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Tin cans and paper build a great school

Newspaper, wood chips and `a lot of goat' made your building, architect explains to pupils. Douglas Blane reports

Newspaper, wood chips and `a lot of goat' made your building, architect explains to pupils. Douglas Blane reports

Sheep on the roof isn't something every school would want. But it sounds like a great idea to the Colmonell Primary pupils as they listen to architect Gordon Fleming talk about the building he designed for them. They moved into their new home in the small South Ayrshire village just in January.

"Some buildings in Scandinavia with grass roofs like yours get sheep in to keep it short," Mr Fleming tells the 16 pupils gathered around him in the library space of the airy, open-plan, two-classroom school. "But we won't be doing that. Yours is slow-growing, so the council will cut it once a year."

What's under the grass, the pupils want to know. "First there's soil and a mat to stop it getting washed away," Mr Fleming replies. "Then there's something that looks like egg-boxes to hold the moisture. There's a waterproof layer to stop water getting into where we are now. Then there's insulation. You need all those layers to make a grass roof work."

It is all part of being one of the greenest schools in Scotland, he tells them. "Sustainability is about the effect a building has on the environment, and on you, when you work in it every day.

"So when South Ayrshire asked me to design a sustainable school, I had to think about three things: it shouldn't use much energy; it should use natural materials; and it should be healthy for you. Most schools are not like that."

Mr Fleming bends down to a big box, pulls out an empty tin can and holds it up. "What do you do with these?" he asks.

"Recycle them."

"Well that's what we have done for this building - 90 per cent of the school's steel frame is made from cans you put in your recycling bin. Then we need walls, and again we're looking for special materials. One of them is this."

He reaches into his box again and holds up a glass jar of wood shavings. "We get these from workshop floors. They are all squashed together to make part of the walls. The other part is this - recycled newspaper, one of the most important materials in the school. It's what keeps you warm. All the outside walls are filled with a thick layer of newspapers."

As Mr Fleming pulls out more glass jars containing natural materials such as wood, clay, cork and rubber, he tells the children what part of the building is made from them and answers their eager questions. Headteacher Cindy O'Driscoll explains why she invited the architect today.

"We just moved into the new school in January. This is the old school site, so we were in temporary accommodation for over a year. We used to bring the kids once a week to see it being built. Near the end we stopped, so we could bring them in at once and have a reveal moment. They were gobsmacked - they loved it.

"It is wonderful for teachers, too. It's light, bright and spacious and we have wee outdoor classrooms, made of stone and wood, which we will use in the summer. There is a huge garden area we will be planting. It boosts all our spirits when we walk in here."

"We learn better," says Lesley (P6). "I never expected it to be so big and colourful."

"It's warm and cosy," says Cameron (P6) "When you come here it makes you happy."

The architect's visit is a first step in starting to use the school, and the thinking behind it, as a teaching resource, explains Mrs O'Driscoll - and not just as a great place for learning.

Mr Fleming's talk will motivate the afternoon's lessons, when the P1-4s will talk about green ideas with their teacher while the senior school work in pairs at computers on first steps to a green flag (see panel).

"You can't expect to get one of those just on the building alone," says Mrs O'Driscoll. "It does gives us a great start, though, and a way of motivating the children."

Back at the architectural seminar, Mr Fleming has reached his favourite part, he says, pulling out a glass jar containing a toy goat. "There is a lot of goat in this school," he says. "I wanted to bring a real one, but I didn't think your teachers would like it. All the carpets are made of goat hair instead of artificial fibre.

"That's just one of the reasons that Colmonell Primary is healthier for you and better for the environment than pretty well every other school in Scotland. It is one of a kind."

Gordon Fleming is a director at Ayr-based ARPL Architects and a part-time design tutor at Strathclyde University School of Architecture

How to get a green flag

- The seven steps to an eco-school are: committee; review; action plan; evaluate; curriculum; community; code.

- The nine topics are: litter; waste reduction; energy; water; health; transport; biodiversity; grounds; wider world.

- Schools use the results of their environmental review to concentrate on the topics most relevant to them.


Key energy savers

- Heat pumps for underfloor and water heating;

- natural circulation design;

- automatic windows, responsive to temperature and carbon dioxide;

- automatic lighting;

- outdoor classrooms;

- steel frame from recycled cans;

- walls made of clay rather than concrete;

- newspaper insulation;

- flooring and worktops made of wood and cork;

- grass roof;

- goat-hair carpets

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