An eco-pearl among oystercatchers

11th July 2008 at 01:00
Four-year-old Jamie Morgan goes to nursery in one of Aberdeenshire Council's most environmentally-friendly buildings

Four-year-old Jamie Morgan goes to nursery in one of Aberdeenshire Council's most environmentally-friendly buildings. He can't spell "environment" yet - but he's happy to pronounce the new green Balmedie Nursery a success: "It's cool, because I like coming and playing with the big bricks."

Apart from the concrete plinth it sits on, the building is constructed entirely of recycled materials or those capable of being recycled. The man behind the design has come out of retirement to attend today's opening ceremony and describes some of the features that make his last building so special.

"The floor is constructed with I-beams which are all timber and in between you have cellulose insulation, which is basically recycled newspapers, instead of using polystyrene-type insulation," says Mike Jones, former senior architectural technician with the council. "And there is under- floor heating. The walls are the same I-beam construction, which is wood with cellulose insulation and plaster-board lined.

"Externally, it's clad in timber. From window sill height up, you can see there is local stone round the bottom of the building and timbers above. The roof is the same I-beam construction and cellulose insulation with a sedam roof."

Sedam is a grass-like material, which needs little maintenance and will help make the roof waterproof and offset the building's minimal carbon emissions. There are plans to install a wind turbine which it is hoped will produce enough excess energy to sell back to the national grid.

"There's also ground source heating at the back of the building which is a system of coils running into a heat exchanger and transfers the heat in here," Mr Jones adds.

The carpet is made from recycled materials, the paint is made from plant extracts, the kitchen units are all timber-made and much of the construction material was locally sourced. Outside, the safe play area is covered with material made from recycled tyres. "We did away with PVC gutters and rainwater pipework and went for pure aluminium. The same with the underground drainage - we have reverted back to clay pipes, which is far more sustainable in production and maintenance," Mr Jones says.

The nursery takes 50 pre-school children who were previously accommodated inside Balmedie Primary, which has 350 pupils.

Headteacher Ken McGowan says: "The eco credentials are good and we are hoping with the wind turbine that we would be carbon-neutral, because we would generate more electricity than we use."

The school is pursuing eco status which, it's hoped, will be secured this summer, and it plans to cordon off part of the outside area to create an eco-friendly outside classroom. The sedum roof has proved so attractive that it has provided home for a family of oystercatchers.

Staff are delighted with the learning environment, and the meeting area for parents and visitors. Work has also been done to improve facilities for people with disabilities and for pupils with additional learning support needs. Playgroup and nursery facilities were formerly located inside the adjacent primary school and use its community room. This has been refurbished with new toilets, a dedicated entrance and porch and a kitchen.

Bill Howatson, the provost of Aberdeenshire, said: "This building shows what can be done when there's a will, and it sets a good example in terms of sustainable building and design principles and the use of locally sourced resources. That's extremely important. It also demonstrates that as a council we are serious about quality education.

"The council recently approved a 15-year capital plan outlining some of the major projects taking place in the coming years. That should include even more buildings like this.

"I am particularly pleased to see such a big improvement in the early years provision for this area, and I am sure parents and children will appreciate having one of the best facilities of its kind in Aberdeenshire."

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