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Green Learning Environments for All

To a child, green might just be a color they fish out of a crayon box, but to the Alberta Government, it means much more - it’s a commitment to the whole learning environment.

While the rest of the country plays catch-up on greening their schools, the Alberta Government sprints ahead in extending its commitment to green learning environments for all children, not only children of school-age.

Following a successful trial with Alberta-based modular manufacturer, Modus Structures Inc., 24 green modular childcare facilities are being rolled out across the province alongside an additional 67 modular classrooms as part of the province’s ongoing commitment to green learning environments for Alberta children.

Green modular learning facilities, you say? Don’t you mean the dreaded portables of yesterday? Hardly. These facilities are state-of-the art and blend into the existing architecture, ensuring they don’t stand out like sore thumbs.

Here’s what our children are getting - learning environments that make others green with envy.

Fresh air

Alberta’s new modular learning facilities include high-performance HVAC systems and carbon dioxide sensors that automatically adjust to provide more fresh air for constant, exceptional indoor air quality for learners and staff. The tightly-sealed building envelope and moisture-free building materials also eliminate the potential for mould and pests.

Studies abound, demonstrating that improved air quality translates into an estimated 25 per cent drop in asthma and as much as a 20 per cent decline in viral illnesses, such as flu or symptoms of 'sick building syndrome' like headaches and fatigue. Mould spores, common to leaky roofs, along with other biological organisms add to this polluted mix, trigger allergies and are suspected of increasing new cases of respiratory diseases, particularly asthma, which is the most common chronic illness among children under age 15. With improved air quality, learners and staff have fewer sick days, lower rates of absenteeism and decreased medical costs.

Better air quality has also been shown to improve student productivity and test scores. In a 2005 survey of executives that planned and built 'green' K to 12 schools, 71 per cent reported that students performed better.

Safe materials

Green learning environments dilute air pollutants with more ventilation and reduce sources of indoor air pollution. The Modus modular learning environments are built with materials that contain no poisons, toxins, CFCs or Halons. Further, the building materials used are also self-extinguishing in the event of a fire, providing an increased level of safety to building occupants.

Traditional classroom construction materials release chemical gas for years from conventional paints, glues and tile. Green learning environments use materials that don’t emit chemicals and also do not emit an odour contributing to long-term improved indoor air quality and better working environments. Some studies have even attributed these better working environments to increased teacher and staff retention rates.

Learning in comfort

The new modular learning facilities’ tightly-sealed building envelope eliminates drafts and helps control interior humidity and temperature. The rooms stay warm in winter and cool in summer. Researchers in Denmark showed how room temperature was linked to performance. When the room temperature was reduced from around 80 degrees or higher to 68 degrees, fourth-graders completed 28 per cent more subtraction problems and read about 24 per cent faster. A previous study found that the best temperature range for learning reading and math is between 68 degrees and 74 degrees. A comfortable humidity level is usually 40 per cent to 50 per cent. The ability to learn declines as room temperatures increase above 74 degrees, particularly if humidity and dampness also increase.

Sustainable environments

While the government’s new green modular learning environments may cost a little more upfront, the tightly-sealed building envelope increases energy efficiency, the energy smart roof reduces energy loss and low-flow plumbing fixtures reduce water consumption, all culminating in significant cost-savings over the life of the buildings. The building materials also use 80 per cent recycled steel and modular construction methods divert 76 per cent of material waste from land-fills.

Maximum light

The Modus modular learning facilities are equipped with occupancy light sensors that go on and off when people enter or exit a room. This helps ensure exceptional levels of lighting when the room is occupied, at the same time reducing energy consumption when the room is vacant. The facilities are also designed with larger window sizes to help maximize natural light.

A 1999 study by Hershong Mahone Group, a building-efficiency consulting company, found that students with the most daylight progressed 20 per cent faster in math and 26 per cent faster in reading than students in classrooms with poor lighting.

As can be seen, learning environments play an important role in determining the health, educational achievement and future success of Alberta students.

At our most practical, we can see that green facilities save money ongoing and contribute to conservation of our environment. Energy-efficient buildings keep skyrocketing energy costs in check, which in turn frees money for crucial programming and learner support services. But we can also see ‘going green’ is about much more than just saving money.  Green facilities mean healthier environments for learners of all ages and staff.

It’s a win-win-win situation. It’s a win for the occupants, it’s a win for the bottom line, and it’s a win for the environment.

Janeen is the Director of Public Relations for Modus Inc. She has been writing about the built environment for over 15 years and is a strong supporter of ‘going green.’

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