What are the priorities for School Design? | Michael Tweed RIBA MRIAI


18 October 2016

The following comment was received in response to BRegs Blog post School Building Programme : Are our children safe? from architect Michael Tweed B.A. B.Arch RIBA MRIAI:

It seems that the Department and Minister are trumpeting that the schools will have an A3 energy rating while emulating the ostrich when it comes to child safety due to fire or structural risks!

Taking account of all the holidays in a year schools are more or less empty for approximately one third of the year. When used they are open 5 days a week from perhaps 8am until 5pm. That means a school is occupied for approximately 1575 hours per year where the total number of hours in a year is 8760. In other words a school is occupied for only 18% of a year.

The mean daytime temperature in Ireland in winter is approximately 8 degC. The school will be heated to around 20 degC which is only around 12 degC of heating required. Each child will emit around 100W of heat so a classroom of 30 will be emitting around 3Kw of heat.

In addition occupation of the school is largely during the day, therefore PV solar panels would be a sensible addition to provide free solar electricity.

Has anyone done a cost analysis on the payback from building a school with an A3 rating as opposed to say a B3 or B2 rating?

The benefits from improved insulation follow the inverse rule of diminishing returns! In other words each step up the rating ladder takes more resources the further you progress! I doubt a school could ever achieve pay-back!

Here’s my list of priorities for the design of a school building – assuming the space planning is correct:

  • 100% fire safe – top of a list by a long long margin!
  • 100% structurally safe – joint top you’d have to say!
  • a value engineered design where construction process costs are included in the design detailing – since schools are paid from the public purse let’s ensure we’re getting absolute value for money!
  • adequate ventilation to ensure classroom are properly ventilated to exchange the stale air with fresh air – preferably a heat recovery system
  • a reasonable cost effective (looked at in pay-back terms of added build cost to achieve a particular rating set against a pay back of say 10 years on fuel costs) rate of building insulation, probably with no need to get much more than a good “B” BER rating.

Then you’ll get safe, comfortable and cost effective school buildings.

Since when did a BER rating become more important than a safe school building?

Other posts of interest:

Could Rapid Build Housing mean Rapid Fire Spread? | Michael Tweed B.A. B.Arch RIBA MRIAI

Fire Risk and Attic Conversions | Michael Tweed

One ‘L’ of a battle looming over DECLG Building Regulations | Michael Tweed

Fire Trap Home Buyers Beware | Still No Consumer Remedy

Fire Safety in Green, PassivHaus and Energy Smart Housing | CJ Walsh

Michael Clifford: “when will we address cracks in construction?” Irish Examiner

You can still buy a non-compliant home…and it’s all perfectly legal | SI.9 Loopholes

Is the scene set for another Priory Hall? | Look Back 11

2 thoughts on “What are the priorities for School Design? | Michael Tweed RIBA MRIAI

  1. Michael O'Neill

    Reply to – What are the priorities for School Design – Michael Tweed RIBA MRIAI


    Other than a point of point of order dealt with first below, I support Michael Tweeds comments.

    1. Schools Use

    Certainly some schools may have a limited daily usage as described. These may in fact be in the majority. I simply don’t have the figures.

    Some schools make their facilities available during the summer months, including sports facilities, showers, changing etc. Others may be involved in community outreach programs such as skills training, adult literacy, remedial teaching, etc. Many schools developed a practice of holding summer schools for both local “grinds” and foreign student English courses.

    Apart from these calls on teachers’ time, and far from the fabled three or four months holidays we are told teachers are getting, in fact many teachers attend during the summer months for administrative and course preparation work. As I am not directly involved in running a school I don’t know all the ins and outs but I see the time teachers put into the courses and it does not seem to be limited to 9-5.

    Happy to stand corrected on this, or indeed for some comments or clarification.

    2. Unregulated Regulation

    My concern with the new forms of system-build or drywall technology being used today is the seemingly disastrous and ongoing unresolved conflict between speed of execution and insulation/condensation on the one hand and structural stability and fire-proofing on the other hand.

    Without structural stability and fire-proofing you cannot have a safe building.

    On the other hand speed of execution and insulation/condensation offer cost effective construction and a healthy internal environment.

    It seems clear from recent building failures and “known knowns” about non-compliant residential developments, that there is not enough knowledge in the industry to build newer kinds of construction safely, quickly and compliantly.

    There appears to be a knowledge gap between the ever-higher aspirations of the Building Regulations and the ever poorer results we see in non-compliant, even dangerous built work.

    Compounding this is the unwillingness on the part of everyone involved to get stuck in, inspect, and issue cogent professional reports which can be analyzed to give us a picture on a national basis.

    Unless we develop this inspection feedback loop we will remain in the dark about corruption and incompetence in the Irish Building industry. Not inspecting is a form of cover-up. Who benefits?

  2. Brendan Thomas

    Very interesting points re energy rating. Does the Min give a damn? He doesn’t even know what its all about


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