Learning environments

The principal’s experiences of the new premises in Syvälahti

The first year of the Syvälahti community centre – Principal Jarmo Salo’s experiences

A new kind of community centre was completed in Syvälahti, in Turku’s Hirvensalo area, in summer 2018. The centre contains a school with room for some 800 pupils, a daycare centre for 140 children, a library, a child health centre, and facilities for youth services and school healthcare, all under one roof. The City of Turku wanted to construct a versatile and safe building that would serve its various users as well as possible and offer a modern, healthy and inspiring learning environment. During the past year, more than 100 groups from Finland and abroad have visited Syvälahti.

At its inauguration, Syvälahti was not just a new building. It also introduced a new approach and new people. We interviewed Principal Jarmo Salo at the beginning of the new school year.
What was the first year like in the new premises?
It went surprisingly well – the mood was clearly positive. There is always room for improvement, however, no matter how good the planning is. We had certain ideas about how things would go. When we noticed that something was not working, we made the necessary changes.

How did the teachers and pupils welcome the new premises?
The pupils have mostly welcomed the new environment. An open learning environment is always based on trust, and you have to earn trust. It always takes a little time before agreement can be reached on common rules and before they are fine-tuned and people have learned to follow them. This is a major educational task for us. People make this work. Martela organised a workshop for the staff where we worked on common rules and brainstormed different versatile ways to use the facilities.

Feedback from adult users also indicated that the planning has been successful. Several surveys and performance reviews have been conducted to measure satisfaction and the functionality of the premises. In the spring, the staff gave the premises and planning a grade of 8.4, which is very good! You can also keep an eye on people to see what mood they are in when they come to work. They have come in smiling! Nobody has looked for another position since the new premises were inaugurated. Quite the opposite: people want to come here.

Can you name some successes?
The fact that the facilities encourage collaboration has been a huge success for us. Syvälahti has no conventional classrooms. Instead, it has sections that are arranged around common areas. Both pupils and teachers have to get accustomed to the new type of space. Success and working together have created confidence in this format.

What about the challenges?
The initial pupil numbers for the space were different than expected but the situation was addressed. When we started, we had 590 pupils – now there are 660. Because not all the learning environments have desks and chairs, we had to adjust the allocation of furniture. The furniture solutions were successful but learning ergonomic postures, such as standing while working, takes some time. Nevertheless, it’s of crucial importance in the long run.

Are there any particular needs for improvement?
It is obvious that, with experience of use, there will always be room for improvement. In terms of furniture, upholstered chairs in the cafeteria are not something I can recommend.

Users also have personal preferences concerning chair models, for example, and it takes time to get used to new things.

How will you evaluate the functionality and further improvement of the facilities in the future?
We will measure functionality in several ways: Martela’s own survey, the City of Turku’s quality survey for basic education and what we call alliance surveys. We have agreed with Martela on a three-year learning environment service model that enables us to react quickly to changes. Responding to needs and wishes is an important signal to the users. The space has not been equipped for specific user groups but has been equipped to provide services and to be functional.

Watch a video about the Syvälahti community centre.