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Kids help design new school in Richmond, and it rocks

Image of interior of Brighouse Elementary School
The architectural firm Perkins + Will won a Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia Award in Architecture for Brighouse Elementary School in Richmond, thanks in part to the design ideas of students.

Big on sustainability, Brighouse Elementary wins major architecture award

Let school kids help determine the design of their new elementary school? It sounds a bit dangerous, doesn't it?

Yet that's exactly what happened with Samuel Brighouse Elementary School in Richmond. And it turns out that what kids want is good natural light, fresh air — and sustainability.

Read about the role energy modeling played in Brighouse Secondary's design

Early in the design process, Vancouver architectural firm Perkins + Will went directly to the students who would be using the new school to find out what was most important to them.

The students drew pictures and made videos to illustrate the qualities they wanted in their school, and the design team carried their ideas — along with feedback from parents and teachers, the school board, the city and members of the surrounding community — into the design process.

The students' input specifically inspired the light-hearted, rippled roof form, the use of colour inside and large, and the floor-to-ceiling windows.

"It was a very collaborative design process," says Tracy Blagdon, Manager of Energy and Sustainability for Richmond School District. "And the students were right there in the middle of it. The school district decided early on that it wanted Brighouse to be a teaching tool, to show how environmental stewardship could work, but we also wanted it to be something everyone felt they were a part of.

"And I think we really succeeded: it's kid-friendly, it fits in the neighbourhood, it's incredibly energy efficient and sustainable and it's beautiful."

Building lauded for design and for sustainability

Others think it's beautiful, too.

Perkins + Will won a Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia Award in Architecture for the building in 2012. And Richmond School District won BC Hydro's 2012 Power Smart Excellence Award for new construction.

The building is one of the lowest carbon-emitting schools in the country.

"During the shoulder season," says Blagdon. "Brighouse sometimes operates using no carbon-based fuels at all."

Built to accommodate about 500 students, the new school is a two-storey, 4,777-square-metre structure with two wings connected by a central atrium. There's also a shared community garden, outdoor courtyards, a neighbourhood learning centre with evening adult literacy courses, and green roofs on the kindergarten classrooms that can been seen from the second level atrium space.

"Of all the schools we've done in the past, nothing comes close to Brighouse — the atrium, the light, the space," says J.S. Tessier, Associate Principal of Integral Group (formerly Cobalt Engineering). "Most schools have low ceilings, and they're dark. This one, you walk in and it's light — the atrium doesn't need electric light at all, even when it's cloudy. And it feels fresh all day.

"The teachers love it, the students love it — they're not tired at the end of the day."

What makes Brighouse Elementary so energy-efficient

  • A geo-exchange system for heating, where water circulating in tubes below the school yard captures heat from the ground and redistributes it to each classroom through an in-floor heating system
  • A mixed-mode ventilation system, where air passes into the school spaces through trickle vents (which operate automatically) and windows, then transfers into the atrium where energy is recovered before being exhausted to the outside
  • Solar hot-water collectors located on the library roof, which provide hot water to all the school's hot water taps
  • Daylight harvesting through lighting control systems, combined with solar shading, and triple-glazed classroom windows.

Learn how energy modelling helped deliver energy efficiency at Brighouse Elementary

About Power Smart's New Construction Program

The New Construction Program provides financial incentives for new commercial, institutional and multi-unit residential buildings and major retrofits.

If you qualify, BC Hydro will fund up to 100 per cent of an energy modelling study that can be used towards your LEED certification and to apply for FortisBC capital incentives (some restrictions apply).

Find out more about the New Construction Program or call 604 522 4713 or 1 866 522 4713.