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Welsh construction centre leads field in sustainability

Eifion Rees

16th July, 2009

The new Construction and Sustainable Energy Centre in Haverfordwest is a blueprint for the newbuild higher education buildings of the future, in Wales and beyond

Pembrokeshire is a part of Wales well versed in contradictions. With a coastline rich in biodiversity, as well as some of the finest beaches in the UK, it is also home – in Milford Haven, Europe’s biggest deepwater port – to huge Chevron and Merco oil refineries, and the South Hook and Dragon LNG terminals, starting point for the vast pipeline that carries liquefied natural gas all the way to Gloucestershire.

Roughly 20 per cent of the UK’s energy capacity comes through Pembrokeshire, in fact, so perhaps it’s understandable that it should be at the forefront not only of technological innovations in this sector, but in the world of construction too.

The new £3.1 million Construction and Sustainable Energy Centre at Pembroke College, Haverfordwest, opened in June by environment minister Jane Davidson, is an object lesson in reconciliation and symbiosis. Dedicated to learning the tools of a traditionally environmentally unfriendly trade, it is nevertheless one of the most sustainable buildings of its kind in the UK, an object lesson in and of itself, and a blueprint for a greener construction industry.

The second phase of a £30 million redevelopment currently ongoing at the college, the Construction Centre looks to all intents and purposes like any other modern college outbuilding: unassuming and functional. If you didn’t know you were entering the first further education building in the UK to have won a BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) rating of Excellent, in 2008, you probably wouldn’t think twice about it.

The build is certainly traditional enough, with its steel frame and cavity construction infill, but the feel of the building is different. For a start it’s open and airy, the perfect learning environment. It has a sophisticated daylight-linked lighting control, so lights turns themselves on and off according to motion sensors, become dimmer and brighter according to how much sun there is or how close to windows they are. Urinals are waterless, while flush toilets use rainwater topped up with mains water when necessary. It has good thermal properties, with 100mm of wall insulation, 150mm in the roof and 150mm in the floors, and well-aired, high-ceilinged rooms, so it’s warm in the winter, cool in the summer. Energy consumption is so low that solar panels are not required other than to heat tap water.

Outside is a silo for holding up to 17 tonnes of wood pellets, which are fed into a 300kW wood-fired boiler with the capacity to heat the Construction Centre, the next-door Innovation Centre and, when it’s constructed, the new Engineering Centre - phase three in the redevelopment plan. The potash produced once the pellets are burned is used as fertiliser on the college’s flowerbeds.

The building was designed specifically to accommodate carpentry and brickwork students, and the green innovations they see all around them are part of the message that is gradually seeping into the industry: that sustainability in the way we build, teach and live is the way forward. The lessons they learn here will inform a new generation of more environment-conscious architects, carpenters and construction workers.

The repercussions of the building are being felt already. Most building projects are sustainable only while on the architect’s drawing board, but construction company Dawnus was expected by BREEAM to monitor site management procedures, water and electricity usage, recycling and waste management procedures and recycling of waste… It was a steep learning curve that paid off with the Excellent rating, and now the company has trained up its own BREEAM assessor for future projects.

‘A lot of contractors might have said that BREEAM was a waste of time, whereas Dawnus had a much more positive outlook,’ says Paul Bullock of Bullock Consulting Ltd, who advised on the mechanical and electrical side of the project. ‘They can see it’s the future, it’s a case of sink or swim, and what they’ve created is a blueprint for future buildings.’

‘It only took six months to build and was a masterclass for our construction students in how to get something done quickly, and done well,’ agrees Pembroke College’s Laurence Rook. ‘Everyone is really pleased with the result.’

Seventy per cent of the building’s funding came courtesy of a capital grant from the Welsh Assembly Government. The Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform’s low-carbon building programme helped pay for the renewable technologies.

‘This building represents the next step in education thinking, the realisation of a vision for our environment and our young people,’ said environment minister Jane Davidson AM, opening the building in June. ‘This building is exciting in that it shows the direction we are travelling. It is energy efficient, relies on biomass heating and reuses rainwater. In other words it is sustainable and represents the future of new buildings across Wales.’

‘It’s a real live building and the data generated from it is available for comparative analysis and benchmarking, so we can talk the talk and walk the walk,’ says Paul Robinson, head of school for construction, environment and design. ‘Most newbuild construction campuses in Wales and beyond will probably be modelled on this in the future. Whether in terms of BREEAM ratings or financial incentives, there’s real value in being sustainable. We can show the builders of the future that this is sustainable technology is in action.’

 

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