Welshpool Church in Wales Primary School

Eco-minimalism in Wales

On Site / July 2018.
Completion / December 2020
Gross Internal Floor Area
Construction Type
Timber frame

Project outline

The Welshpool Church in Wales Primary School is the first Passivhaus school in Powys. It delivers excellent energy efficiency, ultra-low embodied carbon and inspiring spaces for learning that enhance health and wellbeing for students and staff. The new school building is on the Salop Road playing fields of the existing Welshpool High School in Wales. The design focuses on creating a sense of community, excellent accessibility, and providing a high-quality environment and flexibility in teaching and learning spaces. The eco-minimalist building uses timber and natural healthy materials and provides an exceptional operational energy performance of 56kWh/m/year - more than 80% better than typical new build primary schools. The ultra-energy efficient design means annual bills are reduced by £60,000 compared to a standard build primary school, giving the school millions of pounds over the building’s life to spend on books, equipment, and teaching support.

The project’s ambitions were high from day one, with the aim to reflect the school's ethos of "bringing out the best in each other”. Powys Council wanted a school that would not only align with the Wales 21st Century School Programme, which aims to increase the efficiency and quality of education spaces for a more equal Wales, which also surpasses standard school building delivery to create an exemplar ecological school.

Designing a high-quality school

The school is welcoming and open with plenty of space for displays of students’ work, learning themes and the school's achievements. Classrooms are arranged to reflect progression through the school and key stages, and the building is flexible enough to allow for an increase in students from 230 to 300. Classrooms receive ample natural daylight and benefit from a constant supply of fresh air through mechanical ventilation heat recovery, which also means heat and energy can be recovered. The Passivhaus triple glazed windows not only help regulate indoor temperatures, but also eliminate external noise. Careful acoustic design means voices don't reverberate or carry beyond classroom walls, so common areas remain undisturbed and can be used as additional learning spaces.

Excellence in construction

Modern methods of construction were used to achieve quicker assembly on site. This included the timber frame walls and floor which were prefabricated at a local factory and brought to site as cassettes. This saved time and also meant less timber was wasted.

The embodied carbon emissions from the building are minimised, with low carbon natural materials including timber construction and cellulose (recycled newspaper) insulation. As well as the timber frame, the school is clad in timber and has a timber roof.

Local firms and suppliers were found to help support the local economy - the timber frame subcontractor, responsible for the wall and roof supply, is just eight miles from the site and insulation in the walls and roof was provided by PYC who are a Welshpool-based company less than a mile from the school.

Community values

A single building provides spaces for the school, early years groups, and the wider community. The design creates a dynamic range of stimulating spaces for teaching and learning, with flexibility for the whole class, small groups, or one-to-one teaching and independent learning, as well as meetings and community activities. The school’s community rooms have separate, secure entrances and ancillary facilities allowing them to be used by local businesses independently from the school, as well as the exhibition space in the hall; rent from their hire is used to support the school.

The school seeks to promote independent, lifelong learning, respect, tolerance, and friendship, and is preparing pupils to be confident, happy young people. Pupils with additional learning needs are supported through physical, emotional, and behavioural facilities such as Quiet spaces and Additional Learning Needs Co-Ordinators (ALNCO). The lighting can be customised to suit each student's requirements and doesn't emit any white noise, a feature that teachers have noted is particularly beneficial for students with autistic spectrum disorders.

Ecological learning

The school provides a sustainable landscape, low water usage, and energy generation from solar panels, and encourages recycling. Children are encouraged to look after their environment inside and out. Teachers expressed that the building gives them an opportunity to show real life examples of sustainability by showing them solar panels, teaching them waste management, and showing motion activated lights that reduce energy consumption.

“It is a great learning environment for students. We’re able to provide real-life examples of sustainability by showing them solar panels and its benefits – as well as waste management. The hallway space is often for used for activities while the classrooms are airy, provide natural sunlight and reflect upon a focused environment since there’s limited external noise and great acoustics."

Marianne Evans
Headteacher, Welshpool Church in Wales Primary School

High performance

The new school's design follows eco-minimalism principles, with most of the work being done by the building's form and fabric in moderating internal conditions, optimising the Passivhaus design. The hub space is often used for activities while the classrooms are airy, provide natural daylight and great acoustics. The design reduces energy consumption, enhances ecology, protects biodiversity reduces embodied energy and VOCs in materials, optimises natural daylight and glare control, and encourages recycling. As well as Passivhaus certification the school achieves a BREEAM Excellent rating.

The school’s performance at completion is exactly as predicted at design stage, with no performance gap from design to construction stage – unlike the poor industry average of a 40% gap. Energy and indoor air quality performance is being evidenced through monitoring which will be shared to help improve industry standards. Our Building Performance Evaluation programme has helped the school run even more efficiently, with Architype’s in-house engineer monitoring the school and advising on system improvements to help the school make the best use of their asset. This intervention has reduced energy use by 50%, meaning significant carbon emission reductions.

Project Partners

Powys County Council
Engineering, all disciplines
Lowfield Timber Frames
Timber frame
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