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Green future, blue planet

Independent schools lead the way in ensuring sustainability in education, writes Simon Fry

Posted by Julian Owen | March 12, 2018 | Sustainability

The BBC’s award-winning series, Blue Planet II has drawn attention like never before to man’s harming of the environment and the need for sustainable living on a planetary level. At a micro level, independent schools have installed facilities minimising their impact on the world while instilling in their pupils knowledge and values crucial to protecting Planet Earth.   

Bruton School for Girls 

Environmentalism has become increasingly mainstream in recent years, with the Eco-Schools global programme improving environmental awareness for over two decades. Now modern technology is allowing for facilities installed in earlier eras to incorporate similar eco-friendliness, as Nicky Botterill, Headmistress of Bruton School for Girls, explained: “Reduce, reuse and recycle are words we live by at Bruton School for Girls. An ingenious major refurbishment plan completed 18 months ago, ahead of time and under budget, meant a traditional 1960s teaching block, which houses a gymnasium, dance studio and six classrooms was not only given a fresh lease of life but allowed us to further embed our Eco-School status.”

Plus, a new state-of-the-art roof and lowered ceilings drastically improves heat retention as it uses the principles of stratospheric heating, where rising heat is reflected back into the classrooms. Large windows allow the school to make the best of its enviable views over Glastonbury Tor while increasing natural light.

On murkier days the school’s 600mm LED light panels use daylight-harvesting technology, which maintains 500 LUX at all times by calculating the amount of light coming in and adjusting the lighting.  Additionally, occupancy sensors have been fitted, so classrooms are only lit when occupied, saving both energy and money.

Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud formally opened the building; he congratulated the school and praised its genuine desire to be sustainable by cherishing the old. “We are very proud of our hugely successful merger of the 20th and 21st centuries,” said Nicky, “Which has enabled us to maintain our important roots to the past and move forward using new, green technology further enhancing our learning and teaching.” 

St Mary’s, Colchester 

St Mary’s, Colchester has been an Eco Schools Ambassador School since 2012, and in 2016 was one of only five schools nationally achieving Legacy School status. The school has embraced environmentalism and sustainability, showing the way to other schools and organisations nationwide and help them on their mission to future-proof their schools through its regular seminars and conferences.

Although most of its buildings date back more than a century, the school seeks constantly to improve its ‘green’ credentials and consider the environmentally-sound option when carrying out refurbishment work. For example, radiators have thermostatic controls and sensor lighting in the senior school’s high traffic areas is being piloted.

Eco co-ordinator, Sarah Wilding, said: “We are proud of our zero tolerance to waste and since embarking on the Eco Schools programme in 2006 have seen a gradual decline in energy consumption. Water consumption has followed the same trend: installing Hippo water saving devices into toilet cisterns has contributed to this, together with a greater awareness of conserving our natural resources. The feasibility of installing a rainwater harvesting system is currently being considered.” 

Four photovoltaic solar panels on the lower school’s kitchen roof heat the water used in the school and kindergarten.

Sarah concluded: “We find the way to sell any eco initiative to the school’s senior leadership team is to stress the cash savings and emphasise the contribution to the school’s Corporate Social Responsibility Policy, but of course protecting our environment for the benefit of future generations is the best value of all.”

With such joined-up thinking making economic and reputational sense, sustainability is becoming increasingly important to school operations, ensuring their future citizens of the world are also custodians of the world. 

Oundle School 

Oundle School’s buildings date from the 17th to the 21st centuries, and in 2016 the school completed its ambitious SciTec project, uniting science, mathematics, design, technology and engineering. The development includes the ground-breaking Patrick Engineering Centre, a new mathematics department and an extension to its sixteen state-of-the-art science laboratories.   

“It was built with a specific requirement for sustainability,” said Richard Tremellen, Director of Estates. “The construction is of solid concrete, acting as a heat store, thus maintaining the heat better within the building. A building management system (BMS) works to sustain the temperatures and air quality. It is naturally ventilated and through the BMS a series of louvres and dampers automatically open and close to sustain the air quality, whilst managing the room temperatures.”  

The roof is attenuated and laid with sedum which the school’s biology department use for research and data. The attenuation manages the outfall from rainfall, which is then directed to the lake adjacent to SciTec through spouts. The lake was planted and an environment for biodiversity created around it. Linked to the lake is a storage tank providing a grey-water facility and there is a small quantity of photovoltaic panels on the roof, which provide hot water within the building.  

The BMS also manages light sensors throughout the building, the corridor lighting being turned on and off by the movement of people. On bright days, the lux levels automatically reduce, stopping unnecessary energy consumption.

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