Building a sustainable future without costing the earth

Three new schools delivered by Apollo Education for the London Borough of Lambeth show that high environmental standards can be achieved without costing the earth. Despite a limited budget, all three – Michael Tippett, Park Campus and Elmcourt – managed to secure ‘Very Good’ Ratings when measured using the industry’s standard building energy-efficiency model.

While the integration of onsite renewables is one route to reducing carbon, this is often difficult to achieve on constrained budgets. Complementary solutions include the choice of building materials such as high performance solar-coated, double-glazed windows and super-insulated concrete walls, floor planks and soffits. All significantly reduce energy consumption and maintain year-round internal temperatures and were integral to Apollo’s approach. 

Building orientation, room layouts and teaching spaces can also be modelled to make the most of natural light and ventilation. This can be further enhanced by the use of an ‘intelligent’, computer-controlled, Building Management System to regulate the operation of heating and cooling systems and the opening and closing of windows etc.

Studies have shown that good ventilation and natural light – as well as reducing energy-use – also have a positive impact on educational attainment. The converse is also true – learning rates fall off dramatically with even a small reduction in optimum levels.

Combinations of these simple yet effective solutions can be applied to just about any school building – whether it’s a brand new Special Educational Needs school like Michael Tippett or a refurbished Edwardian/Victorian school like Elmcourt.  

Zero Carbon Schools

Moving to the next level – zero-carbon – is achievable but only if the funding is available. 

This time last year (June 2008), Children’s Secretary Ed Balls announced a framework for ensuring that all new schools built in England attain zero-carbon status by 2016.  The Secretary of State was said to be in bullish form, claiming to have “no time for critics who carp that this is impossible.”

The announcement sent a strong signal that zero-carbon criteria will be an integral part of the BSF programme in the near future.

On the surface, 2016 might appear an unrealistic goal – particularly in today’s tough economic climate.  However, despite the enormity of task, many local authorities are well on their way, with plans on the drawing board not a million miles from the zero-carbon standard. 

In addition, the construction industry’s approach towards reducing carbon is fast approaching maturity – the know-how is out there and so is the technology and materials. In the end, the success or failure of this drive towards a low-carbon future will boil down to simple economics, and the ability of the industry to develop truly sustainable schools within sensible budget parameters.

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