Sky Academy and Eden Project Nursery

A pioneering operationally net-zero carbon pathfinder school.

St Austell, Cornwall
Concept Architect
Stride Treglown
The Caledonian Group
RIBA Stage 3: 2021

A new publicly funded primary school and nursery outside St Austell in Cornwall which will combine environmental technologies with offsite construction to produce a net-zero carbon in operation school – one of the first in the UK.

The revolutionary Sky Academy and Eden Project Nursery has been formally designated a pathfinder exemplar to inform the future direction of capital investment at the Department for Education (DfE).

The background and context

The new school is a planning requirement triggered by the 1,500 new homes planned for the West Carclaze Eco-Community project.

Located on a redundant china clay quarry close to the Eden Project, the eco-community’s masterplan emphasises environmentally responsible living, health and wellbeing.

Although the school will eventually be extended to become two-form-entry (2FE) providing places for 420 pupils, it will start life with only one form per year (1FE) until the number of new houses built exceeds 600. The nursery will have places for 26 three-to-four year olds.

Our role

The project was let under the DfE’s MMC Mod B framework. With our experience designing standardised DfE-compliant, modular offsite solution for schools, we were chosen to take the scheme up to RIBA Stage 3. We achieved planning permission in September 2021.

Well-managed briefing and collaboration

Several engagement meetings with the operator clients and DfE helped to develop ideal room adjacencies and the flexibility to expand in the future.

Liaison with the wider stakeholder group will ensure that our plan will mesh coherently with the adjacent eco-community development, establishing a fitting sense of place and the potential to open up to community use after hours for added social value.

Our flexible solution

Our design is for a simple two-storey block. Classrooms, staff and ancillary spaces are arranged either side of a central corridor. As it transitions from 1FE to 2FE, the scheme can be extended eastwards easily following the same pattern.

Outdoor learning

The DfE advocates outdoor learning in all weathers, believing that it leads to happier, healthier and more environmentally responsible citizens.

The generous grounds will be planted with native broadleaf trees and feature a football pitch, multi-use games area, car park, and several characterful spaces for outdoor learning.

The furniture will be robust enough to withstand being used outside. An outdoor washing station will allow pupils to clean their hands and boots after outdoor learning.

Innovative net-zero carbon strategy

The school is targeting net-zero regulated and unregulated energy usage, whole-life value, water conservation, low embodied carbon, human health and wellbeing, all future-proofed for anticipated climate change.

The whole-life net zero target will be met through a fabric-first strategy in line with the UK Green Building Council methodology. It will include an efficient mechanical ventilation with heat recovery system, a heat pump, and onsite generation from roof-mounted photovoltaics.

The super-insulated building’s north-south orientation is optimised to take advantage of passive solar heat, using its added thermal mass to help to moderate internal room temperatures.

The windows will be triple-glazed and oversized to admit as much daylight as possible and, where south-facing, fitted with brise-soleils to avoid solar glare.

An inter-seasonal heat exchange system was also considered. This innovative technology would help to avoid overheating during the summer by storing excess heat and releasing it back into the school again in the winter to save on bills and attendant carbon costs. There is an option to add this technology at a later date.

Circularity and cutting waste

Constructing off-site will not only radically minimise material waste but the steel-framed modules can be re-used at the end of the school’s life.

There will be a ‘waste recycling centre’ that doubles up as an outdoor covered learning area, and what little construction waste there is will be reused to make compost bins and other outdoor features.

Water conservation

Taps will limit water usage. Rainwater will be harvested from the roof for the outdoor washing stations and for flushing toilets. Paths will be finished with pavers that allow rain to be absorbed, reducing run-off.