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green horizons in colmonell



Green Horizons in Colmonell

Colmonell Primary was built in 1970 as a replacement for the original late 19th century structure. The prefabricated timber panel structure was intended to be a short life building. During an asset review by South Ayrshire Council, a plan for the school replacement was set in motion involving the local community, ARPL Architects, and most importantly the school staff and students. In January of 2011 a new school building opened its doors; fit for purpose, providing benefit socially, economically and environmentally, and giving a clear message about commitment to sustainable design and construction.


Callum Robertson

Climate Change Officer

Tel: 01292 612030

Val Orrell

Project Liaison Officer

Tel: 01292 613099


The original school building suffered from a catalogue of issues including a leaking roof, substandard electrical heating and degrading timber panels containing asbestos.

Initial engagement began in 2008 with the school and community, and targeting all three ‘wins’ from the outset, the design process focussed on creating a sustainable building that would benefit students and teachers, as well as local communities and the Council.

In 2009, local architects ARPL began consultation on design with the school and local community. The design went through a series of changes over the consultation period, driven by feedback from all stakeholder groups. Two key aspects were identified: that the school would be good for its users and the environment, and that the exterior areas would be as important as the interior.

In exploring the environmental approach, the project team looked at reducing energy consumption and developing a healthy and comfortable environment using natural materials for students. The team included the Education Department, project managers, teachers, architects, environmental and structural engineers and a contractor. The old building closed its doors in 2008 for demolition, and the rebuild began.

A super-insulated and naturally ventilated building was developed, with heating provided by high efficiency air source heat pumps.

All lighting is low energy with PIR controls, a BMS system and automatic window system ensuring that the environment is managed in a technically innovative way. Natural materials were used throughout including recycled-content building materials, newspaper insulation, natural wooden panelling, and goat hair carpets.

The grass roof, in addition to its aesthetic, insulating, and biodiversity value, provides a controlled runoff for rainwater, to be collected for use within the gardens of the school.

Externally, raised bedding, open air class extensions, rainwater collection, functional areas for teaching and for play have been added to provide an extra dimension to the learning experience.

Layered construction of a grass roof

Monitoring and Development

The most easily monitored improvement in the school’s performance is that of its electrical consumption. Doubling in size to 650 square metres and with a huge complement of IT equipment, the school has still shown an average annual drop of 51 kWh/m2 in energy consumption. Heating and comfort levels have improved with the school reaching a more reliably constant average temperature.

The improvements are far more than just technical. Within the school the children enjoy a more comfortable environment. "When you come here it makes you happy!" was one of the first pupil reactions. The new external areas have allowed teaching staff to extend their classes outside, bringing new experiences into the curriculum, including hatching and raising chickens!

The school’s wider catchment area has increased student numbers, with parents enthusiastic to send children to the new innovative school. Community engagement has improved with the parent council, sports events, and baby groups meeting within the school. There are areas for parents to meet before and after school with a doors open policy.

The development and planning that went into Colmonell School have seen it awarded a BREAM excellent rating and three prestigious awards for its design. The reception received by the school has made us look more consciously about how we approach rural schooling and with two new rebuilds current underway; incorporating some of the lessons learned here is an important step.

Sustainable, efficient heating systems, insulation levels, recycled content, and thorough stakeholder engagement are core to these new developments and although there are no new grass roof’s planned, the horizon still looks significant greener!