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Schools walking the talk with sustainability

Posted at 3:24pm Friday 09 Apr, 2021

Work has started on building one of two new schools in Ōrewa and Milldale and the Government says sustainability will be a key part of the process for both.

The Ministry of Education's head of education infrastructure service, Kim Shannon, says energy saving measures are routinely taken when planning schools like Ōrewa North West and Milldale Primary schools, both of which are set to open by 2023.

“The Ministry and its contractors use sustainable construction methods and materials in our new schools where possible, including design features to minimise the need for heating and cooling,” she says. “Sustainability initiatives inside classrooms are routinely included in new builds, including LED lighting, efficient heating/cooling systems and water savings measures.”

However, one energy saver that is already being picked up by several local schools – solar power – will not be a feature of the new schools.

“The installation of solar panels is not routinely part of new school construction,” Ms Shannon says.

“Building to higher energy efficiency standards is generally more cost-effective over a school building's lifetime. Solar panels cannot effectively meet most schools' energy demands. However, we expect them to become more viable as solar technology improves.”

However, the Government has provided grant funding for sustainability projects, including solar panels, in its $5 million Sustainability Contestable Fund last year, and two local schools had already started on the path to solar power before that.

Whangaparāoa College was first off the blocks in 2018, when it installed 150 solar panels using $95,000 of Ministry compensation funding from the sale of land next to the school for housing.

Principal James Thomas said at the time he had to convince the Ministry that solar panels were a suitable use of the funds, but the college's property business manager, Jenny Catterall, says they have proved their worth, saving $1000 a month on power bills. The college has also replaced all its lightbulbs with LEDs and installed low flow taps in its bathrooms.

Kristin School in Albany has also started on the solar power journey, installing enough panels last year to provide around 5 percent of its electricity, and it has plans to add a similar amount to a new sports complex by mid-2021.

Executive principal Mark Watson says the new panels will cost the private school around $140,000, which will be paid for by fundraising, and they will be installed on the new “Lightbox” – a steel-framed structure encased by translucent cladding that will cover and weather-proof three sports courts.

Three new rainwater tanks that include an irrigation and pumping system will also be installed to cut Kristin's use of mains water.

“Our young people are the most aware and passionate generation about our ‘climate crisis' and the need for urgent action. As a school that seeks to ensure our students are ‘future ready', we need to be leading by example,” Mark says. “We teach our students all about sustainability, so we want to be walking the talk.”

Schools generally are getting help from the Government to install insulation and replace inefficient lights in around 600 state schools. Greg Pierce, the new principal at Ōrewa College, says that process is underway at the Riverside Road school with a gradual switch to LED lighting currently taking place.

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