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GREENINGS (JULY 2016): The school of the future

July 25th, 2016 · No Comments

A model for learning and sustainability

By Terri Chu

Two months ago, the province and the Toronto Catholic District School Board announced plans to build a new school on the site of St. Raymond Catholic School, which abuts Christie Pits. As a new parent, I’m very excited by the prospect of a new school in the neighbourhood, as well as for the opportunities presented by greenfield project (a development that is not limited by existing infrastructure or buildings), a rarity in this city.

With the funding only just announced, the new school’s design has yet to be developed. But parents have said they’d like the building to be as environmentally friendly as possible, and I thought I would reflect on what that could look like.

In terms of the building itself, being beside a huge open park provides lots of opportunities to include innovative features into the building. Geothermal loops (storing heat in the ground) could be incorporated if residents didn’t mind losing access to the park during construction. Solar panels could be used as an energy source; though I still have mixed feelings about solar panels due to their toxicity during production and end of life (depending on the type of panels used), they do help reduce peak demand, which is the dirtiest part of electricity production.

 I don’t think any modern school should be built without a greenhouse on the roof. Not only is it energy efficient, but kids in the city don’t have as much connection to food and soil as their rural counterparts.

Personally, I don’t think any modern school should be built without a greenhouse on the roof. Not only is it energy efficient, but kids in the city don’t have as much connection to food and soil as their rural counterparts. As a parent, I don’t believe there are enough opportunities to teach kids that food doesn’t start in foam packages.

Things like grey water recycling — re-using water that goes down sinks to flush toilets for example — are easy, no brainers, given that how we waste water right now should be criminal. And when it comes to lighting, current technology can virtually eliminate the need for overhead lights on all but the cloudiest of days.

Lots of research has gone into highly efficient ventilation systems that can now not only recover most of the heat out of the air, but ensure that only stale air gets ventilated away. Up-to-date recovery ventilations can recapture heat and moisture, and reduce space heating requirements by huge amounts, while passive heating and cooling drastically reduce the need for supplemental climate control.

The entire field of building sustainability has been the focus of a lot of research over the years. There are ways to get to net zero energy buildings, even in a cold climate like ours, though all of these low carbon and energy footprint technologies have one thing in common: they are expensive.

As some of these initiatives would cost significantly more initially, but lead to long-term savings, the capital cost of building the school should not be considered in a vacuum, but alongside future operating costs as well. Anything short of accounting for at least a decade of operating expenses should be considered a failure.

The question isn’t whether or not we can build sustainably, it’s a matter of whether we’re willing to invest in it…and that requires an entirely new way of doing business. Let’s make sure the school board and the province know that we are paying attention. There is so much potential value in a greenfield project like this for our city.

This new school isn’t just about the latest in sustainability, it should set the standard for how things are done.

Terri Chu is an engineer committed to practical environmentalism. This column is dedicated to helping the community reduce energy, and help distinguish environmental truths from myths.



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Don’t fall prey to marketing (March 2016)

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