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A sustainable skills centre for the youth of York


An assessment conducted by the City of York Council identified a significant community of students aged 14 to 16 who, due to a lack of emotional maturity, are not likely to benefit from the opportunities provided within the traditional school curriculum. However, these students might benefit from vocational opportunities that could be provided by a ‘skills centre’. Consequently the Council is now in the process of having a skills centre built. The centre will aim to increase knowledge, encourage further skills-based development, and raise the profile of vital trades and services. It will also fill the gap in York’s educational provision whilst offering courses to the wider community.
The building has been designed to promote sustainability and value the environment. The two existing educational buildings on the site, the Bridge Centre and the Pupil Support Centre, will be extended/refurbished as part of the skills centre construction project.

The skills centre under construction

Building details

Type of building Educational skills centre
Year built / Floor area / Operating hours The skills centre is currently under construction and will be finished in 2007.

The skills centre will be two storeys, with a ground floor area of 766m2 and a first floor area of 207m2, giving a total floor area of 973m2.

The centre will be open from 8.30-16.30 Mon-Fri with evening use of 18.00-21.00.

Heating and cooling installed The boiler in the Bridge Centre will be replaced with a gas-fired condensing boiler. The skills centre and Pupil Support Centre will be served by a new wood pellet biomass boiler. The existing gas boilers will be retained for use in the event of the biomass boiler breaking down.

A solar thermal system will be installed for water heating.

A passive ventilation system will be installed for cooling, along with fixed, brise-soleil louvers on south-facing windows.

Energy / Water / CO2 label The building will be constructed in accordance with the Building Research Establishment’s BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) Schools 2006.

A pre-BREEAM assessment has already been carried out. It is a requirement that the skills centre achieves an ‘excellent’ rating and the Bridge Centre extension achieves a ‘very good’ rating (unless site constraints mean that the latter requirement conflicts with the obligation to achieve value for money).

(Note: BRE is a research, consultancy, training, testing and certification organisation focusing on sustainability and innovation across the built environment. The BREEAM assessment methods and tools are designed to help construction professionals understand and mitigate the environmental impacts of the developments they design and build).

Project description

Aim The aim of this project is to build a high quality centre for vocational education in order to extend the range of vocational programmes to some groups currently unable to access this provision. The goal of the skills centre will be to transform the learning experience for young people, to encourage them to develop a commitment to continued learning, whether in school, college or the workplace. The building is designed to promote sustainability and value the environment.
Key points

Building site

The skills centre will be built on a former school playground. There are already two other buildings on the site, which will be extended/refurbished as part of the skills centre construction project:

1. The Bridge Centre, which is an independent building taking primary age children in danger of being excluded out of their mainstream setting for up to six weeks at a time. The Bridge Centre will be extended to ensure independence from the Pupil Support Centre building.

2. The Pupil Support Centre, which takes mainly excluded secondary-aged pupils for up to six weeks at a time. The kitchen in the Pupil Support Centre will be refurbished and converted into a catering and training kitchen, which will provide meals for the whole site.

_ Three temporary classroom units will be demolished as part of this project. The area where two of the temporary classrooms are located will be used to develop a kitchen garden for the Bridge Centre.

Integration of the new skills centre (left) with the existing site

Sustainability in the building process

The construction process will take into account sustainability principles, in terms of the cost and type of materials used to ensure energy efficiency, recycling and re-use, efficient use of water, waste management, landscaping, and wildlife considerations.

The building contractor will be required to:

- Select materials with low embodied energy and carbon miles

- Use timber products supplied from an accredited sustainable source

- Sort and recycle all waste and surplus materials during construction

Sustainability of the building

An all-encompassing sustainable management plan will be written to aid the understanding and management of the sustainable elements of the site.

_ Building envelope

The skills centre building will be highly insulated with mineral wool.

Prefabricated panels being delivered to the site


- The boiler in the Bridge Centre will be replaced with a gas-fired condensing boiler

- The skills centre and the Pupil Support Centre will be served by a new wood pellet biomass boiler (sited in the Pupil Support Centre)

- The existing gas boilers will be retained for use in the event of the biomass boiler breaking down

- A solar thermal system will be used for water heating, with solar panels fitted to the two roof planes with a south-west aspect

Boiler house and biomass storage


- Windows on the south-east and south-west faces of the skills centre and the Bridge Centre extension will be protected from the sun by fixed, brise-soleil louvers

- A partial passive ventilation system will be installed in the skills centre to combat solar and internal heat gains

_ Appliances

- All white goods and information technology equipment to be purchased will be Grade A for energy efficiency where available

- Any old appliances from the Bridge Centre and the Pupil Support Centre that are no longer needed will be disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner

_ Lighting

- Energy efficient lighting will be used both internally and externally

- Light levels and energy use will comply with BREEAM and Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) best practice guides

- All lights will have movement sensors

_ (Note: CIBSE represents building services engineers and their various specialties)

_ Water

- A rainwater recovery system will be installed and used to provide water for the skills centre toilets

- Water will be metered so that this can be used as a teaching aid for students

_ Recycling and composting

Recycling and composting will be encouraged through the provision of:

- External and internal recycling facilities

- Recycling bins for all occupiers in all areas of the building

- External and internal composting facilities

_ Recycling will also be encouraged through the development of an environmental site management plan.

_ External areas

- A sun-sheltered area will be provided for the skills centre

- New garden amenity areas will be provided for users of the skills centre and the Bridge Centre

Reason for inclusion as Shining Example The skills centre shows how sustainability principles can be incorporated into all stages of the building process, including building design, choice of building materials and technologies and disposal of construction waste. Several energy and water-saving measures will be installed in the centre including a solar thermal system, a biomass boiler, passive ventilation and a rainwater harvesting system. This will reduce the running costs of the centre as well as reducing its environmental impact. The building itself will also provide a learning tool to teach students about sustainable construction.

Costs and benefits

Costs and funding The skills centre project is being fully funded by the City of York Council. The estimated budget available for building the centre is €2,700,000 (£1,800,000).

The construction process will take into account sustainability principles, in terms of cost and type of materials used.


Reduced utility costs

It is expected that the utility costs for the site will decrease over time due to the installation of a biomass wood pellet boiler and a gas condensing boiler, an electric only kitchen and the use of building materials with high-performing, sustainable qualities.

Reduced CO2 emissions

The building and services have been designed to achieve a minimum of 30% improvement in the CO2 emission rate (in excess of the UK Building Regulations Part L 2A 2006) by using a wood pellet biomass boiler combined with solar-powered hot water.

Educating students

Given that the purpose of the skills centre is to provide a teaching tool for basic vocational qualifications including construction trades, the building itself will provide an excellent practical example of sustainable construction. Features such as the water meter will also be used to educate students on sustainable practices.

Partnership details

Partners & role No partnerships were formed to undertake this project. However, the project involved close liaison with Hoval, the company that manufactured the biomass boiler, to arrange a long-term servicing and training agreement.


Obstacles to overcome The height of the fuel silo for the biomass boiler had to be reduced because of planning constraints. This means that there will need to be closer monitoring of the fuel consumption and fuel delivery to the site, because of the reduced capacity of the silo.
Achievements The City of York Council’s Education and Leisure Department, who commissioned this project, was forward-thinking in terms of their vision and the project’s budget. Therefore, all of the environmental design features were retained from the drawing board through to construction.
Lessons learned If a similar project was to be undertaken, it is recommended that further consideration be given to the visual impact of a silo for fuel storage in terms of local planning constraints.

To know more

Organisation name City of York Council
Contact Gary Christie
Phone +44 (0)1 904 553 317

Useful info

Arrangements to visit By appointment

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