A room full of three-year-olds can be a colourful, noisy place, but noise levels used to be painfully high for children and teachers at Avalon School in West Kirby, near Liverpool. Even though Avalon’s pre-school room itself was only three years old, its plasterboard walls and ceiling and mainly vinyl flooring did very little to soften noise and reverberation. Teachers sometimes had to step outside to have a conversation.
Avalon School head teacher Joanna Callaway says children’s learning was affected because they couldn’t always hear staff clearly. “Speech and language development could well have been affected, too,” she says. “Children often raised their voices louder as noise levels went higher to make themselves heard and get our staff’s attention. This compounded the problem further.”
Callaway says teachers complained to her about the noise in the room and often suffered headaches. Avalon School’s nursery manager Alison Prandle says teachers’ voices were strained from having to talk loudly enough to be heard.
Fortunately, Autex Acoustics was able to help Avalon School with these issues, after a recommendation by a school parent familiar with the company’s products. In August 2016, Autex Acoustics and acoustic engineering specialists Cundall worked to reduce the pre-school room’s noise problems as a case study. To begin with, Cundall technicians tested the classroom to determine existing noise and reverberation levels.
Autex account manager Vicki Mahoney says the results revealed the untreated room was performing at 1.78 seconds’ reverberation. “This was way out of the BB93 standards required.” The British standard for classrooms is recommended at 0.6 seconds’ reverberation time.
The Autex team worked with Cundall principal acoustics consultant Rob Turner to determine whether Autex Composition® Acoustic Fabric wallcovering or Quietspace® Panels would be most suitable, ultimately choosing Composition® Acoustic Fabric. Applied to the classroom walls, Composition® Acoustic Fabric doubles as a pin board. “It's staple, hook and loop-receptive, so it’s easily utilised as a display board,” Mahoney says.
Mahoney says although Composition® Acoustic Fabric has a lower noise reduction coefficient rating than Class A (NRC1) Quietspace® Panels, Composition® Acoustic Fabric was the ideal product for a classroom, especially a pre-school, as the product is excellent at absorbing frequencies at 1000hz and above, “which is quite possibly the pitches you would get in this classroom”.
Turner calculated that for every 1200mm x 2400mm Quietspace® Panel used to achieve a Class A result, twice the surface area of Composition® Acoustic Fabric would have the same effect. He says Composition® Acoustic Fabric provides adequate sound absorption at the "speech" frequencies included in the Building Bulletin 93 reverberation time criteria. “The performance of the Composition fabric is good at these key frequencies. Applying the product to wall areas resulted in high levels of absorption and a compliant reverberation time test. Composition is also robust and easy to apply, important when it’s retrofitted.”
Installer Kevin Johnson from Acoustic Design North West applied 70 lineal metres of Composition® Acoustic Fabric to 80 per cent of the available wall space in the classroom, using X30 spray adhesive and aluminium trims to tops, bottoms and corners where needed. A mix of Composition® Acoustic Fabric colours look cheery and are also practical and easy to clean. ‘Sanz’ in a 1200mm-width acts as a pin board for the children’s art and posters, 600mm-wide ‘Silver’ runs underneath, with 600mm-wide ‘Lime’ giving a punch of fresh colour.
After installation, acoustic test results spoke for themselves. “The room is now performing at 0.58 seconds, which falls within BB93,” Mahoney says. “By default, the Composition also makes the classroom a warmer and nicer place to be.”
Teachers and students have been very happy with their new and improved environment. “It’s calmer and less stressful. The children are happier and staff performance has improved,” Prandle says.
Callaway says Autex’s service was exceptional and she was kept informed at every stage of the process. “The project manager was very professional and friendly and took the time to find out our needs carefully and then ensured they were met. The after-service was very personal too – she even personally delivered some staples and a wall stapler to get us started on our displays! We were very impressed and would have no hesitation in recommending Autex Acoustics to more schools.”