“Sustainable” Eco-school demolished after 6 years

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In 2010 a new £7M sustainable eco-school was opened in Dartington, Devon. The BBC reported that it would be a “flagship school” and that it would be an “amazing learning tool for the children.” The school won a sustainability award, thanks to its heat pumps, solar panels etc. More details here, where the design is described as “brave” and “far-sighted”. According to this report, the previous buildings were Victorian, so had been sustained for over 100 years.

But the flagship sustainable eco-school started letting in water soon after it was opened, and after just three years pupils were being moved into temporary classrooms, leading to legal claims against the designers and builders (BBC here and here with video, Mail here: “Sadly, the zero-carbon building is not quite as sustainable as the designers had hoped”). At that stage it was being reported that the school would be repaired and re-opened in 2016.

But now the Telegraph reports that the “visionary” school is to be demolished, as the buildings are “beyond economic repair“, and another £6M is to be spent on a new building. See also local news report from the Totnes Times.

I’m still a bit puzzled about what sustainability means, if a building made from cutting down trees and using high-tech materials in solar panels and heat pumps that has to be knocked down after six years is more “sustainable” than one built of bricks and slate that lasts over a century. Perhaps I should enrol on my university’s MSc course on sustainability.

29 thoughts on ““Sustainable” Eco-school demolished after 6 years

  1. It’s beyond parody really. I bet it had an A rating on its energy performance certificate. I bet the lovely old Victorian building which they razed to make way for this green white elephant didn’t.

    My drafty old Victorian house is rated F, therefore presumably not ‘sustainable’. In order to make it ‘sustainable’, I would have to fill the underfloor spaces with insulation, pack more insulation into the loft and make sure all the air gaps in the slates are filled, get rid of my wood burning stoves and use the oil-fired central heating only with a new £7500 condensing eco boiler.The upshot of which, I would be unable to afford the fuel bills, the joists and floorboards and the eaves in the roof would all rot due to lack of ventilation and the solid walls would become so damp they would all have to be stripped and re-plastered – presumably with modern, gypsum-based plaster, covered by modern paint which also would not allow the solid walls to breathe naturally.

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  2. Odd, ain’t it, in so many ways. It should strike us obnoxious that a building where people’s first experiences of life outside of their families — an engagement with the wider world, and where their first steps at understanding it are made and their futures are forged — isn’t of sufficient virtue, by itself, for local planning regimes.

    It’s a bit like asking, in all seriousness, “what is the carbon footprint of this ambulance?”, or perhaps asking if its journeys were really necessary.

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  3. You are correct. Social insanity (loss of contact with reality) now rules the world.

    May this one-page summary of my 11:30 am presentation at the London GeoEthics Conference on Climate Change on September 8, 2016 finally end seventy years (1946-2016) of successful UN (United Nations) and UNAS (United National Academy of Sciences) deception about the Higher Power:

    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/10640850/HigherPower.pdf

    I will be happy to reply to questions.

    With kind regards.
    Oliver K. Manuel
    1-573-647-1377

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  4. I had a look at your university’s sustainability MSc course Factfile Overview, but it wasn’t much help.

    Our MSc Sustainability is a unique combination of contemporary issues in social, economic, and environmental sustainability and entrepreneurship education.
    The course provides you with the analytical skills to understand the complexity of sustainability challenges in business as well as fostering your creative thinking to generate potential solutions. Through innovative teaching methods, the course combines contemporary theoretical approaches to sustainability and responsible business with current practice.
    The course develops your ability to create and assess strategic responses to complex sustainability challenges by bringing real corporate problems and organisational challenges into your learning experiences. It draws on different theoretical traditions such as political theory, international development, and critical management theory while examining the role of corporations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and governments.
    The course includes a range of optional modules in management, innovation and entrepreneurship, and corporate social responsibility.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. It’s perfectly clear Geoff, it’s about developing responsible, creative, innovative, contemporary solutions to challenging sustainable corporate management development issues via a constructive strategic framework.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. And if it was financed using PFI, will they still be paying for the demolished school for another 30 years?

    These people are reinventing the wheel. In the UK, we don’t roof with timber (or clad with it if you’ve got sense). The Romans used tile. The Medieval builders flirted with thatch but it was eventually ditched for tiles because it was a bit burney and needed replacing when the rotten top reached the inside. They used tile until the industrial revolution brought us slate. On and off the roofs got fancy and even flat but they just kept learning the same rule KISS and design the roof with as few joints as possible. Every other Grand Design had problems with the roof. Rapidly balding owners and embarassed builders, often from Europe muttering ‘I swear we’ve never had this problem before!’ Hundreds of years without wooden roofing. It’s a clue. We haven’t just got rain, we’ve got sneaky rain.

    The best green tips they should be teaching kids are – think carefully about what you buy. Don’t be lured by the latest fad. Don’t buy the cutting edge if you haven’t got money to waste. Don’t buy impressive when there is nobody to impress. Make sure it does the essentials before you add the extras. Comfort is always more important than you think. Just because you’ve got the money, doesn’t mean you have to spend it. Not everything has to last forever but buildings should last longer than the windows…. oh and if your insane teachers say ‘no pressure’ run for your lives.

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  7. Paul, surely you should have squeezed ‘facilitator’ in that description somewhere and maybe even ’empowerment’. LOL.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I don’t know what everyone’s getting so het up about. The architects, White [Elephant?] Design made it quite clear from the start that “the buildings have been designed to have a strong relationship with the outside landscape”. You can’t have it wet and miserable outside and expect to remain warm, cosy and dry inside if you want to commune with nature and maintain a strong relationship with the external landscape.

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  9. The fact that the term “sustainable” has been applied in all seriousness to mining metal ores and other minerals, says it all. It’s what the Green Blob wants it to be and is trotted out when required. It has no meaning.

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  10. For some positive spin, they could boast that some of it can be sent to Drax as firewood, whereby saving one or two American trees from being shipped across the Atlantic.

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  11. @Paul and @TinyCo2 … I’m shocked!! How on Gaia’s green earth could you have forgotten to include the latest and greatest – if not be all and mend all – “transformative” (and/or variants thereof)?!

    But on the “sustain*” front …

    As I had noted over four years ago, it has been expanding its grip (and gripes?!) since the triumvirate of Schwarzenegger, Hedeggard and Brundtland, “three of the world’s most prominent sustainability leaders”, declared that it was “time for a new breed of action heroes”, so they – and/or some PR hack on their behalf and behest – dreamed up the “Sustainia Award”!

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  12. Shocker! School wants to build a better building; cliscep readers are appalled.

    Not worth mention, apparently, that the architects and builders screwed the school by building something unfit for purpose.

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  13. “Shocker! School wants to build a better building; cliscep readers are appalled.”

    Appalled? Drily amused don’t you mean. Even us hardened climate sceptics need some light relief occasionally.

    Anyway, they don’t just want to build a better building; they knocked down a perfectly good building that had been doing its job for a century, so they could put up a ‘better building’ which, 6 years later, turned out not to be better – in fact considerably worse – so then they decided again that they wanted to put up a better building. And the architects didn’t just screw the school, they screwed council tax payers, who will presumably be footing the bill for the new school. All because of ‘sustainable’ and ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘dangerous’ climate change.

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  14. Jaime J, the old school is still standing. See:

    https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@50.44634,-3.7103256,3a,75y,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sPb1iQ2106fWIOMQBdxc2sA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!6m1!1e1

    The new but soon-to-be-demolished school is a bit further north and was built on land sold by Dartington Hall, actual home of Schumacher College and spiritual home of John ‘4WR/NLP’ Papworth’s Resurgence (now merged with The Ecologist) and the whole Transition Towns thing. The next bit of DH Trust land up for sale is right next door to the doomed new school: Broom Park field, on which the council wants to build 200 houses.

    A good thing? No idea. The Transition types aren’t happy about it but that doesn’t automatically mean that the housing scheme is right.

    Perhaps Satish Kumar could issue an utterance or two to clear the whole thing up. Or not.

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  15. I bow to your superior knowledge Hilary 🙂 When I was last in work, facilitator was the buzz word, over which I was regularly in trouble. I was told I wasn’t supposed to do the jobs myself, I was supposed to help others to do them. I pointed out that due to redundancy there were no others and I’d heard that if you facilitate by yourself you could go blind.

    Raff, it takes a lot more to shock us over the public sector piddling money down the drain. It wasn’t even a £billion. They’re amateurs. What shocks me is how many people think that CO2 will ever fall, one cock up at a time. They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I think that’s an optimistic outlook. I think hell is a planning meeting where the road is still being considered. The ANY OTHER BUSINESS is now a list 3 light years long.

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  16. Poor old Naff.

    So desperate to find fault with the blog that he ends up attempting to excuse the inexcusable – and even then gets it wrong.

    As usual…

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  17. Jaime, you don’t actually know that it was perfectly good. If they decided to replace it, my assumption would be that it was not. I don’t understand why people are not more upset about the school (or local council, as if it makes a difference) being ripped off. That’s the core of what happened.

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  18. It’s a bit confusing Vinny. In the report it says:

    “This project involved the complete replacement of the original Dartington School, which consisted of a series of poorly-insulated Victorian buildings and temporary classrooms, set upon a flood plain. Despite these drawbacks, the original school buildings related well to the surrounding landscape and were popular with students.”

    Which would imply that they were demolished, though one or two buildings might remain.

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  19. Raff, the Victorian buildings were probably perfectly adequate, though ‘poorly insulated’. They may not have been sufficient to house the number of pupils though because there were also temporary buildings on site, which would not have been ideal. (See my comment above). In hindsight, it would probably have been far better (and cheaper) to improve the Victorian buildings and just replace the temporary structures with simple modern buildings. But architects and school boards of governors do like to be ‘visionary’ don’t they.

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  20. A couple of years ago there was a report on BBC R4 concerning the new school building’s “state of the art” heating system.

    It turned out that the automated system had failed to function to its design specification and was having to be over-ridden by manual control.

    The upshot was that the heating bills were greater than those of the Victorian building it was designed to replace.

    And that was only for starters.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. This all points to a deeper problem with these new designs.

    One of the advantages of the French nuclear drive over the one in the UK was that they achieved a design that worked and then rolled it out. If they found a problem, once they solved it for one station they could duplicate it in the others. In the UK we built different ‘better’ stations each time. It meant that each station had a new set of problems and staff couldn’t move from station to station without training. Ditto contractors.

    Trying to solve CO2 is the same. We’ve got loads of prototypes and no hard evidence for stuff that works. As Alex’s link points out, they didn’t even have a definition of a zero carbon house, never mind any clue how it could be achieved. This is not planning, it’s whim.

    So unfortunate schools like this one have to guess what might work, judge architects and builders on their enthusiastic claims and then deal with the fallout. All the early photos and the artists impressions of the school are of lovely newly sawn wooden pods. All the now photos show grundgy grey sheds. Looking at White Design’s other projects they use a lot of wood cladding and no two designs the same. It’s Grand Designs with public money… and not even built to last. Kids don’t need inspiring architecture, they need stability and comfort. Ditto patients in hospitals.

    If the government wants to have eco building, they should be researching what works and is reliable. They should know how long the materials last and have a good idea of the maintenance costs. The resultant buildings wouldn’t be impressive but they would be functional and at minimal cost. We can’t have thousands of experiments running concurrently with every credulous head teacher or other public sector manager with zero building experience impressed by a slick talking architect. No doubt the insurers and legal bods will settle it, ensuring everyone but them loses out.

    It’s easy to blame the architect but it’s government that is at fault. If you leave the private sector to change the world it will charge you the Earth to do it and potentially wash its hand of the problem if things get too difficult. Like all those solar panel and windmill companies.

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  22. There is plenty written about zero energy housing, TinyCO2, see the passivehaus standard for example: http://www.passivhaus.org.uk/standard.jsp?id=122
    Maybe something like this should be mandated, although I was reading yesterday that government has just ripped up its existing low energy regulations – perhaps part of the bonfire of regulations brexiters want.

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  23. Raff, designs that work in one country don’t necessarily work in another, often for a variety of reasons including climate, aesthetics and space to build. While there are standards for passivehaus, they’re not written with UK restrictions in mind. To add such buildings here is an example of prototyping that the school fell foul of. You end up having to ship in expertise, materials and all that costs a premium. When something goes wrong it turns out you have to reimport the experts. Alternatively you use local tradesmen and materials and they make mistakes because they’re not familiar with the pitfalls. Passivehauses are very expensive for a reason.

    I’ve said from the start that nobody takes CAGW seriously. If they did they would be approaching it in an entirely different way. If you want the building trade and buyers to revolutionise, you have to start from the basics, not just throw out a vague and impossible rule and expect builders to follow it. As it was, they just stopped building, making the housing shortage worse. You have to re-educate planners and the public. People have to accept that the traditional appearances of areas will change. You then retrain the suppliers and the builders. Ideally one change at a time, rather than a complete switch overnight. And don’t make multiple changes like the heating situation. It’s not that long ago that electric heating was scrapped for boilers. Then there was condensing boilers and now they want us to go back to electric or ground source heating. In between, people have started burning wood again and local pollution has risen. Can you predict what customers will say when offered electric heating?

    The most basic part of this revolution is to persuade the public and business they even want to start along the path. With the climate at the bottom of most people’s list of priorities, the warmists haven’t even got that stage off the going. Heck, you haven’t even given it enough thought to appreciate where the pitfalls will be.

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  24. Yeah, that graphic says it all. I blame people like us. There’s a whole parasitic section of society that has been allowed to flourish because we didn’t want the grief of telling them they were talking sphericals. They got out of hand and thought they were useful members of society. The EU headquarters is/are full of them. For an easy life we’ve created a monster.

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  25. TiNYCO2 — “, they just stopped building, making the housing shortage worse.”

    Brown promised a raft of new ‘ecotowns’. It was great news for eco-consultancy firms. Not so great for people who would have had to live in the new eco-slums, which would all but abolish cars, would restrict the amount of water that could be used, and be made of nth-rate materials. the NIMBYs came out, and were allowed to challenge the green virtues of the development — which wasn’t entirely groundless, so many eco-spivs being on the bandwagon, chasing the oodles of public money. No matter, Brown’s promise to build went the way of his promises not to let house prices spiral out of control, and that there were would be no return to the cycle of boom and bust. Happy days.

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  26. Apparently, sustainable eco-buildings, like the one below, have been known to last as long as 25 years – although £1 doesn’t seem to represent a terribly encouraging return on investment:-

    http://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/mayor-asked-to-sell-western-park-s-eco-house-and-former-school-for-1/story-29543978-detail/story.html

    My disgracefully unsustainable Georgian house was built in 1798 and seems to have proved a rather better long term bet 🙂

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  27. “Welcome to eco-home hell. A brave new world of affordable homes unfit for humans to live in, built to environmentally friendly specifications that make no sense. Windows that open wide, for instance, do not exist in the eco-home. Our windows are meant to open, at an upward slant, to a maximum of 10 cm, to stop heat escaping. Air flow is supposed to be regulated by ventilators, which only succeed in recycling warm air from the rest of the building. The first summer we lived here, it was like being in a sealed vault, perfumed by the steamy stench of other residents’ dinners. It took a year of petitioning before the developers reluctantly agreed to show us how to take the windows off their restrictors. To this day, they insist we shouldn’t, ‘for safety reasons’”

    http://www.spectator.co.uk/2015/06/my-eco-home-nightmare/

    Give me a drafty old Victorian house with 9 foot high ceilings, solid brick walls, floorboards with a foot of ventilated airspace beneath them and cool terracotta tiles in the kitchen any day.

    Not only are modern eco buildings hazardous in that they are seriously overheating the residents, the lack of fresh air ventilation is exacerbating illnesses such as asthma. Perhaps they should be renamed eco tombs.

    Liked by 3 people

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