Vancouver School Board Opportunity to Consider Passive House Construction Standards

While the opportunity and desire for change may be there, the challenge could be in funding the project.  The advantages of passive design (energy cost savings) are on the operational end, which is covered by district school boards, while the disadvantage (higher initial investment) is a capital cost which is covered by government.

“So, for government … they want to put as little money into it as they can to get a decent building … they’re not necessarily thinking of the bills that are going to come in over time because the school districts are the ones who pay those.”

If the board was unable to receive the estimated three to four per cent extra capital funding from government, Bacchus said, financial options such as a loan could be explored.

“It’s an exciting idea but we struggle so much just to get things funded and to stay within budget,” she said.  “Like anyone who’s the first one out with something, it takes a bit of a bold vision and some willingness to take that risk.”

Last June Wimmer, with Robert Malczyk and Lydia Durfeld, pitched the concept of passive house designed schools to parents and staff of General Gordon Elementary and Kitsilano Secondary schools.  The replacement of the elementary school was budgeted at $14.7 million with completion scheduled for 2016; the secondary was budgeted at $62.2 million with completion in 2017.

“Both projects were cancelled in terms of passive house [design],” explained Wimmer, who considered the funding model to be a factor in that decision.  “I think that as soon as we have a chance to overcome this and find some sort of creative way to finance, to cross finance, so that whoever operates the building afterwards will pay a little portion to the higher initial cost.  You just have to have some sort of creative financing model to make sure that these two totally different motivations can come along with each other.”

While the presentation to the school board was an information-only one, Bacchus saw it as a tentative step toward change.  “It was really to plant the idea in people’s heads, and we start mulling this over as we proceed, and as we get different projects coming down the pipe we can see whether it’d be an approach that would be feasible.”