Other Comments on “The Lessons” from Horton School – archive

Other Comments on “The Lessons”

(1) When CASLE visited the school (late in November) we were very impressed overall with what we found. By this time next year it should be very good from an Indoor Environment Quality standpoint.

Why “by this time next year?” Because the building materials are still heavily offgassing. Workers were still at work. The CASLE reps detected strong building material odours immediately upon entering the building. It seems that the TVOC baseline used, the equipment used to establish it, need to be looked at again. New buildings need an adequate flush-out period after completion and before the building is put into use so that, in effect, occupants, especially children who are known to be more vulnerable, don’t use their lungs to detoxify the air.

To quote H. Levin, a research Architect, “A major cause of indoor air Quality problems is premature occupancy. This requires planning from the outset for adequate time between scheduled completion and initial occupancy.” (Best Sustainable Indoor Air Quality Practices in Commercial Buildings. Environmental Building News, Nov 29, 1998.)

The lesson? Requiring the developers of the next new schools to fit tight timetables may be risky. Too much potential will be there for corner cutting and mistakes. It takes time to find and choose appropriate least toxic building materials. It takes time to generate optimum performance and design plans. And, of course, time has to be left for the unexpected setbacks like those that disrupted Horton’s progress.

We told the developers all of this in our talks of December 7th and 9th, 1998, but it is pressure from the community, government, and others that usually contributes to tight timetables. How can we get the message across to all involved that putting new schools into use before they are thoroughly completed and off-gassed is potentially very harmful to the children? A building is not finished when the last nail goes in, but is only finished when the new materials have offgassed.

The Education Act guarantees every child the right to a safe and healthy environment, and Labour Laws protect the staff from working in unhealthy conditions. CASLE sincerely hopes the decision makers and communities are recognizing the importance to health of taking the time to get it right.

(2) To get it close to right, Horton School had an important advantage – it benefitted from an Independent Performance Assessment: the GB-Tool program.

There are others, including:

  • The BREEAM program (British Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) is now the industry standard in the UK. We understand that about 40% of buildings there are being assessed through the BREEAM model.
  • The C-2000 Program was developed through CANMET Energy Technology Centre, Natural Resources Canada, for use achieving high performance for Commercial Buildings.
  • BEPAC – Building Environmental Performance Assessment Criteria:

A comprehensive, standardized method for evaluating the environmental performance of both new and existing office buildings. It is incentive oriented to guide and encourage the market to value more environmentally responsible practices and higher performance standards. BEPAC covers a comprehensive set of environmental criteria including issues of interior, local, and global perspectives in five major topic areas: Ozone layer protection, Environmental Impact of Energy Use, Indoor Environment Quality, Resource Conservation, and Site and Transportation.

As mentioned, GB-Tool (Green Building Tool) is for schools, and was based on a combination of BEPAC and C-2000. GB-Tool is in use all around the world in the US, Canada, the UK, Japan, Germany, Austria, Sweden, France, and elsewhere. So, there is no lack of well designed assessment programs that have been adjusted for Canadian use. We just have to put them to use and reap the benefits.

(3) In addition to ensuring good Indoor Environment Quality, wouldn’t the new schools best be part of the solution Regarding Nova Scotia’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Commitment? GB-Tool can help attain that goal. By 2010 we are committed to a reduction of 3 an 1/2 million metric tons equivalent, which is 16.5% below business as usual. With a commitment like that, we would be wise to build all new buildings with that in mind. Horton is 42% more energy efficient than the Model National Energy Code Reference Building, but at 15% reduction, even it does not quite meet the 2010 16.5% requirement.

We also hope builders will see the advantages of the incentive program called CBIP or Commercial Building Incentive Program. The Federal Government will pay up to $80,000 per building if a building exceeds the National Energy Code by 25%. This would make more dollars available to each building, and ensure higher quality. In order to take advantage of the CBIP, businesses are required to submit an Expression of Interest Form. We hope this is being done for each school planned, along with the Independent Performance assessment for each of these schools. Much that is done by these programs goes directly hand in hand with Human Environmental Health Protection that CASLE has been working so hard to promote.

(4) The building manager at Horton School told us that the air quality goal at the school is “To make the air quality inside better than the outside.” That would be a good goal for all of our new schools, but especially in areas where industry or other pollutant sources pollute the outdoor air. Perhaps Nova Scotia should propose choosing an existing school that is in need of extensive repair/upgrading to be entered in the International Green Building Challenge 2000. We have been told that GB-Tool is particularly well suited for evaluating existing buildings. Just think of what we could learn that would be applicable to the upgrading needed in so many schools in the Province! In Canada, for that matter.

CASLE’s one concern is that, despite the use of GB-Tool at Horton, some decisions were made that serve Mother Earth better than they serve human health. The attached assessment outlines some of the things that can be done differently in this regard.

How can we use the lessons from the Horton School throughout Nova Scotia, and not repeat old mistakes?

CASLE believes that the keys are:

  1. Being sure the contracts contain clear and strong requirements for all aspects of healthy school construction and operation.
  2. Designing & assessing schools using an Independent expert in environmentally healthy building design and including a “green” Assessment Model such as GB-Tool or BEPAC.
  3. Ensuring the use of least-toxic building and finishing materials and equipment. Research is showing that Source Control does work!
  4. Providing training, users manuals, and other controls to maintain Design Intent over time.
  5. After completion, we must be sure new schools are well off-gassed before children enter. (This could take weeks or even months depending on the toxicity of the materials used for construction, but children must be protected from breathing these chemicals. Premature use of the building would put children in the unacceptable position of, in effect, detoxifying the building by using their lungs and bodies.)