Energy  |  Successes  |  11.06.2013

The first French energy-plus high school: more than a green building!

In September 2012, the high school Vaclav Havel opened its doors in Bègles, a town of 25 000 inhabitants not far from Bordeaux (Aquitaine, France). Financed by the Region Aquitaine with a budget of €60 million at the initiative of Green mayor Noël Mamère, the building will produce more energy than it consumes.

In 2012, the Socialist–Green coalition running Aquitaine, under the leadership of Noël Mamère (Green mayor of Bègles and French MP) and Alain Rousset (President of the Region) was able to show a significant achievement: a new high school opened in Bègles, with a capacity to welcome 1400 pupils a year, where the use of renewable energies leads to better working conditions for everybody.  

A negative carbon footprint for a space of 20 300 m²

Four buildings - the school (10 000 m²), a student residence (200 beds - 50 rooms), the restaurant (6000 m²), a gymnasium (300 seats for the public) and a staff residence – constitute the Vaclav Havel High School, which is now fully energetically independent. How does it provide energy and heating for 20 300 m²?

Firstly, the energy efficiency of the buildings is fundamental: the temperature needs to be controlled during the entire year. High-quality double-glazed windows, thick walls of a mix of woods (1500m3) and concrete enable a reinforced insulation. Architects perfectly integrated the buildings in the natural environment, keeping trees in the surroundings and respecting natural water circulation patterns. They also chose to construct the buildings along the north-south axis in order to favour day light. Skylights provide additional light. A BMS (building management system) automatically controls the lighting as well as the “shading” stores, ensuring an efficient use of the natural and the artificial light. Air renewal is made via double-flow ventilation. Green roofs recover rain water, stocked in three basins and used for the school needs.

Secondly, neither oil nor gas nor nuclear energy is used for producing electricity. 2 863m² of photovoltaic panels generates power and 400m² of solar thermal collectors (lentilles de Fresnel) produce hot water used for the sanitary and the floor heating of the gymnasium. All other needs are covered by a wood boiler. The overall carbon footprint is thus estimated at -7 tons of CO2 per year!

A high school much more than a green building

The Green mayor of Bègles, Noël Mamère, likes to say that « the pupils will promote a society of energy sobriety ». This also reflects the values which were carried in the conceptualisation of the high school. For example, all the enterprises involved in the building of the high school were local. Most of the wood (pine) used in the construction comes from the Landes forest closed to Bordeaux. These choices contributed to reducing the additional cost of a green building compared to a classic high school, which is, at the end, by only 10% more expensive than a classic construction.

Environmental principles are also implemented in the daily life of the pupils: for example, parking is limited at 74 seats so that families and staff are encouraged to use public transport. In every classroom, a poster explains how to sort waste, so that recycling is easier to implement by pupils and  staff . In the kitchen, the cooks are very careful with both their “energy spending” and their waste.

Finally, social principles are at the core of the project. During the construction, a program of 46 000 hours dedicated to the integration of jobless enables unemployed people to be formed at the construction site and some obtain permanent contracts with local enterprises. In addition, the high school is a so-called “mixed high school”, meaning that general and technical courses are offered, favouring school diversity and rehabilitating technical courses. Thus, pupils can study fashion professions, chemical industry and water treatment, social and medico-social professions as well as the general education track. Classrooms are designed for 35 students (70m²) and equipped with computers and projectors for teachers which ensure better working and studying conditions than the other high schools.  

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