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School designs ‘use too much air con’

The Government’s adviser on architecture has criticised the design of ventilation systems in schools being built under the £45 billion Building Schools for the Future programme.

The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (Cabe) urged less use of air conditioning technology and said there was a greater need for passive ventilation systems in the 3,500 secondary schools due to be rebuilt or refurbished in England by 2020.

“We have architects who certainly do not know how to design low-energy and high natural light buildings. They have been used to designing buildings with a lot of air conditioning, lots of artificial lighting and very high intensity energy usage,” Cabe’s chief executive Richard Sim-mons told a Department for Children, Schools and Families select committee. 

“We know for sure that we will need to have schools that rely much more on passive ventilation – in other words, air that moves through the building without being driven through it. We have to use natural light as much as we can, and we are starting to see that become a much stronger feature of school design. All those things are being discussed.”

Cabe has called for the creation of a ‘design threshold’ to prevent badly-designed schools being built. It said out of 24 schemes it had reviewed that were now at the planning stage or where a single design team had been chosen, 21 were rated ‘not yet good enough’ or ‘mediocre’ while only three were rated ‘good’ or ‘excellent’.

The designs were rated on factors including incorporation of energy-efficient ventilation systems, use of natural daylight, incorporation of anti-bullying designs into playgrounds and toilets and pleasantness of communal spaces and classrooms.

“The design quality of schools reviewed by Cabe so far has not been high enough,” Mr Simmons said.

“What we need is a design threshold to prevent bad schemes from continuing through the system.

“It should not be acceptable for public money to be used to procure poorly designed schools.”

Bob Towse of the Heating and Ventilating Contractors’ Association said he agreed in principle that passive ventilation needed to be used more widely. But he added that there were significant difficulties with getting it to work in practice.

“Results in the commercial sector have been mixed. We would like to see all buildings require less power, but I don’t think we have got there yet,” he said.

“At the moment passive ventilation systems are a bit patchy in operation and we wouldn’t want to see schools, especially if they have lots of glass and open-plan areas, end up with overheating problems.”

Schools Minister Jim Knight said the Government was committed to building well-designed schools. He said: “We don’t build mediocre schools. The fact is that most of these designs are at initial planning stage and they are all improving massively as they advance through the process.”

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families added: “We are looking carefully at introducing a minimum design threshold in BSF.”