Green School Razed Due to Leaks


A U.K. school lauded as a “sustainable” specimen at the time of its completion in 2010 has been demolished just six years later due to pervasive roof leak issues.

Reports say that the wooden, village-style Dartington Primary School near Totnes in Devon, England, touted as one of the “greenest schools in the U.K.,” was no match for the rain.

More than 300 students at the school have been taught in temporary buildings for two years, The Telegraph reports.

The demolition of the rural campus began in November.

Leaks for Years

The problems with the zero-carbon school became apparent shortly after the building was finished in February 2010, according to reports.

The leaks were largely blamed on the roof design—which was clad in strips of locally coppiced sweet chesnut. The wood was to provide a “natural and breathable envelope” without needing any sort of artificial membrane or waterproofing, according to the Plymouth Herald.

However, the cladding buckled and warped, leaving behind holes for rainwater to trickle in classrooms, the newspaper reported, citing parents.

Moreover, the building featured a rainwater harvesting system that was supposed to filter the water on the roof in giant cisterns which could be used to flush the toilets. Instead, damp patches and moldy walls appeared.

The school had replaced a former facility in the area prone to flooding.

Investigation, Lawsuit

The Devon County Council, which approved and financed the new school project, demanded answers and ordered a full investigation of the leaks. A 2013 report confirmed the water intrusion was “likely to be the result of the scheme design.”

“Complexities within the rainwater harvesting system” and “concern with the specified use of materials,” were cited in the report.

Earlier this year, it was determined that the buildings were beyond economic repair, and were slated for demolition.

Meanwhile, the council filed a legal action against the Bristol-based architect, White Design, and the builder, Interserve, seeking more than £7 million ($8.9 million) to cover the cost of construction and temporarily relocating the school.

White Design has reportedly denied liability for the problems; both the firm and the contractor have said they would not comment on the ongoing legal action.

The Devon County Council is moving forward on its plans to build a new school and nursery facility in the footprint of the Dartington Primary School.

A Bright Side?

There may be a bright side to the school’s structural demise. Nearly all of the building materials are to be recycled locally.

“How can you be sad when it is being reused?” headteacher Jill Mahon told the Plymouth Herald, adding that she had incorporated site visits and recycling lessons in the school curriculum.

Even the project architect Andrew Docherty commented on the building’s deconstruction in a BD Online report published in July 2010.

“Deconstructing buildings isn’t talked about much,” he said, “but it’s something we’ll have to think of [in the future].” He said that at the end of its life, the school’s timber could be “wood-chipped and provide enough heat for 130 homes a year.”


Tagged categories: Building envelope; Building Envelope; Demolition; Design; Europe; Green design; Lawsuits; Roofing materials; Schools; water leakage; Waterproofing; Wood

Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.