UK PassivHaus schools point the way to a brighter, healthier, energy-saving future

The PassivHaus concept is increasingly becoming part of mainstream building techniques. Less familiar however, even to sustainability aficionados, are PassivHaus schools. PassivHaus schools over the last few years have gained popular standing in Europe: over 25 schools have been built in Germany and Austria, whilst a recent initiative in Flanders, Belgium, will require every new school built to be PassivHaus certified. The past week marks a momentous step forward for PassivHaus schools with three schools, Oakmeadow and Bushbury Primary Schools in Wolverhampton and Montgomery Primary School in Exeter, becoming the first certified PassivHaus schools in the UK.

Jonathan Hines, Director of Architype which designed the two Wolverhampton schools, emphasises simplicity and quality in his buildings rather than “overcomplicated technical solutions”. Noting the “tough inner city” atmosphere of the Wolverhampton area, he focused not on creating rigidly standardised environs, but rather adaptable spaces capable of catering to a variety of student activities, whilst also creating “calm, uplifting environments”.

Oakmeadow’s new students celebrating the opening of their new school.

One of the most interesting aspects of the build, carried out by Thomas Vale Construction, was that Wolverhampton Council approved the project only under the condition that the cost would equal that of a traditional school building. Not only was this promise delivered on, the low energy use of the buildings means that the schools will face significantly reduced utility costs; according to Architype, the cost of the energy lost in a traditional school due to poor insulation standards compared to the airtightness found in PassivHaus schools is more than £5,000 per year! Additionally, the air quality found in a PassivHaus design is significantly better than in traditional schools; the fresher air makes for healthier, more attentive students.

A third school, Montgomery Primary School in Exeter, was also certified this week. The school will cater to 420 pupils and includes a nursery. Its design focused on high quality insulation and air tightness; the architects placed an emphasis on long-term sustainability by designing their building “to not only pass current requirements but to meet the demands of predicted future climate to 2080”.

Schools, however, aren’t the only large-scale buildings whose energy-use is receiving attention from Councils eager to cut energy bills. In December, the Mayville Community Centre received PassivHaus certification. This building was a tough challenge; located in Islington, one of the more deprived areas of London, the centre was a local authority-owned Victorian building built circa 1890. Prior to renovation the building was described as “uninsulated, inefficiently used and inaccessible”.

The above images from bere:architects show Mayville Community Centre post-retrofit (left), with Newington Green Primary School, (right) which has not been substantially renovated since it was built in 1958. The yellow and orange spaces indicate heat lost through lack of effective insulation. Bere:architects and Buxton Building Contractors Ltd ensured that the retrofit was of a sufficiently high energy standard to achieve PassivHaus certification, while also creating a useable space to serve the needs of local residents. As the first certified PassivHaus non-domestic retrofit in the UK, the Community Centre received the 2011 3R Award (Refurb, Rethink, Retrofit) for Best Public Building.

ISOPA congratulates the teams who contributed to these innovative and impressive designs! We hope they will inspire a new generation of sustainable schools, insulated with polyurethane of course!

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