Too cool for school: Britain's most eco-friendly building

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

A A A

The loos flush using rainwater, roofs are covered with sedum plants, the building is heated using the playground and the desks are made from drainpipes. In the "living" classroom, wearing jerseys bearing the school's part-flower, part-windmill logo, a group of nine to 11-year-olds demonstrate their field skills by looking for creepy-crawlies with magnifying glasses. Imogen, a bright-eyed nine year-old, talks to me about carpets. "They're made up of tiles," she tells me authoritively. "So that when it wears out, they can replace one or two rather than the whole carpet."

Welcome to Howe Dell primary school, Hatfield, the most eco-friendly building in the country.

Commissioned by Hertfordshire County Council, one of Britain's more environmentally conscientious local authorities, Howe Dell is almost an experiment in how green and sustainable a building can be.

The pièce de résistance of the building was the construction of the world's first IHT system underneath the playground. IHT, which stands for Interseasonal Heat Transfer, takes heat from the sunshine that falls on the tarmac playground, then stores it and releases it in the winter to heat the school. IHT was invented and then developed by the London-based company Icax (Interseasonal Collection and Exchange).

Until now, if you wanted to use the heat generated by summer sunshine to warm something at a different time of year, you could not do so without converting it, inefficiently, into another form of energy, such as electricity. There hasn't been an effective way of storing the energy directly in the form of heat and releasing it later, when it is needed.

Mark Hewitt, an architect with Icax, developed a network of water pipes, which were laid under Howe Dell's playground. As the tarmac heats up when the sun shines on it, the heat in the water is pumped away and stored in computer-controlled thermal banks in the ground under the school. The banks are so well insulated that the heat only moves through them very slowly. The stored heat is then released into the school when it is needed – sometimes months later.

The principles of IHT were first demonstrated on the M1 in a project for the Highways Agency at Toddington service station. Heat collected from roads in summer was used to de-ice the same roads in winter.

The same technology can use the cold of winter air and ice to cool the building in thesummer. It's the computer technology, explains Hewitt, which now makes this sort of heat storage possible. "With computers, you can predict very complex movements of energy," he says.

Another factor that made the school possible was the will of the council and its provision of funds to this ambitious project. A building this advanced doesn't come cheap: the contract to build the school was put out to tender and the council hired a company to take on the project for £8.7m. Unfortunately, the company went into administration after six months, having not paid any of the subcontractors. So the project had to begin again and the final bill, part-funded by the sale of Howe Dell's former site and by money from the Carbon Trust, came to £10.4m.

It took eight years to plan and build the school and, while it was being constructed, Howe Dell stayed on its former site: a rectory attached to Hatfield House, a mile and a half away from the new site. When Ofsted inspectors visited, they deemed the rectory not fit for purpose. The threat of closure loomed over the school until the council decided this was the perfect opportunity to move the school to a new site.

For the pupils and head teacher, Debra Massey, the school is more than just a new building, it's an educational resource. The school has an eight-pupil-strong "Eco-Squad" (members change every term), all wearing smart green "Eco-Squad" badges, whose job it is to promote ideas of sustainability. Environmental concerns are second nature to the pupils, who talk me through how they are developing fingerprint technology to replace the old library card system to save on paper.

The school's curriculum also incorporates sustainable education principles and it won the Eco-Schools Green Flag award for the environmentally aware additions to classes. The green section of the curriculum aims to teach pupils the interdependence of peoples and countries, the need to promote sustainable development and an awareness of their personal responsibility for the environment.

The school's sustainability features don't stop at the underground pipes. "The council was presented with a list of green features," says Edward Thompson of Icax. "There were about 10 or so on the list and the council said, 'We'll have the lot.'"

The range of sustainability features incorporated into the building by Capita Architecture is impressive. Solar heating panels warm up water for kitchens and washing. Photovoltaic panels supply some electricity. The architects also designed the school with skylights that flood the classrooms and corridors with daylight, cutting lighting bills, and specified super-thick exterior walls and thick window glass to reduce heat loss.

Classroom sink-tops and splashbacks are made from recycled plastic yoghurt pots while desks are made from recycled drainpipes. And, as Imogen explained earlier, carpet tiles mean that when the carpet wears out only some tiles need to be replaced. A wind turbine is planned for the school's wetland area to contribute electricity.

The sedum roof acts as further insulation, as a habitat for creepy crawlies and serves as a living classroom, where pupils can study biodiversity. Rainwater is collected and used for flushing loos. The school also has boilers, which top up the green heat if needed.

"When I arrived at Howe Dell, work on the building hadn't started," explains Massey. "At times, the project was very vulnerable, so to be here is fantastic. Everyone believes in the same dream – that children need to be educated in green issues."

"At the moment," adds Hewitt, "it is expensive to build something like this. As a society, we need the nerves and the will to invest in buildings such as these."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Sport
David Silva strokes home his and City's second goal
football
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
film
Extras
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value
indybest

News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas