Pembroke School – Environmental Sustainability and the New Middle School Building


Successful construction is ultimately about delivering end user satisfaction while ensuring best practices are used to maximise the lifecycle and sustainability of the building. What better way to achieve this outcome than to engage with the end users themselves – the students who will move into the space next year!

Sarah Constructions are currently building Pembrokes New Middle School Building and have engaged the Pembroke Y6 students – who will be the first to occupy the building – as consultants during the construction process. This innovative addition to the curriculum saw Project Manager, Paul Marino, and Design Manager, Michael Kilmartin, work with the students over 3 workshops to answer the question:

‘How can we build a sustainable building within a residential area?

The students were required to analyse the build in order to develop suggestions and alternatives for potential inclusion into their new building and provide feedback to us – the builder – in order to increase the overall sustainability of the project.

The task was set to choose a focus topic from a range of options across Design & Post Construction (Water, Energy, Material, Surroundings, Functionality) or Pre-Construction & During Construction (Project Environmental Management Plans, Dust & Material Tracking, Air Quality, Traffic, Erosion, Chemicals, Noise, Vibration and Rubbish etc).

Providing a different dimension to their usual curriculum, this exercise enabled the students to adapt their skills in alternate ways. Care was given to ensure the students were able to ‘think outside the box’ to find their own solutions; they were guided in the right direction, not led, and this approach produced some fantastic results. We received well researched, engaging presentations on their chosen focus topics –Native Planting, Water Wastage and Management, Energy Usage, Solar Power, Optimising Functionality, Sustainable and Local Materials, Recycled furniture, Recycling, Composting and Climate Change…just to name a few!

A real understanding of some complex topics was shown. Many groups identified real-world cost impacts; understanding buying in bulk to reduce unit pricing, calculating initial costs vs. ongoing costs, and balancing them with the environmental benefits of their chosen subject demonstrating an understanding beyond their years.

We only realise the value of water after the source runs dry. The importance of water and rainwater collection was clearly demonstrated, with a highlight being Layla’s working model of a rain water tank and sump pump. Not only were the practical benefits made clear, it was cost planned too – it doesn’t take long for a rain water tank to pay for itself!

We also learnt that the initial cost outlay for replacing the school’s standard taps with sensor taps would be well worth it in the long run for both the environmental benefits and the reduced water bills -thanks to Ty and Max!

 “Our students were so excited to take part in this project and have found this experience invaluable for future investigations.” Nicola May, Teacher – Pembroke School

Pembroke Students Laila and Charlie present their working sump pump and rain water tank model

 Our Future vs. Aesthetics. What is more important?

The undercurrent of the day was the understanding that small changes really can make a difference; there was a realisation that our decisions and the choices we make can have a far-reaching impact and an understanding that our actions have value – just because it’s the way it has always been done, doesn’t mean it’s the way it should always be done. Stewart, Zachary and Rory’s presentation reminded us that even though we are a small part of the world as a whole, ‘we can still save the world with small sustainable changes.’

 “I think all the ideas were fantastic. A majority of the suggestions will be incorporated within the building in some shape or form which demonstrates how well the students undertook their research. In particular I liked the ideas of having compost bins for the removal of any fruit or vegetable scraps students would throw away which gave the school the ability to use as fertilizer etc. Also, the real demonstration of how a rainwater tank could be utilized within the building was impressive!”
Paul Marino, Senior Project Manager – Sarah Constructions

All of the students were confident in their approach and had a great understanding of their subjects. Innovative ideas were raised – many of which are already being included in the project – and they all demonstrated a fantastic ability to work as a team.

The manner in which the students presented and the level of detail and understanding shown was a credit to Pembroke and their collaboration with the Sarah team in the implementation of this program.

Their enthusiasm was infectious, and they managed to bring suggestions to the table that we had not yet heard of! Ashcrete, for example. A more sustainable alternative to concrete (which creates up to 5% of the worlds CO2 emissions), is made from 97% of recycled materials and is carbon neutral!

Sustainability is a growth sector for a number of commercial markets and an area of future education and potential employment for the students.

Through the delivery of this program we hope that we have sparked some interest in our industry – and inspired some of our future construction leaders! With some students already focusing on optimising the functionality and use of space within their new building, Architecture and Design may well provide a potential career path. This process has been a two-way journey whereby the students have learnt from us, but equally, we have learnt from them. Project Manager Paul shared that seeing the excitement on their faces, and knowing he played a small part in creating this amazing building, has provided him with personal and professional satisfaction. This project with the students got me out of my comfort zone but it was such a rewarding experience.

We look forward to seeing what changes Pembroke look to implement across the School as practical completion and handover draws closer, such as the suggestion for composting bins and new recycling initiatives.

The success of this project, and the value provided to both the School and to our team, has inspired us to encourage other clients – which could extend beyond the education sector – to utilise their construction projects as an opportunity for engagement and education.

We hope that participating in this project will not only provide the students with a greater connection to their new learning space, but that this process has made an impact on the way they approach building and sustainability in the future.

Pembroke Students Lucy and Emily Presenting Green Futures
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