South Gippsland Specialist School Kitchen Garden

Council of Educational Facilities Planners International (CEFPI) Australasian Region Awards 2010:
Education Initiative / Design Solution for an Innovative Program – Winner

The kitchen garden and sensory garden at the South Gippsland Specialist School is a unique project that evolved from the school’s desire to bring learning outside and to incorporate this aspect into their ‘practical life’ program. The ‘practical life’ program aims to develop independence in students with special needs, by providing hands on experience with caring for and growing an edible garden, harvesting and cooking produce for themselves in a well-appointed commercial kitchen, and then serving and sharing their cooking with each other in a beautiful and social setting.

The holistic approach and inter-connectedness of the program is reflected in the way the garden, alfresco dining area kitchen and service areas have been designed. Through windows, students in the kitchen are reminded of the source of the produce that they are working with. During warm weather, the indoor dining area can be opened up to join the alfresco dining courtyard, blurring the two spaces. Fabric sails provide shading for the courtyard and  large, glazed north facing counterweight doors. Herbs are deliberately grown against north facing walls, so that they release their aromatic oils as the walls heat up in the sun. Sprawling herbs and annuals escape garden beds to soften the edges of walkways and ramps.

The central courtyard has the kitchen garden to the west, and the chicken coop and a young orchard to the east. Water is collected from rooftops and stored in two 22,000 litre tanks and is used to maintain the garden and orchard. All the bathroom and sanitary facilities are serviced by harvested water. All the roof tops face north to maximise the area for photovoltaic collection. This is part of the school’s long-term view to become self-sufficient in energy and water. In line with this goal, all the buildings have been designed to achieve thermal comfort passively. Hence all floors are concrete slabs and additional thermal mass has been provided where possible. Eaves protect northern windows, and high-performance insulation was installed. Cross ventilation is encouraged through careful placement of operable windows at different levels, complemented by an automated night purge system.

It has been a delight to see how well the garden has developed, and to see the students thrive in their new environment. When we have visited the school, we are often reminded that learning takes place in the most unexpected ways, and that learning can happen for the whole community. It is wonderful to see that the framework we have worked so hard to achieve in collaboration with the school, is well structured yet flexible enough to support all kinds of learning.