White Design's approach to sustainability at Kingsmead raises an interesting question about the tendency for cost consultants to rule out systems such as rainwater recovery on M&E cost grounds, when the value of those systems is largely educational. "Rainwater recovery should not be regarded as a piece of M&E kit" agrees Craig White. "Value-engineering out the rainwater harvesting system should be similar to value-engineering out the text books."
Sustainable low energy?
It appears, then, that Kingsmead School is an exemplar of sustainable procurement. The design team has successfully linked the curriculum to the building's green features, and the occupants think the building is wonderful. What, then, about the school's energy consumption?
This is where Kingsmead is found wanting. Despite the design team's best efforts, at 72 kWh/m2/y the school's electricity consumption is over three times the best practice benchmarks in Energy Consumption Guide 73 (Econ 73), published as long ago as 1998. Gas consumption is better at 99 kWh/m2/y, but overall the CO2 emissions from electricity and gas are currently running at 48 kgCO2/m2/y, compared to the ECON 73 benchmark of 33 kgCO2/m2/y.
So what's gone wrong? As with any energy analysis, it is important to separate the base building from the users loads, such as electronic whiteboards, projectors and kitchen equipment. The designers clearly made every attempt to ensure that the heat raising plant and electricity generation was as sustainable as possible. A 60 kW wood-chip boiler was installed to sit alongside a back-up 100 kW condensing boiler, and a small photovoltaic array and two solar panels generate around 4 kWh/m2/y to top up the school's domestic hot water system and offset the demand on mains electricity.
The Talbot biomass boiler has proved problematic. A variety of fuels were intended to be used, but the initial use of wood pellets caused it to overheat. A switch to wood chips failed to solve the problem, and so far the boiler has hardly been used.
This has been very frustrating for Arup and Willmott Dixon, but the exceptional relationships generated through the predesign, design and construction process means that the team are working to resolve the problems without falling out with the local authority or the teaching staff.
Electricity consumption is higher for three main reasons. First, the kitchen equipment - extract fans, freezers and refrigerators - have all been left running during holiday periods. Second, the opening hours are much longer than anticipated during design, as the school is being used by the community in the evenings. Third, the school has a high amount of information and communication technology - much of which is left on.
"I visited Kingsmead School and found that every classroom had at least one and sometimes two extension leads with a four gang socket," reported George Martin. "And in most classrooms, the roof-suspended overhead projectors and printers seemed to be on. But the most gobsmacking thing was a trolley in the locked IT cupboard, which had laptops on it with chargers all switched on. And I asked the caretaker whether the laptops would stay on until the trolley is wheeled out, and he said 'Yes, why not? '."
Interactive whiteboards may be enthusing the teaching profession, but their proliferation in schools is doing efforts at energy efficiency no favours. Kingsmead Primary School is no different. whiteboards are also challenging daylight design. "If ever the daylight factor movement has been wrecked by one piece of technology, then it's interactive, electronic whiteboards," says BUS's Adrian Leaman. "they've changed the rules entirely for daylighting and glare control."
Rather than demonstrating why systems based on renewable sources of energy should not be specified for schools, Kingsmead highlights the fact that existing energy efficiency benchmarks are woefully out of date with current practice.
The DfES is working to deliver a set of more relevant benchmarks. The updated energy benchmarks will be available on line, and also be used in a new guide to sustainable schools, Design of Sustainable Schools - Case Studies due to be published in the summer of 2006.
Overall, Kingsmead Primary School demonstrates the importance of routine monitoring and fine-tuning in the year after occupancy if new buildings - even the very best ones - are to achieve their design potential.
Project who's who?
George Martin Head of Rethinking Construction at Willmott Dixon, offers this advice: "One area where rethinking construction for schools can go a lot further is for designers to ask communities and users about their key issues, and for the design team to help the teachers and governors come to terms with those issues".
Craig White Principal of White Design Associates believes the procurement process for schools needs to be improved. "The basic stuff is still being done wrong - for example, architects being asked to design a building three months before other professions are asked to look at it. I think that the DfES should not fund a school until the design team has been fully appointed."