Why Smiling Creek Elementary makes everybody happy

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Like much of the Lower Mainland, Coquitlam has experienced unprecedented growth over the last decade, and is currently the 3rd fastest growing city in B.C., with a population increase of over 20% from 2006 to 2016. Few organizations are more aware of this than School District 43 (SD43), who have been busy meeting this demand with 5 new or replacement schools over the last 5 years, and several more under development.

Along with all this construction comes a huge focus on sustainability, especially with Smiling Creek Elementary, which was built to LEED Gold Standards and opened in September 2018. "We strive to be a leader in promoting high performance sustainable buildings," says Vio Geana, Manager of Projects with SD43. "Our goal is to create a comfortable environment for students and staff to learn and spend their time in."

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Smiling Creek was built with support BC Hydro's Commercial New Construction program (CNC), which works with owners and developers right from the concept stage to plan and execute high performance, energy-efficient buildings. "Working with BC Hydro provides invaluable guidance to the School District and ensures we're always up to date with the evolution of the energy management practices and technologies. BC Hydro's CNC program ensures that our design team, including the architects, electrical and mechanical designers pay particular attention to the energy systems, ensuring we don't overlook any opportunity to maximize our efficiency," says Vio.

Optimizing heat pump integration

An efficient air to water heat pump is supported by Smiling Creek's unique approach: the integration of a solar wall on the south-facing exterior side of the gym. A glazed cavity heats air by direct solar radiation combined with wall mass heat radiation. This naturally heated air is then used to supplement the air-to-water heat pump to create significant savings. "Smiling Creek is one of our top performing schools," says Adrian Pettyfer, Energy Specialist with SD43. "It uses approximately 33% less energy than an average school in the district."

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"The site was a big challenge," says Vio. "The grade variation from north to south was significant. Having an integrated team looking at energy efficiency and modeling early on in the project meant that we were able to achieve ideal positioning of the building for maximum efficiency."

In addition to the efficient HVAC system, the school incorporated a long list of other energy-efficient features, including:

  • Plenty of daylight to help reduce the interior light power density by 25%
  • Dimmable LED controls in learning spaces
  • A 20% reduction in exterior lighting power density
  • Additional occupancy sensors within the lighting control system
  • High performance building envelope
  • Occupancy demand controlled ventilation
  • Low-flow plumbing fixtures
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"Kudos to SD43 for incorporating all of this into better design processes. It was above and beyond the usual approach of just implementing more efficient lighting," says Cory Farquharson, the BC Hydro Key Account Manager who helps support School Districts pursuing energy-saving initiatives. "We're noticing a lot of practices like energy modeling and conservation planning becoming serious factors in designing a building. That's a positive change from where we were 10, 15, 20 years ago."

Big smiles all round

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And that efficiency continues in the way the building is used - it's so much more than a school, doubling as a community facility outside of school hours, with a multi-purpose field and an activity centre used by the City of Coquitlam. "The community has received this new facility very well. We've received a lot of positive feedback on it," says Vio.

Energy-efficient schools like Smiling Creek don't just reduce long term costs, though. They're also hugely influential on all the students who get to learn in such a forward-thinking environment. "We see students' passion and interests on climate issues," says Cory. "And also how focused they are on what they can do, and how they can be a part of the larger solution. It's so inspiring."

For those looking to construct a new Part 3 commercial building see the Provincial CleanBC Commercial New Construction Program. The program provides funding for the design and construction of new high-performance buildings that use high-efficiency electricity in place of fossil fuels, in order to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.