18 December 2012 —In 2007 Bentleigh Secondary College in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs set one goal – to become an example of best practice in sustainability and sustainability education.

Five years later through efforts driven by the schools’ head of sustainable practice Bill Thomas, the school community and Suters Architects, the school was named Most Sustainable Educational Institution at the International Green Awards in London.

According to Suters, what started as a suburban school’s ambition has turned into a worldwide example of sustainable education that reflects the needs and aspirations of its community.

It started small.

The college’s initial sustainability targets were to improve the use of potable water, reduce its reliance on non-renewable sources of energy and improve the biodiversity of the campus.

Within three years the school had:

  • Reduced potable water use from over 14 million litres to about 1 million litres a year, a reduction of 93 per cent, saving the college $40,000 in water and sewerage charges
  • Reduced reliance on fossil fuels by installing solar panels and more recently a state-of-the-art wind turbine
  • Installed a Joulex Energy Management System that places 357 IT devices on hibernation mode when they are not in use delivering considerable savings.
  • Established a 2000 square metre urban forest and adjoining wetland that provides habitat, improves biodiversity, reduces the schools carbon footprint and provides another outdoor classroom for the teaching and learning program. The wetlands treat six million litres of water annually.

Suters project leader John Schout said it had been an inspiring journey redeveloping the campus with partner organisations, students, teachers, parents, and the wider community.

“The project helps students experience firsthand that they can make a difference, and at the same time demonstrates that the built environment can and does play a positive role in the future,” he said.

What’s next

The relationship has continued with the construction of a Meditation and Indigenous Cultural Centre, which will be completed for the 2013 school year and be 100 per cent sustainable and 100 per cent renewable.

The project is unfunded, with Suters agreeing to design the centre pro bono.

This also meant embracing the challenge to design a building that could be resourced and procured by working with the project partners and the community to get the best outcomes for the least cash. Bartering and negotiation was the key.

Nick Cini

Project architect Nick Cini said the opportunity to use state-of-the-art sustainable technology and “create an exemplar educational facility” was an exciting prospect.

“Bill Thomas’ enthusiasm is contagious and Suters expertise in sustainable design is in line with the schools goals – so we’ve been working with the school ever since,” Mr Cini said.

Building description and design

The Centre is a timber building that uses state-of-the-art sustainable materials and construction practices to serve the needs of students and creates a flexible facility that can be used by the wider community.

The design of the centre is intended as a home to the school’s meditation program and this is reflected in the planning. The building is planned around a sequence of spatial transitions that create a sense of calm before entering the meditation space.

The centre will overlook a billabong where the school intends to provide a home for endangered native fish. Students from the Melbourne University School of Land and Environment are designing an Indigenous food garden as part of their studies.

Another primary function of the centre is to be a base for the Indigenous food trails around the building where students can pick Australian native food planted throughout the landscape and learn about pre European settlement food practices. The building also had to be flexible to accommodate drama, art, community functions, and a future Indigenous artist in residence program.

To respond to the multitude of requirements Suters designed a building with a very elemental plan with a single primary space that is very flexible, can be reprogrammed as necessary and includes smaller service spaces grouped to the side.

Environmental initiatives

Geothermal exchange

Bill Thomas

A geothermal exchange system will heat and cool the building efficiently. Geothermal exchange is a heating and cooling system that uses solar energy stored in the ground or water. Using pipes buried in the ground as a collector and a geothermal heat pump, heat energy is absorbed at one location and transferred to another. Heat at a low temperature level is transformed into heat at a high temperature level at which it can be used to heat a space.

Carbon capture

The new pavilion will be constructed entirely of renewable timber and showcase the principles of carbon capture, as all the timber in the pavilion comes from renewable timber sources.

Passive heating and cooling

Suters designed the building with large exaggerated awnings over each window ensuring that solar heat gain is made use of in the colder months and that during summer the louvered breezeways work to their best potential.

This article has been prepared from information supplied by Suters Architects