Santa Sophia Catholic College

“An iconic new play experience for an iconic new school. ”

Executive Summary

When the new Santa Sophia College opened in mid-2021, the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta wanted it to be an outstanding school, both in appearances and the way it educates and inspires its students. As part of this vision, Fleetwood was approached by landscape architects, Ground Ink, to help them activate a large vertical void in the main school building with a ‘statement’ play experience that would capture young hearts and minds. Collaborating closely with Ground Ink, project architects BVN, building contractor Buildcorp and the Diocese itself, the result was richly innovative play experience: a one-of-a-kind vertical climbing net ‘suspended’ between two floors of the school building. Despite having to navigate numerous challenges along the way – our overwhelming project mantra was ‘Test! Test! Test!’ – the original creative vision was brilliantly delivered, just in time for the arrival of Santa Sophia’s first students!



Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta





Design Partners

Ground Ink Landscape Architects & BVN Architecture

Fleetwood Involvement

Fleetwood was involved at every stage, from concept to completion. Guided by our full DesignExecute2™delivery process, our initial engagement came early in the project when Ground Ink approached us with an unresolved sketch and rough 3D model for the play structure. It was an exciting and complex concept and, working together, we detailed out their design, bringing it to life and creating more extensive 3D models. The Diocese was thrilled with the updated plans and we were then introduced us to Buildcorp, who were building the school. From there, we worked hand-in-hand with Ground Ink and Buildcorp to develop full shop drawings, engineering plans and a detailed manufacturing and installation schedule that worked in seamlessly with the wider construction program. The project architects, BVN, also had input with the design and final colour scheme. Whilst a very involved process, it was highly collaborative with excellent communication and trust between each of the project stakeholders helping to deliver an outstanding outcome for the school community. This made it, unquestionably, one of the most enjoyable projects our team has worked on in the last few years.


Reflecting the vertical geometry of the main school buildings, Ground Ink’s vision was to create an exciting vertical climbing play structure. The design was ambitious, complex and completely unique, which presented a number of unique challenges. How would we fix the climbing structures into the slab? How would we connect each of the play elements? How would students move safely between the two floors and experience different play experiences along the way? To answer these questions, we collaborated extensively with Buildcorp’s structural engineer. We had to triple check – and re-sketch in some places – the concrete slab to ensure it could safely hold each element of the play structure. The design and placement of the cast-in ferrules (threaded anchors) also had to be tested and re-tested to ensure they could comfortably support the projected loads as students played and moved between the two floors. Once the final design was confirmed, an independent surveyor double checked the positioning of the cast-in ferrules in preparation for the slab pour. The fascia plate was then attached after the pour.


The very thing that makes the play structure so unique – its long and narrow vertical position between two floors – also made it challenging to access and deliver, even more so given many of the surrounding school buildings were also under construction at the same time. In addition to meticulous scheduling, it required the installation team to work off elevated platforms, craning in the frame and play nets through the hole in the top of the void. With the structure spanning two levels, we also had to construct a temporary false floor at the bottom so crews could work safely on the lower sections.


A concrete slab mightn’t seem especially innovative. But given the bespoke and highly complex nature of the design, we had to triple check the slab could withstand the forces from the climbing structures it needed to support. Long before our install crews arrived at Santa Sophia College, considerable time was invested off-site to explore different options for setting the casting ferrules securely into the concrete. Armed with the results from our testing, the ferrules were precisely inserted into the form work prior to the concrete pour – a painstaking but critical step that gave the finished structure maximum stability and strength. As a welcome added benefit, the extensive pre-planning also meant that when the day of the pour arrived, it was a very smooth process.


  • One-of-a-kind play experience (never been done before)
  • 2 x distinct areas – active climbing and passive rest areas
  • 1-storey climbing challenge

  • One-of-a-kind play experience (never been done before)
  • 2 x distinct areas – active climbing and passive rest areas
  • 1-storey climbing challenge
  • Rope
  • Fabricated steel painted with protective coating
  • Tensile mesh
  • Stainless steel

The lead contractor, Buildcorp, is well-known for its commitment to on-site safety and there were stringent controls in place. Safety briefings were held every morning, together with regular toolbox talks. The complex ‘vertical’ nature of the install was guided by detailed Safe Work procedures including clear methodology for working at heights and all documentation for crane lifts.


A low VOC paint system was specified to minimise emissions. The painting stage was also completed off-site to further reduce emissions given the site’s confined indoor setting.


The Santa Sophia play structure is something truly special, within the beating heart of the main school building. It’s an engaging and exciting space that brings students together every day, activating the learning environment and providing unique opportunities for physical exercise, play and social interaction.


A one-of-kind play experience that blends education and inspiration in equal measure. With nothing else quite like it – anywhere in the world – it’s designed to fire the imagination and give Santa Sophia students the opportunity and freedom to stretch their physical abilities in a safe, yet richly creative learning setting.