Vancouver School Board Opportunity to Consider Passive House Construction Standards

Bushbury Hills Primary School, Wolverhampton, UK | Photographer: Leigh Simpson | Copyright: Architype Ltd
Bushbury Hills Primary School, Wolverhampton, UK | Photographer: Leigh Simpson | Copyright: Architype Ltd

Architect Guido Wimmers knows it will take time to change how schools are designed in Canada but presentations, like the one made before the Vancouver school board Nov. 20, are a way of building interest in the passive design concept.

“It’s the most cost-efficient way to build buildings with taxpayers’ money and it provides the best learning environment for kids,” he explained during a recent phone interview with Vancouver Weekly.

The concept, which breaks away from reliance on mechanical heating and cooling systems, has been used in Europe for commercial as well as residential buildings over the last two decades and is now mandatory for new-build schools in Austria, he said.  In Canada, the concept was introduced in the 1970s with the Saskatchewan Conservation House but never caught on.  Then the Austrians introduced an updated version with the Austria House, built for the 2010 Olympics in Whistler.  That same year Wimmers assisted with creating Vancouver’s Passive Design Toolkit for Homes, a best practice reference manual.  The following year Canadian Passive House Institute (CanPHI), of which Wimmer is western director, began offering training across Canada.  This year, CanPHI hosted the first North American conference dedicated to the passive house design concept.

That conference, held at the end of September, and the discussions it sparked, interested Vancouver school board chair Patti Bacchus, but she was unable to attend.  She did, however, feel the timing was right to invite Wimmers and CanPHI board member Monte Paulsen to speak to the Vancouver school board’s planning and facilities committee this month.

“There’s really never been a point in history that we’ve been looking at such major, either renovation or rebuilding, of so many Vancouver schools,” she told Vancouver Weekly.

A year ago the Vancouver school board submitted their five-year plan to upgrade or replace 30 of the remaining 42 schools in their district, identified as having high seismic risk, to the Ministry of Education.  The $850 million seismic and school facilities capital plan was part of the provincial government’s 2020 plan.  For Bacchus, the opportunity provided could reach further into the future.  “Do we just do these [refits or rebuilds] the way we’ve always done them, with a slightly updated design, or is it a chance to do something really different and innovative that would be a model that could be followed by others?”