Significant refurbishments have  been completed at Ringwood Heights Primary School in Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs with a comparatively modest budge of $1 million.

Normally, the perceived cost of refurbishing school infrastructure has been an issue for school communities, but it is possible to make improvements to the comfort and energy efficiency of building without costing a fortune.

Even something as simple as quality insulation can make a world of difference to classroom conditions, as students and staff at Ringwood have just discovered.

Work undertaken at the school involved the restoration of the entire southern half of the school’s infrastructure, which included multiple classrooms and administrative areas. This greatly enhanced the comfort levels for staff and students, reinvigorating the entire campus.

Crosier Scott Architects project coordinator and architect Roger Vieth says the firm became familiar with the school while working on the school hall several years ago. It was clear to Vieth that widespread improvements could be made to the main buildings, many dating from the 1960s.
Vieth jumped at the chance to contribute to the latest refurbishment works.

“The fixed budget allocation for the project was not enough to do the whole school, so we decided to do part of the school – a heavy refurbishment to one wing,” he says.

Early conversations with teachers revealed high classroom temperatures in summer were a major concern, especially with the corrugated metal roofing.  So an effective insulation solution was a clear priority, Vieth says.

“Insulation-wise we didn’t know what was up in the ceiling or in the walls – we had some idea that it would be very limited when we spoke to the staff in depth. They said temperatures typically became uncomfortable at about lunchtime, so we assumed there was very little [insulation] in the walls and very little in the ceiling.”

Mineral fibre batts were discovered in the ceilings, which had compacted to a thickness of 25mm, meaning they were ineffective.

Additionally, the batts had not been well installed and most likely moved around by contractors working in the roof, which lead to unwanted heat transference through gaps in the insulation.

Even if the fibre batts had worked correctly, they would not have prevented ‘thermal bridging’ or ‘cold bridging’ where heat energy is lost through un-insulated framing, including door and window frames, and timber framework.

The architects contacted Chris Davis from Kingspan, which had a new product – Kingspan Kooltherm® K18 Insulated Plasterboard – which would be perfect for the application, Vieth says.

The insulated plasterboard is a rigid thermoset insulation, comprising a front-facing, gypsum-based plasterboard sheet bonded to a reverse-side insulation panel.

For the school, 10mm plasterboard with 50mm Kooltherm® insulated backing material was selected, providing a product R-value of R2.6.

An independent thermographic survey was conducted in mid-July 2013 to compare the insulation performance of the refurbished southern half, with the older northern half.

Both wings had classroom heaters turned on to maintain indoor temperatures, with interesting results.

With visible un-insulated elements in the older ceilings, the heating system on that side was working significantly harder, costing more to operate and affecting indoor comfort levels.

In the newly refurbished southern wing, the rooms were around two to three degrees warmer on average than the northern wing.

Hallways were of particular interest given that they have no heating. The refurbished wing hallways were around 17% warmer that its counterpart, indicating significant heat loss through the framing in the classrooms in the northern wing. Additionally, it means the insulated plasterboard was working effectively to prevent heat loss and contributing to retaining heat.

Effective insulation was reinforced by a series of complementary low-cost measures including clerestory operable windows for cross-ventilation.

Sun shading to the north was created by a covered deck, which shades some of the windows, stopping heat getting through. Other initiatives included improvements in carpets, external access to classrooms, new soft lighting, and bag holders.

School principal Mandy Dunn says the value of the refurbishments is obvious to all staff and children.

“The students are able to concentrate and feel more comfortable in their learning environment. Our teaching staff have also commented on the reduced noise level and stable temperature in the new classrooms,” Dunn says.

There is little doubt that Ringwood has achieved significant outcomes. The entire school community has benefited from the refurbishments, leaving the stage set for the northern wing to undergo the same transformations.