Improving the interior environment of schools through dialogue

​The summer holidays are over, and the children are returning to school. Given the beautiful weather and the high temperatures of the recent period not everyone is happy with that. A recently-published study from a German research institute, the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics (IBP), showed that a large proportion of the 95 million schoolchildren in Europe are taught in classrooms with insufficient daylight and a C02 content that is too high.

Although school buildings have improved in recent years, a great deal can still be done to create a healthy interior for the perfect learning environment. How? By an open attitude from construction professionals who do not hesitate to enter into a dialogue with real end users, and use this to provide the existing built environment with a major boost to the health and well-being of building users. This has exponential implications and opens the door to the next level in our circular economy.

Health of end users is key

The health of end users in buildings is garnering more and more attention. Staff costs account for as much as 90% of the total operational costs. Marten Valk, Building Physics Consultant at Deerns, says "In construction, decisions were traditionally made at investment level. Maintenance and management were issues left for later. Today, we do not hesitate to calculate payback periods and we cautiously begin to focus more on total cost of ownership. At that level, we still work from the bricks and machinery that come together to form our buildings, rather than from the people who, at the end of the day, want to be comfortable in a sustainable building. With the trend to put users at the heart of things and by taking into account the health and welfare aspects, which are difficult to quantify, the entire financial model can be turned upside down. Our sensory comfort experience basically focuses on air quality, thermal comfort, visual comfort and acoustic comfort. In addition, the more subjective factors such as interior design, perception of green spaces and view from the building, look and feel and location are decisive for how users appreciate the building and how productive they are. If we take these latter factors into account when designing or redesigning buildings, we are only too keen to put the detail in ourselves. After all, as construction professionals, we know what they need. Or we are simply relying on a standard, a programme of requirements or another document with figures. But does this match up with the subjective wishes of the people who will be spending so many hours in those buildings?

Involving end users

Let's take primary schools for example: Extending the financial model even further, we could say that if a school building fits perfectly with the needs of the end users, in this case the pupils, absenteeism will be the lowest, children will be able to concentrate the best, and their overall school performance will be the best. Their development will pay off in the future, given that they will go on to contribute towards an even more sustainable world in a few years' time. What kind of figures are we talking about if we express this in Euros? This is a question to which the Future Leaders Program - an initiative by the Dutch Green Building Council and in which Deerns staff members are playing an active role - wished to have an answer. As a first step in the right direction, the case group entered into a dialogue with pupils from the Dutch Jacobus Koelmanschool and the Johannes Calvijnschool, both in Krimpen aan den IJssel. As part of the research, Group 8 from the Jacobus Koelmanschool (constructed in 1976) spent a day in the classroom of Group 8 from the Johannes Calvijnschool (constructed in 2004), and vice versa. Pupils were asked their opinion on both days. It was striking that the children valued the acoustic comfort of the old school building far more highly than that of the newer school building. This is characteristic of the interior climate of a large number of relatively new/refurbished schools, in which the shell of the building was improved but the air quality is not up to scratch. How do we work together to clarify which experience-related variables are decisive in the subjective experience when we start addressing the issue of the design and transformation of schools? Sufficient spaciousness has proven highly important. In addition, many subjective issues came to the fore that are very difficult to incorporate into objective standards and programmes. We are used to finding architectural or MEP-technical solutions to construction issues. Practical experience has shown that in organisational terms, a great deal can be solved without us having to reach deeply into our wallets. Provide expertise on ventilation facilities in classrooms. Provide waiting areas for parents that do not disturb lessons in classrooms. And actively involve pupils in designing the classrooms.

6 septembre 2016

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