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Seven-year-old zero carbon school demolished due to leaks

Dartington primary school

A primary school designed by White Design, lauded for its sustainability credentials, has been demolished just seven years after completion

Work started last week on flattening Dartington Primary School near Totnes in Devon following the failure of a rainwater harvesting system on its roof.

The council settled out of court after issuing proceedings against the school’s architect, White Design, and contractor Interserve, in which it claimed £7 million in damages arising from the problem.

One of the first zero-carbon schools in the UK, Dartington Primary opened in 2009, fitted with a system at roof level to harvest, store and filter water to supply toilet cisterns.

Soon afterwards, however, classrooms were affected by water ingress from the roof, and the council concluded that the buildings were beyond economic repair following a technical report.

The report found that the major cause of the ongoing water ingress was likely to be the result of the scheme’s design. It pointed to complexities within the rainwater harvesting system and concern about the materials specified for it.

According to parents, locally sourced sweet chestnut cladding on the roof buckled and warped, allowing rainwater to seep in. This meant that, instead of flowing into the rainwater harvesting cisterns, the water seeped into the building creating damp and mouldy walls.

Construction of a replacement building, designed by Atkins, is expected to begin in the new year, having gained planning permission in October. It will provide 315 primary places and a 30-place nursery school.

A council report on the replacement school said: ‘The building has a number of sustainable design and energy efficiency elements, meeting building regulations requirements.’ 

These include natural ventilation, natural lighting, lighting control sensors to minimise the use of artificial light and a canopy along the south elevation to reduce solar gain, but no rainwater harvesting system.

Craig White, director at White Design, said: ‘There was a claim that has now been settled. We are all bound by a confidentiality agreement, so that is about as much as I can say.’


Readers' comments (12)

  • It is a pity to see how a good looking design comes to such an end. It is the reason that I started TMhouttechniek to prevent this kind of failures during design. We give advise on which timber is best used for which use and what the demands are for fixings, bearers, maintenance and so on. Feel free to contact me.

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  • I really must address Vijay's comment above.
    It is indeed a sad story, especially for the poor taxpayer on the hook for £7,000,000.00. Quite how the design - widely publicized in the professional magazines - was not nipped in the bud, can only be due to the complete lack of familiarity with basic timber design. This speaks to the need for more education in the practical aspects of construction and less emphasis on the "Airy Fairy" side of the profession.
    Case in point would be Kiernan's (above) doubt as to whether a warped roof would be the cause of leaks!!!
    Experienced architects need to rattle some cages.

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