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Creating healthy indoor learning environments

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by Robert Drew last update:Jun 25, 2010

When asked by their teacher what they would like to see in their new school, the students pulled out their sketch paper and markers.
Creating healthy indoor learning environments

When asked by their teacher what they would like to see in their new school, the students pulled out their sketch paper and markers.

The session resulted in more than fifty colorful diagrams and imaginative narratives about their future educational home.

Requests included the usual suspects of desirable features: color, comfortable chairs and a speed skating oval.

But, the students also demonstrated their environmental savvy by requesting natural ventilation, courtyard gardens, photo-sensitive lighting, solar panels, recycling stations and more natural light.

The new 500-student Samuel Brighouse Elementary School in Richmond, B.C., will replace an existing older elementary school on a 3.2 hectare site adjacent to the central business district.

A structural assessment revealed that it wasn’t economically feasible to perform the necessary seismic upgrades to the school.

The old school would need to be replaced by a new one.

This provided an opportunity for the Richmond School District to implement new educational priorities focused on inquiry-based learning, inclusion and connection to the environment.

They took this opportunity to develop a sustainable building template to create healthy indoor learning environments and minimize the facility’s carbon footprint.

Brighouse’s sustainable template will act as a model for the district.

The ideas and visions the students generated were presented to the design team in a start-up programming workshop and the majority of these ideas were captured in the design of the school.

Currently under construction, the school will open in September 2011.

It is an example of healthy indoor learning environments and education through demonstration.

Students spend the majority of their typical school day indoors.

The quality of the indoor environment has a significant influence on their well-being and ability to learn.

Through a series of collaborative design workshops, five key design priorities to promote a healthy indoor learning environment emerged, which are daylighting, acoustics, indoor air quality, color and texture, and ergonomics.

It was equally important to the team that the students were empowered to construct meaning from the site’s ephemeral natural cycles and the building’s physical materials.

This education through demonstration initiative influenced just about every design decision made on the project.

It started with daylighting.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of daylighting on the learning environment. It enhances student performance and mood, increases student and teacher attendance and reduces energy costs.

A recent study by Heschong Mahone Group quantified that daylighting improved math and reading progress by as much as 20 per cent and 26 per cent respectively.

The next issue was indoor air quality.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that pollutant levels in indoor environments may run up to five times greater than in outdoor environments.

Many of these indoor pollutants are known to cause adverse health effects for the seven million school-aged U.S. children, who suffer from asthma, contributing to more than 14 million absentee days a year in the U.S. alone.

Additionally, poor indoor air quality reduces the ability for students to perform mental tasks requiring concentration, calculation or memory.

Addressing acoustics was also a priority.

Students in quieter schools have demonstrated scores up to 20 per cent higher in word recognition tests said a report from a Cornell University study.

Additionally, acoustically sound classrooms help facilitate effective classroom management.

Color and texture was also important.

Functional schemes have been found to significantly reduce incidents of destructive behavior and aggressiveness.

Ergonomics played a role as well. Furniture designed for active and dynamic movement improves short-term memory and learning.

Stakeholder engagement throughout the design process ensured that the consultant team developed a design consistent with the school’s goals and vision.

A blog site and committees of parents and students fueled this ongoing dialogue.

As a result, the school community will receive a learning facility that matches their imagination and the design team gained a rewarding and invaluable experience working closely with students from day one.

The school is targeting LEED NC Gold certification, which is mandated for all provincial government funded projects.

Once completed, the new Brighouse elementary school is also anticipated to be one of the most energy-efficient, lowest carbon emitting elementary schools in Canada.

Robert Drew is an associate principal in Busby Perkins+Will’s Vancouver office and is the principal-in-charge of the Samuel Brighouse Elementary School.

The Los Angeles office of Perkins+Will is also working on Samuel Brighouse Elementary School.

last update:Jun 25, 2010

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