IT S not just back to school for students in Bideford tomorrow (Thursday), but back to a new school. Just over 1,600 young people will begin lessons in the ground-breaking environment that is the new £54 million Bideford College in Abbotsham Road. After t

IT'S not just back to school for students in Bideford tomorrow (Thursday), but back to a new school.

Just over 1,600 young people will begin lessons in the ground-breaking environment that is the new £54 million Bideford College in Abbotsham Road.

After two years of building works, they will be greeted by a futuristic building that is both green and remarkably flexible, marking a new era of secondary education in the town.

Built to meet the needs of 2,036 students, the accommodation stretches over five levels, with an emphasis on natural light and openness.

Old-style corridors are replaced by 'bridges' connecting light, adaptable open spaces and teaching areas. Walls can be used as blank canvasses for digital images to change the ambience at the touch of a button.

Teaching wings surround indoor 'winter garden' communal areas, used to socialise or become open learning areas in which students can take advantage of computer kiosks or use their laptops.

The open ethos extends to outdoor courtyards, including a 'town square' as a social gathering point and allowing movement from one side of the complex to the other.

There is not only CCTV, but 'passive supervision' has been designed into the site, such as specially positioned windows and offices overlooking the main thoroughfares.

The main hall, which can hold 340 people, has full projection facilities, a stage which can double as a teaching area or drama class - and specially-created rural views to hide the proximity of the nearby housing estate.

A large, six-court sports hall can hold 400, with space maximised by motorised retractable seating for big events.

Green credentials include its woodchip biomass boiler as the main heat source, a micro wind generation system to provide energy for a hi-tech science demonstration area and a sustainable drainage system to allow rainwater to be captured and used in areas such as toilets.

The buildings also have 'living roofs' covered with the plant sedum to slow water run-off, produce oxygen and create a wildlife habitat.

Two years in the building, the new Bideford College has already won two awards for sustainability.

Its facilities will also be available for community use, including the dining hall, with catering facilities and connection to the main hall.

Students have had input on the look of classrooms, outdoor spaces and sports facilities and even what they expect from their tutors.

Special care has been taken with signage to help people find their way around, including the use of colour co-ordinated wall panels.

College principal Veronica Matthews said: "This is a very exciting time for the college and for Bideford as a town. The new college will put Bideford at the forefront nationally, not only of education, but of sustainable and innovative building design. This building is a testament to the commitment and teamwork of a large number of people to provide Bideford with something very special. The building has been designed with function and simplicity of form as key principles and the result is excellent, an object of beauty that will inspire young people for many years to come. The facilities that we now have are second to none and we can't wait to see it in action when the students come back."

Although the school is complete, the project will continue for another year as contractors demolish the old school buildings and create new sports facilities and car parking.