Published on 5 - April - 2011
Teachers and staff at the Manor Primary School in Swanscombe, Kent have had to go through a steep learning curve as they get used to life in a sustainable school, explains Martin Burton.
HVAC in Education: School gets 'excellent' marks for sustainability
There is a lot of doom and gloom around the future of school building services projects following the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, but there is still plenty of good value work out there.
The public sector spending cuts announced in the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) are going to hit our sector very hard, but local authorities do still have budgets for upgrading school facilities - albeit slimmer ones. The central government mantra is 'more for less' and that is what local procurement officers will be pushing their contractors to deliver.
As an industry, we must come up with the solutions because the Government certainly doesn't have them. Around 600 schemes survived the cancellation of the BSF, but these are expected to have their budgets cut by 40 per cent. This could lead to many more projects simply being dropped, but it is also an opportunity for project teams to be more creative and thoughtful about what can be achieved with reduced funding.
Spend money more wisely
Now we can do what should have been done in the first place with BSF and spend the money more wisely. Local Authorities will be forced to focus on refurbishment and modernisation of existing school buildings, most of which will have to last and be usable for many more years.
However, the country's current economic woes in no way mean we should abandon our sustainable aspirations. Projects like the Manor Community School in Swanscombe, Kent show just what can be achieved. This is a partial rebuild project that also shows how contractors can innovate to meet energy efficiency targets.
Positively bristling with sustainable design features and innovative technologies, the school has achieved BREEAM 'Excellent' status much to the delight of the management and Kent County Council. By reusing part of the existing school and amalgamating three schools on one site the design team delivered excellent value for money for the local authority.
The £6.5m project to create a new two-form entry school building within one block involved a new build extension onto the existing junior building to make the new site able to cope with the extra pupils. Jacobs was appointed as the lead consultant following a competitive design competition, with Kier as main contractor.
Maidstone-based DSL provided much of the design and installation of the building services. The firm, which was founded in 1984, also provides service and maintenance for hundreds of school buildings throughout Kent and the South East.
The £6 m turnover firm, which employs 77 staff, manages all the school buildings in East Kent on behalf of Kent County Council (KCC) - around 600 buildings. It also looks after the oldest school in the world: Kings School, Canterbury - so has unprecedented experience of school projects both ancient and modern.
At Manor School, the design team initially considered wrapping the new build areas around the old building, the plan being then to demolish the original structures. However, this would have taken twice as long to construct and presented some serious site safety issues as the school was to remain operational during the process. So, instead we decided to make best use of what was already in place - a far more sustainable approach than demolish and rebuild.
The new block has created a three-sided courtyard enclosing a Key Stage 1 (KS1) play area, which was landscaped to offer outside learning opportunities. The two floors each have eight paired classrooms built in modular 'pods', which benefit from underfloor heating and natural ventilation.
Fully insulated rooms
The rooms are fully insulated, which means there is no need to heat the corridor areas - this was a key requirement for the BREEAM 'Excellent' rating.
The scheme incorporates a green roof, which has hugely improved the heat retention of the building, and rainwater recycling as well as 10 m2
solar array, which provides water pre-heated to about 40degC which is then boosted by the boilers to meet the considerable hot water demands of the kitchens at peak demand times.
Biomass boilers were considered, but rejected because of the problem of transporting fuel along the constricted residential roads around the school. There is also no obvious local source of supply. Ground source heating would have needed an area about the same size as the school's playing field to be laid with coils, and this was also considered too expensive.
Instead air source heat pumps working in tandem with three condensing boilers supply the underfloor heating system. Heat recovery from the classrooms further boosts the heating in winter. Louvres provide natural ventilation to the communal areas and open automatically to create a 'chimney effect' with naturally warmed air rising up and out. Each of the classrooms features temperature and CO2
sensors that automatically adjust the grilles serving each room at ceiling level.
The use of 'natural' ventilation, as opposed to air conditioning, took some of the teaching staff by surprise and they have had to learn how to manage their own classroom conditions by opening and closing the blinds in response to solar gain.
They also have to get used to the different response times of renewable systems - it is not simply a case of flicking a switch with heat pumps and solar thermal and this is an important lesson for all schools planning to incorporate renewable technologies. How occupants, in this case pupils and teachers, respond to a passive internal environment is the true proof of the success of a scheme - and the overall satisfaction levels at Manor School will continue to be monitored by the project teams.
There will, inevitably, be teething problems, but this school is an excellent example of how sustainable principles can deliver a 'fit for purpose' facility within a defined budget. DSL worked hand-in-glove with other members of the supply team, the local authority and the school governors to make sure they not only achieved an excellent facility, but also one that meets both sustainability and value for money criteria.
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