The tour was led however by Saad Sharhan, COO of Praxis, the company that owns the Arbor School. As we entered through the side entrance on the right we could immediately see the L-shaped main building. After a quick safety briefing, we were told we were currently standing on what would soon be a football field. To our left would be three temperature controlled bio domes.
Noticing our immediate disappointment of not seeing any of the bio domes under construction, Saad informed us that they arrive much later on, at the end of school's construction.
“The last thing on the construction site will be the bio domes as the structure comes to us. It’s a quick process to assemble them and we’ll have them ready in no time.”
Saad led us in the school through an FS classroom, which has a rather unique ceiling. The shape of the ceiling looks like that of a hut. It is not flat, not square or rectangle.
“We wanted to give the classrooms a cozier feeling, and the unique ceiling helps us achieve that. There will be thermal insulation in the building as well,” explained Saad.
The school aims to embed eco-literacy, sustainability and environmental justice into its curriculum, and the building is clearly meant to do align with and give justice to that ethos. According to the Founding Principal Charles Grayhurst:
“We are making every effort to ensure that our goals and values are reflected in the physical structures and operations of our buildings. Our building is being built to the exacting standards of LEED Gold Certification, and daily operations are managed using ethical practices through resource utilisation and respective ecological footprint.”
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a rating system devised by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) to evaluate the environmental performance of a structure.
The breakouts area of the FS classes will be in a corridor that will have LED screens, which will be used in conjunction with the tablets that each child will have.
The ventilation system within the school building is insulated with a UV filtration system helping to eliminate germs.
The school structure says it will “exceed overall regional green building standards by 20%”.
Saad and Charles then led us to the FS indoor play area. While the area looks very much like a blank canvass currently, once built it will be a wet, very tactile area. Explained Charles:
“The FS1 area will have both water and sand. There will be a water feature where we will have an actual dhowto help the children understand their environment, as well as the country they live in."
Our tour through Arbor, unfortunately not on the dhow, then moved on to the main entrance of the school, where there will be boardrooms, the principal’s office, admissions, accounts and other management and admin rooms. More importantly for parents, behind the reception area, will be an atria, which will house the zen garden and a parents café.
There are two atrias in the school building both of which will house learning gardens. The second garden will be near the cafeteria and open to the sky.
The café atrium also leads onto a simple amphitheater.
“We want lunch breaks to be long as we feel that time to eat is also time to be social and mindful. While we’ll have different timings for different classes using the café once a week, we also aim to have all children eating together,” said Charles.
The final design of the building took a long time as it involved not just the architects but the owners, educators, psychologists and other design experts...
“One of the outcomes of this is that our design philosophy is modular and based on flexibility. This allows us to add areas as when there is a requirement for them,” explained Saad.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com was then led to a black box theatre, which can have smaller performances with a stage in the centre of the room. There is a separate entrance to the larger auditorium, that can seat 300 people.
This is a bright and airy school. Light floods into it and as we went up to the first floor, we saw some of the classes fitted with huge floor-to-ceiling glass windows.
“We chose the glass to have abundant natural light in the classrooms and be close to nature. There has been a day light calculation done in our design to see how much light each student will get and our furniture will be built according to that,” said Saad.
Reflective paints have also been used on the building itself to maximise reflection of the sun.
“Our building design and materials are selected to ensure maximum thermal performance, which stops the absorption and emission of thermal energy. This process thereby decreases the amount of energy required to cool the building; our energy efficiency model, which includes power, heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning is designed for maximum efficiency, and will exceed the Dubai Municipality and TRAKHEES Green requirements,” explained Charles.
From the first floor, we got a view of the sports facilities that will be on offer once the school is ready.
The sports facilities include a FIFA compliant soccer pitch, multi-purpose hall for indoor sports, a variety of outdoor courts and a specially designed swimming pool.
The campus area is 30,000 m2 and apart from the sporting facilities there will be specialized science laboratories, art rooms, an auditorium, libraries, canteen areas, film photography rooms and vocational workshops.
The school claims to offer project-based, experiential and outdoor learning, where “children will plan, collaborate, reflect and make meaningful changes to the world around them in an inclusive and supportive environment”.
“We will also have a scientist and artist in residence programme, who will inspire the whole school community to think and act differently, facilitating their engagement with environmental projects both locally and globally,” said Charles.
The school will provide the English National curriculum and will initially open from FS1 to Year 6. There will be a total 81 classrooms, with maximum class size of 24 students.
The full capacity of the school will be 1600 students and the first student intake goal is between 300 to 350 for the September 2018 opening.
Teacher recruitment has been completed, with about 20 teachers, all coming from the UK.
The school offers a premium fee structure in a location full of families, and more to come with lots of construction next to the school. This will be a community school, even if it attracts students from further afield. Arbor has announced a 50% discount on its fees for the first year and 25% off for the second and third years for founding families.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com greatly enjoyed its tour, and very much liked what it saw. Arbor is a very interesting school, in what will become a very interesting and active area as new, new Dubai grows around it. Few schools can claim the level of all round holistic development Arbor will be able to offer given its bio domes, zen gardens and eco driven curriculum, and we will be watching with considerable interest, not least as those bio domes begin rising...