Manitoba’s new schools should be green schools

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WHEN the province announced that $100 million was earmarked to accelerate school construction, we noted a lack of discussion regarding sustainability requirements for these new schools. Sustainable Building Manitoba is concerned that this is a missed opportunity to build long-term resilience into our schools and move forward on Manitoba’s Green Plan.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/06/2021 (420 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

WHEN the province announced that $100 million was earmarked to accelerate school construction, we noted a lack of discussion regarding sustainability requirements for these new schools. Sustainable Building Manitoba is concerned that this is a missed opportunity to build long-term resilience into our schools and move forward on Manitoba’s Green Plan.

It appears that these new schools will have minimal obligations to meet any significant level of energy efficiency or support the province’s greenhouse-gas reduction targets. As a result, they are out of step with the province’s own Climate and Green Plan. This runs contrary to the mandate letter from the premier to the responsible minister, Reg Helwer, minister of central services, that states:

“We will complete the construction of 20 new schools to provide better environments for our children to learn. We will deliver our Made in Manitoba Climate and Green Plan to achieve our vision of the cleanest, greenest and most climate resilient province.”

We are concerned that these many millions of dollars will not be used with the best interests of Manitoba’s students, the environment, or taxpayers in mind.

A well-built school will still be in operation 100 years from now. Climate science tells us we must stop using fossil fuels in 20-30 years. If our infrastructure today is not built to the highest sustainability standards, we will have to spend vast sums to retrofit these new schools in the near future to adapt to the requirements of the future. We will effectively be building these schools twice.

This is sad, because we know how to build sustainable schools in Manitoba. Less than a decade ago, Manitoba designed some of the most energy-efficient schools on the continent and we were viewed as leaders. Indeed, in 2017 a Manitoba school was given the Greenest School in Canada Award. Under the Green Building Policy enacted by the province in 2007, 11 high performance sustainable schools were constructed in Manitoba. These schools use an average of 50-70 per cent less energy per year compared to conventional designs. A preliminary report suggests that just four of these new-generation green schools save 484 tonnes of carbon per year.

The primary objective of any school is to provide an environment that optimizes learning outcomes for our kids and a healthy workplace for staff. Green schools significantly improve the four elements for increased student performance in classrooms: better temperatures, lighting, acoustics and ventilation. With increased natural light, better air quality and superior temperature control, green schools deliver results. In a number of studies, green schools improve student health, which results in less absenteeism due to a reduction in asthma, colds and flu. This means children’s grades improve because they are more awake throughout the day due to year-round fresh air. Today, in light of COVID-19 and our new understanding of airborne pathogen transmission, we recognize the importance for all new schools to have exemplary fresh-air systems.

Yes, a green school will cost up to five per cent more to construct, but they are designed to be durable and last 100 years. Over their lifetime, they are estimated to save 30-40 per cent on operating and maintenance costs. Construction costs typically represent only 10 per cent of the total life-cycle costs of a building. This means that the $100 million in construction costs used to build low-quality schools will actually cost $1 billion over the life of the building. If we invest $5 million more up front for smart, green design, we can save at least $300 million over the functional life of a school. This is a sound investment for Manitoba taxpayers.

Why would we not take advantage of this tested green school technology? It can’t be about saving taxpayers money. It is not due to a lack of technical skill or experience. It is not because we don’t understand the importance of fresh air for health and learning.

It can only be short-term thinking and a lack of concern for the future.

It shows a lack of concern for students, teachers, and taxpayers. It even disregards the province’s own climate promises. While the federal government announces a further reduction in carbon emissions to 40-45 per cent, Manitoba is poised to build more inefficient schools heated by natural gas, which will continue to add more carbon to the atmosphere and cost taxpayers hundreds of millions more than necessary.

We implore this government to seize this opportunity and build high-performance, net-zero, all-electric green schools. This approach ensures more cost-effective schools for taxpayers and healthy learning environments for our children and grandchildren.

Dudley Thompson is chair of the advocacy committee of Sustainable Building Manitoba, a cross-sector building industry-based organization with a commitment to working with government and business to achieve the vision of a “Sustainable built environment in Manitoba.”

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