Left to rot for over a decade, the caverns of the former Donaldson’s School for the Deaf are being painstakingly transformed into luxury flats.
A team of specialist tradesmen have been working on the iconic building, built between 1842 and 1851 by Edinburgh’s pre-eminent architect William Henry Playfair, with the first phase of flats to be put on sale in the autumn.
The building has been vacant since the school moved in 2008 and despite repeated attempts to bring it back into use, developers failed to convert its decaying bricks and mortar into homes.
A significant level of dry rot had set in which restoration experts City and Country, who took over the development in 2014, had to eradicate before starting the £53 million renovation.
After completion, the building – built with money bequeathed by James Donaldson, to build and found a hospital for children after his death – will house 112 homes with a mixture of studio flats and one, two and three beds.
Work has also been completed below the surface following construction of two underground car parks on the east and west sides of the building.
“Once vacant, major historic buildings such as Donaldson’s deteriorate extremely quickly, so our first priority is to ensure the building is watertight and protected, as well as undertaking surveys to ensure the structure and stability of the building is sound,” explained City and Country managing director Helen Moore.
“At Donaldson’s we discovered the worst case of dry rot that City & Country had ever come across – and we’ve worked with a lot of very old buildings!
“We discovered the cause of the rot was old drain pipes that had been left in situ.
“They had been slowly leaking water into the building’s structure for decades and the problem had damaged the structure significantly, so we had to act quickly to stop it spreading any further.”
Apartments at Donaldson’s will retain a mix of original features such as large historic windows, fireplaces and cornices, alongside contemporary features.
Ms Moore added: “Our clever internal design makes best use of the fabric of the building, allowing us to create some unique living spaces that maximise the building’s outstanding original features with a contemporary twist including sleek, handleless kitchens combined with luxurious bathrooms that have all the mod-cons expected of high-quality modern living.”
Structural works are underway, including the introduction of internal steel frames that will form mezzanine floors and reinforce existing floors. Roof alterations, masonry repairs and repairs to the 900 windows will also combine with finishes to the western gate house, western drive access and landscaping to the front lawns, verges, terraces and tree lines.
Work has also started on the Donaldson’s site to add a semi-circle of high-end flats to the north of the historic building.
Housebuilders CALA Homes, who originally purchased the former school site, had to mothball plans for a number of years after the economic crash in 2008. They partnered with City and Country to add to the historic development, and have started construction on a “sweeping crescent” of new apartments which will include garden flats, duplexes and penthouses.
The crescent form has been designed by architect Richard Murphy OBE to connect the site with features of Georgian architecture and complement the Playfair building.
CALA Homes (East) managing director David McGrath said: “Everything about this project makes it special. The architects have pulled a masterstroke in coming up with designs which are modern, yet also pay a respectful homage to the World Heritage site. This promises to be a one-of-a-kind development and one we are extremely proud and excited to be part of.
“Starting the construction process is a huge milestone and we hope The Crescent will become a landmark in its own right for decades to come.”