School Move

I have never moved house in my life – and as a colleague has said, this experience will probably when I do, it will seem like a doddle.

With no previous experience of moving, I can only imagine that these past few weeks  are merely a far more intense version of moving house. Like any house move, we have furniture, crockery, glassware and (protective) clothing to pack up, label and move. And, of course, we have the staple of any good move – dangerous chemicals (which proved just how dangerous by burning gouges into the concrete roof when we discovered the extremely concentrated nitric acid’s lid was broken).

For the Science Department, the process began in October. Having the least number of classes and – apparently – being the most organised and methodical member of the department, the job of making an inventory of everything owned by the Department was handed to me. Luckily for everyone else – save our wonderful Lab Tech Sunil -, they could forget about the impending move.

Sunil and I spent four months cataloging every chemical and piece of equipment as well as designing a system for locating each item (“it’s in P/5/3”). Along the way, we discovered various items that no one knew it was there – and often we had to ask the whole department before we discovered what it was. Apparently you can use a Hoffmann Voltameter when you electrolyse water instead of cobbling together an apparatus from boiling tubes and clamp stands (but that’s far less fun and less likely to get water everywhere!). I also drew a scale map of the new department.

While we were doing this, the new site was being built. There were visits by various members of staff every week, accompanied by pictures. Their reports ranged from optimistic (“it looks so much better than it did a week ago – there are now windows in two rooms!”) to pessimistic (“it will never be ready on time”). Through it all, Angus Douglas (in charge of the project), was unfailing positive.

On Thursday 8th of February, we celebrated and gave thanks for ten years of the old site (Dhobighat). The gentleman who had moved the school the previous two times, and was now returning to help with his third school move, talked about moving into Dhobighat – and converting it from a carpet factory to a school.

The next day was packing mania. Four people had flown in to help us; Andrew, the experienced mover; Tracy, a decorator who had spent the past two weeks painting shelves and rooms; another Andrew and Glenis, a builder and his wife (she joked she was an “apprentice builder”). They ran from room to room disconnecting projectors, removing the brackets securing furniture to the wall in case of earthquakes and taking down blinds.

Sunil and I had already packed up all the chemicals, save for the most dangerous (which was when the concrete-gouging incident occurred), so we merely had all the books, glassware and other equipment to pack. If you ever need glass beakers packed, I am now an expert but please provide newspaper where the ink doesn’t come off onto my fingers.

By the end of the day, we had done it. All the cupboards were empty, every item of furniture was labelled with the new rooms and the two classrooms were hard to navigate as they were crammed with boxes.

The next two weeks consisted of moving all the furniture and boxes to the new site, room by room as they were finished. Science was the last floor to be finished, so I went and helped Primary unpack. I unpacked Year 3 and Year 4’s book corners (of course!).

On Saturday 17th February, myself, Karen (Head of Science and the Biology Teacher) and Yvonne (Year 7-9 Science Teacher)  were summoned to the new site (Techo) to discuss the layout of the lab with one of the architects. It was the first time I had seen our rooms (very white and covered in paint/plaster dust), but they are large and bright – with what will be wonderful views when the sky isn’t full of pollution.  It took far longer than we expected, and we ended up with a layout we had not initially thought up but it was a good meeting. Of course, over the next week, we’d change the layout – exam requirements rendering the previous void.

Then came Wednesday 21st. Science’s stuff moved. It took a whole day, starting with the boxes. I rushed into school that morning, about to miss the bus and saw that the chemicals and glassware were about to be loaded onto the moving truck. In all the chaos, the message that some of our equipment was going in a school vehicle so we could be sure it would be stored the right way up and not thrown around like the movers were currently hadn’t got across.

So Sunil and I had to get the movers to give us back all the boxes marked “fragile”, “glassware” or “S34” (the room that all the chemicals were heading for). We checked all the boxes they’d tipped about (luckily only a few test tubes, one measuring cylinder and a bottle of kerosene broke).

Then, to the amusement of the movers, I ran up and down the stairs helping them bring the rest of the boxes down to ensure that the right boxes were put aside for us. In the course of this, I missed the school bus. I helped load up another with our boxes and then took it up to the new site (a bottle with a rose in held on my lap as it hadn’t been cleared and packed away!).

At the new site, Karen and I oversaw the placement of all our equipment and furniture into the right places and the right rooms. Each box and piece of furniture was labelled with the room code, and the doors were too. Except it was written in the Latin script that many of the moving team couldn’t read. At one point, Karen stood in the hall way pointing to doors and calling out the code. “S33. S34. S35. S36. S37.” It took a whole day to get everything to arrive (ICT was also moving that day too).

The biggest problem we encountered was that all the boxes arrived first and had been deposited right where the furniture had to go. In the chemical store/prep room, we had to shift all the boxes three times – from one corner to another – in order to get the cupboards into the right places.

Karen and I went a little loopy, I think it’s fair to say. We opened the windows facing the drive and cheered if the moving truck arrived packed with our things. We had a sword fight with taps and hoses. Karen ‘pretended’ to push me out the window more than once (yelling “no, don’t jump, Sifa!”). Who knows what the people outside thought. When Yvonne turned up after lunch, we hid behind the lab units to scare her (and then she didn’t come up). When Yvonne did arrive in Science (we’d given up hiding after a while), we told her our antics. “I’m impressed you’re both alive,” she said. We were too.

Exam years (the top three years) arrived on Thursday and Friday so they didn’t miss any more classes even though everything was still being unpacked, painted and screwed to walls around them. Andrew, Andrew and Glenis hurried from room to room fixing boards and cupboards to the walls. They had to just stick wires into sockets for a while-. Tracy had an ever growing list of things to pain – but it all looks amazing now that the stained paint has been covered over.


It took me four days to unpack. I largely did it by myself, but that’s alright. The others had classes to teach – and books to shelve, which I was glad to leave to them as the boxes packed with books were almost to heavy even to move by kicking. Besides, getting to unpack myself meant I could organise everything logically. No more Bromothymol Blue in four different cupboards! I had to fend off a few “but that used to be there, we need to move it” attempts, but all in all it was a very easy experience – and weirdly enjoyable. Opening boxes of chemicals (wearing gloves if they were liquids – safety first, after all) and arranging on the center bench in alphabetical order is almost as calming as unwrapping glassware from newspaper. Throwing the newspaper on the floor is very satisfying (“Take that, finger-staining paper!”). Yes, I did pick it all up afterwards.

The rooms look really nice. I’m most proud of the chemical store/prep room but that’s probably because you can see through the glass fronts of the cupboards to all the alphabetically ordered chemicals and height-ordered glassware. Being a very efficient packer (and having got rid of some stuff before we moved) means that several cupboards in the store room have lots of space (which means we can get more stuff!).

It’s not finished yet. The chemistry lab is out of use until everything is plumbed in. It’s a (retrospectively) funny saga. There are holes bashed through the walls (including some that have been too high to be ‘aesthetic’ from the ground so have to be filled in). Now we are waiting on the “plumber-man” to come and finish laying pipes so that the holes can be sealed up around the pipes.

There have been hiccups (power is intermittent, along with the wifi; there is no network yet; projectors weren’t up on Friday to name a few), but this new site is already an incredible blessing to the school. I can hardly imagine how amazing it will be when all the hiccups are ironed out and everything is ready to use.

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