain in the Drive.

Water management is an issue here as some houses in Hamilton Drive and Hamilton Terrace have had flooding in the past – removing the hard surfacing the park should reduce the flows off the site.

Pathways

The former St John’s building is demolished

The demolition of the old building has been going on for some weeks; the inside was emptied of all wood, floorboards, ceilings, fibreglass insulation, metal.  Like a chrysalis all seemed quiet but much was going on inside.

The soil for the park was moved across the site and formed a new ziggurat in the south playground and others have been built across the site.

On Sunday 16 December it was revealed that a private company, limited by guarantee, had been established on 12 December and had immediately applied to the City of Edinburgh Council to have the school building transferred into its ownership at nil cost, under Part 5 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015.  The Association of the Friends of St John’s wanted the building to use for arts purposes.  On Friday 14 December, the Council refused the application.

It was not clear how this would be resolved.  The Association said it would appeal against the refusal. Its own application reports an estimate that the building would cost £2,345,000 to put into usable condition.  The Association intended to raise this sum from various charitable and philanthropic bodies, although it was not itself a charitable body.

The Asset Transfer Application

Then late morning on 17 December the west wing was attacked by a picker and within minutes the walls fell taking the roof with them.  Work continued to 6pm, under floodlights with the west wing gone completely. The next morning the first bay of 3 windows fell, quite early and at 9.45 the base of the weather vane lurched and fell.  The School Master weathervane had been rescued the previous week.  Midday came and the central block descended.  The building seemed so fragile – indeed, it may be a relief that such an easily-demolished building is no longer in use as a public place.

All but gone

Demolition was completed at 5.00pm on 18 December.

The site being cleared ready to complete Treverlen Park

Last Days of the former St John’s

 

The ground floor windows are out, the ground floor is completely stripped of wood, metal, pipes and wires and the upper floor is well on the way to being ready for the big machines to do their best.  The gym/hall came down in two minutes a couple of weeks ago,  The shell remains surrounded by clear hints of the park to come – mounds of soil moved from further west on the site to enable the park work to proceed.

A building that is 90 years old accumulates history and passion but already the school has grown into its new home and thrives in its new building – new cherry trees in last week.

The old building has done its job and the earth has moved on.

Demos and Demolition

 

The planning application for Treverlen Park was approved on 27 March 2018 – with 37 comments, 2 neutral, 8 objections and 27 supportive. No fuss, just an acceptance that this was the final act in the formal progress to replace Portobello High School.  So it was a surprise when a year after the planning application was published a new campaign was launched to retain the old St John’s building.

The justification was twofold: the surfacing of new information and the need to provide studios, in face of the possible closure of St Margaret’s House.  The new information is the material published on this site showing that old St John’s was the first school built by Edinburgh Education Authority after the Roman Catholic Church ceased be able to provide adequate education for Roman Catholic children from its own resources. UK legislation provided funding for this purpose.

St Margaret’s House has provided studios and other facilities in a large former government office block , run by Edinburgh Palette.  Edinburgh Palette is always on the look out for such premises and is moving into a former Council yard next to Portobello Golf Course as well as other sites across the city.   Planning approvals for St Margaret’s House redevelopment have been in place for over 8 years.

Finally, a respected pillar of Scottish artistic life, Richard Demarco CBE, has supported the stopping of the demolition in order to provide a possible home for his archive.

The City of Edinburgh Council remained committed to replacing the open space used to build  the new Portobello High School, with a new park, in Treverlen.  It refused to halt the demolition.

Meanwhile the first phase of the park is maturing.  The swales (ditches) will catch the water and safely enable it to be re-absorbed by the ground locally.