The greener future

For lessons in environmental friendliness it would be hard to beat Kingsmead School. Sarah Halasz visits a newly-built wonder in the North-west
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It's a cloudy day in Northwich, Cheshire. But in the Year 2 classroom of Kingsmead School, so much light is pouring in that the overhead bulbs are not needed. A new state primary opening this month, Kingsmead is no ordinary school. That's because it has been built as a model of environmental friendliness. With sustainability features including large windows positioned to take in optimal levels of sunlight and cut down on electricity, it is at the forefront of school construction, setting the pace for the Government's "Building Schools for the Future" initiative.

It's a cloudy day in Northwich, Cheshire. But in the Year 2 classroom of Kingsmead School, so much light is pouring in that the overhead bulbs are not needed. A new state primary opening this month, Kingsmead is no ordinary school. That's because it has been built as a model of environmental friendliness. With sustainability features including large windows positioned to take in optimal levels of sunlight and cut down on electricity, it is at the forefront of school construction, setting the pace for the Government's "Building Schools for the Future" initiative.

Solar panels power the school and a biomass boiler, fuelled by pellets of recycled waste, heats the building. A rooftop rainwater collection-trough funnels in the water used for flushing lavatories, while hot water is heated by separate solar panels.

The school cost about £2.4m to build. Even though the costs probably exceed those of similarly sized primary schools, Kingsmead's planners expect to make up for financial losses in lower upkeep costs. All the school's features will decrease utility and maintenance costs by up to 50 per cent, says Nick Gibb, a construction manager for Willmott Dixon, the company in charge of Kingsmead's production. The school was designed by the architectural design practice White Design, which specialises in eco-friendly enterprises. The council set initial costs at £1.8m, but a £200,000 grant from the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and a £275,000 grant promised from the North West Development Agency allowed the council to spend a bit more on the biomass boiler and solar panels.

All the materials used to create the building were brought in locally to save on transport costs and reduce pollution. The frame of the building is made of timber and the walls are super-insulated.

But more than just a fancy building, Kingsmead is an educational paradise, says Catriona Stewart, Kingsmead's head teacher. "Instead of just consuming the building, the children are going to be learning from it," she says. "It will teach them about the wider world, but in a less hypothetical way."

Most of the building's features will be used as learning tools. Children can view plant and animal life in the grounds using the CCTV cameras that serve as security monitors at night. As rainwater collects on the roof, it is funnelled down through a clear tube into the school's entrance hall so passers-by can see how much rain the school is collecting. Weather monitors feed information on rainfall, barometric pressure, wind speeds and temperatures into a measuring system displayed in the hallway, so students can learn about line graphs by viewing fluctuations in weather conditions.

The school grounds contain two outdoor classrooms, a butterfly garden and a vegetable patch. Circular sunrooms known as winter gardens are attached to each classroom. Fitted with wooden benches and floor-to-ceiling windows, these spaces protect each classroom from winter heat loss, while providing an alternative teaching space for the winter months.

And that's what this school is all about. Stewart champions interactive learning and child- and teacher-friendly learning environments. The classrooms are colour-coded - to brighten up the already well-lit building and to help vision-impaired students find their way around. If a child can associate the reception room with red, he or she will always be able to find it, she says. Rather than yelling in the classroom, teachers can just turn up the volume of their microphones. Each classroom is equipped with a speaker system put in place to save teachers' vocal chords and give hearing-impaired students the chance to sit anywhere in the classroom without worrying about hearing the teacher. Children with behavioural disorders can "cool down" in the winter gardens or a special room off the library.

Two more environmentally friendly schools are to open in the county in the next year: Wistaston Green Junior School, in Crew, and Hoole CE Primary Nursery, in Chester, will feature several similar sustainability features.And as a result of several DfES initiatives, other schools around the country are getting environmentally friendly makeovers too.

Through the Building Schools for the Future project, which is set to kick off in the 2005-2006 school year, the Government will have increased capital investment for school buildings by more than 700 per cent by 2005, from £700m in 1996 to more than £5bn in 2005. And through the Teaching Environments for the Future scheme, the DfES plans to pump about £10m into schools that show exemplary plans for futuristic refurbishments. It was through this scheme that Kingsmead received its grant.

Results of the initiatives are already beginning to pop up in schools around England. At Notley Green Primary School, in Braintree, Essex, designers have employed recycled products throughout the school, such as worktops made from recycled plastic bottles and entrance matting made from lorry tyres. Like Kingsmead, Weobley Primary School, in Herefordshire, uses a biomass boiler and solar panels to cut down on utilities costs.

With all these improvements around the country, Stewart hopes Kingsmead - and the other schools - will turn out an environmentally conscious crop of children, prepared to address the unique set of environmental problems its generation will face.

"We've been given so much by the local authority, and the best thing we can give back to Cheshire and Northwich and the UK is a bunch of active citizens who are aware of their responsibilities, rights and roles in society," she says.

education@independent.co.uk

Comments