New primary school is valuable addition to local community in Brandon

New primary school is valuable addition to local community in Brandon

A new primary school development in County Durham set out to achieve a BREAAM rating of Outstanding and integrated its principles throughout design and build.


The school has been designed and built to ensure the ethos of sustainability runs collectively throughout the building and the community it serves. Early BREEAM planning was essential to the project’s success. It achieved its aim of an ‘Outstanding’ rating and is a welcoming and comfortable space for pupils, teachers and the wider community alike.


The development is a new build primary school. It has replaced the facilities on the site of the existing primary school in the village of Brandon in County Durham.

The school is a single-storey building and has a floor area of 2,824 sq m. It houses educational and other facilities for 390 pupils from Reception to Year 6 and a nursery with 26 places.

The school also provides a day care and facilities for community including parent and community room and training rooms. These can be securely accessed from the rest of the school building and are available for use both during and after the school day.


Durham County Council had aspirations to achieve BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ and set out a roadmap to achieve this from the project outset. It set out to ensure that the entire project team were fully engaged in the BREEAM process. This involved reviewing all aspects of the BREEAM assessment on a regular basis throughout the design and construction process.


The school was developed as a low carbon building and was designed to minimise energy consumption. The design included improved performance of the building envelope and maximised the use of natural daylight and ventilation.

The team recognised that creating a sustainable building is not just about reducing energy consumption. That’s why the development also utilised a range of sustainable, low-impact construction materials. The materials were sourced locally and in a responsible manner where possible, balancing functional requirements against life cycle costs.

Sustainable construction

During the construction phase, the team focused on minimising the environmental impacts and reducing the amount of waste generated. They used sustainable construction methods and practices and monitored energy, water and waste consumption to keep them in check. This meant the site management exceeded the standards of best practice.

Learning about sustainability

The new school is a valuable addition to the local community, not only in the new community facilities provided but also through the demonstration of practicable sustainable technologies and functional ecological habitats. The school presents itself as a valuable practical learning resource on environmental issues to pupils and teachers and aligns well with the 8 Doorways in the Sustainable Schools Programme.

Environmental features

The building makes use of a wide range of features and technologies to reduce its environmental impact and improve the indoor environment for pupils. These include:

  • Openable windows and automatically actuated high level windows and roof lights to maximise natural ventilation and maintain a comfortable temperature.

  • Earth tubes, which exploit ground source energy via controlled ventilation to introduce fresh air into the school. This air is cooler than the outside air temperature in the summer and warmer in the winter.

  • A biomass boiler which burns wood pellets to provide heating throughout the school.

  • Optimising room depth and northern lights to make use of natural daylight and reduce glare and artificial lighting needs.

  • Low carbon design features, including high thermal mass, good air tightness and insulation of the building envelope combined with heat recovery.

  • Electricity and heating sub-metering to measure the energy use throughout different areas of the building.

  • Photovoltaic (PV) panels and solar water pre-heaters.

  • Water-efficient sanitary fittings to reduce water usage and rainwater harvesting systems to flush the toilets.

  • A high percentage of building materials selected to A and A+ criteria from the Green Guide to Specification.

  • Bat roosts, wetland habitats and native tree and hedgerow planting to complement the local biodiversity action plan.

  • Safe pedestrian and cyclist access arrangements, cyclist facilities and electric car charging points for staff and visitor use.

The building performed particularly well in the following BREEAM categories:

  • Management – 100%

  • Waste – 100%

  • Energy – 95.24%

  • Water – 87.50%

  • Materials – 80%

  • Innovation (Performance above and beyond standard credit requirements) – 70%

Lessons learned and future plans

A key learning was was that the building form, layout and structure play an important role in delivering sustainable, energy ‘lean’ developments, perhaps even more so than expensive technologies. Getting this right at the outset can maximise energy efficiency and deliver aesthetically pleasing and functional buildings.

The team followed the eight doorways of sustainability from the National Framework for Sustainable Schools. This gave the council the knowledge, tools and contacts to deliver sustainable buildings in the future. In 2015, it created an internal guide to sustainable construction to underpin the principles for future new build and major refurbishment projects.

Brandon Primary School has become a model for the development of sustainable educational facilities in the county. Some of the principles from Brandon have already been successfully applied to two further schools in the county.


Paul Hopson, Senior Project Manager, Durham County Council says: “From the outset we aspired to create the most sustainable school possible for the pupils, staff and community. The results were not disappointing. When deciding how best to deliver and evaluate this pledge, we always returned to the BREEAM system. The BREEAM broad assessment methodology model covered all major aspects of the schools sustainable development and was integral in our push for the Outstanding rating.

“The Council, Designers and Constructors have all worked together with teachers, pupils, Governors and the wider community throughout the schools development. The result being a building that’s both a practical teaching tool for staff to integrate sustainability into the various curriculum subjects, while enriching the local area and Brandon as a whole.

“Looking specifically at the design, it’s the joined-up thinking approach that’s particularly pleasing. A typical example being that each individual classroom roof faces south west and is equipped with north facing windows. These windows provide natural ventilation and glare free light while the roof mounted solar panels are pitched at an optimum angle to capture the maximum solar energy.

“Whilst the environmental benefits speak for themselves, it is the integration between the building and the occupants that has proven most significant.  The new environment has inspired teachers and pupils alike to explore the bond between their new school and natural environment in which it sits.  The building has proven so successful in this regard that we’ve incorporated the design concept and building form into future primary school replacements.

“The BREEAM model has helped us create an Outstanding, first class educational venue for our children and it is a privilege to be associated with a school that has been built in a way that both respects and complements its environment so well”.

Summary of BREEAM Experience

Early on, the project appointed an in-house BREEAM-trained sustainability officer who brought tangible benefits via careful planning and the monitoring of progress.

The new school was constructed several meters away from the original, therefore careful pupil control and safety were paramount. Pupils had the chance to learn about the new school via regular presentations and supervised site visits.

The school and grounds are now fully used by the wider Brandon community. They can access day care facilities, community rooms, Sport England specification playing fields and a multi-use games area (MUGA).

By carefully following the BREEAM model, the new school has become a valuable and practical learning resource on environmental matters, for pupils, teachers and the wider community.

Summary Redbox Architecture


Redbox Architecture
Sir Robert McAlpine
WYG Group Ltd
BREEAM Education 2008
BREEAM rating:
Outstanding (87.7%)

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