L'étapes vers de nouvelles écoles plus saines : L'expérience de Halifax ouest

À travers la nation, les médias ont rapporté que les émanations provenant des nouveaux matériaux de construction utilisés dans les écoles neuves étaient la cause de malaises physiques chez les occupants et que les moisissures toxiques, les fuites de gaz de combustion ainsi qu’une triste qualité de l’air contribuaient à la détérioration de la santé des occupants et à leurs performances académiques inférieures.  Heureusement, la récente ouverture d’une école secondaire à Halifax Ouest établit une nouvelle référence en matière d’efforts pour construire des écoles saines. 

Ce projet démontre qu’il est possible de créer une école avec une bonne qualité de l’air tout en respectant le budget.  On peut retrouver une liste partielle des mesures prises qui démontre combien d’attentions furent accordées pour que cette école soit saine à court et à long terme.









Steps Toward 
Healthier New Schools:
The Halifax West Experience

Karen Robinson,
President of Citizens for A Safe Learning Environment (CASLE)

March 2003

cross the nation, there are media reports of new schools that are causing physical harm to occupants from the off gassing of new building materials or of old buildings with toxic molds, combustion leaks, and other indoor air quality deficiencies that contribute to poor health and lowered performance.

Halifax West High School
(photo: Mainland Common)

A study by Honeywell in 1994, and more recent work by the US Environmental Protection Agency and others have found impacts on academic performance add to the health concerns for young people attending worn-out, poorly maintained and generally substandard school buildings. The size of the problem is only just being recognized, but in Nova Scotia and some other areas, resources are going into upgrading and replacing worn out schools.

A new approach is emerging - designing and building schools that attempts to ensure high quality indoor environments without breaking the budget. A new benchmark in this effort has just been opened in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Halifax West High School was closed in August of 2000 because the school had outlived its lifespan and had been causing significant health impacts on teachers and students for several years. 

The Nova Scotia Department of Education decided to use this new school to "raise the bar" in the building of schools that are healthy buildings the day they open and perform well as healthy buildings for the long term. It struck a Healthy Schools Construction Committee to guide the process. 

The old school building was given back to the city to demolish and redevelop the site. The city gave 10 acres for the new school to be built in a natural park land - a school in a park! It has been a tremendously satisfying cooperative project between government, school board, city and community. 

(photo: Mainland Common)

Healthy doesn't mean expensive

Halifax West High School was a fast-tracked school (just under 2 years from announcement to completion), it is the largest school Nova Scotia has built in at least 30 years, but it was built on time (actually AHEAD of time as the plan left it empty for six to eight weeks for the building and contents to off gas!), and below budget, while breaking new ground in healthy school design and construction. Thus demonstrating that healthy schools don't have to cost more is an important contribution toward others following suit. The health benefits to students and staff will not stop at the doors of this school, because most of what was accomplished at Halifax West will become part of the Design Requirements Manual (DRM) for all public buildings in Nova Scotia.

What makes a Healthy School different?

Following are forty examples of healthy school accomplishments on the new Halifax West High School. The list could go on, including ways in which this school is a "green" school as well as a healthy school. For example, with almost no fossil fuel consumption, it helps meet Canada's Kyoto commitments.

(photo: Mainland Common)

1. No oil fired heating system. Heating and cooling using water heat pump system. No fossil fuels used on site, except a few Bunsen burners. (Combustion systems in existing schools cause a lot of health problems.)

2. The Chem lab has a special ventilation system for use with Bunsen burners and in case of chemical spills.

3. Gym floor finished months early. This is the first time this has been achieved in Nova Scotia (possibly in Canada). Even if our choice of a water based finish wasn't used, a lower emission alkyd-based one was used. Off gassing for 8 weeks before occupancy made a difference too.

4. Ventilation system exceeds American Society for Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning (ASHRAE) Guidelines. Goal: Cleaner air indoors than outdoors (once the off gassing is complete). Huge filter system plus 100% fresh air (unrecycled air).

5. Huge effort went into product selection for health, including concrete additives, foundation form-release products, glues, caulks, wall & floor finishes. Window trim used no glues and was finished off site and then installed. (However, a paint containing Teflon, which when burned apparently produces one of the most toxic chemicals known to man, was used and would not have been a preference for the healthy school agenda.)

6. New low-emission finishes for desks & furniture from the furniture supplier.

7. Ductwork was not only required to be delivered varsol/oil free and stored clean on site, but ducts were well sealed daily during construction to keep dirt out, and the system was left off until final cleanup was finished.

8. Careful attention to such things as orientation of air intakes to avoid sucking used or polluted air into the school.

9. Huge attention to multiple site design issues , including site drainage and rational analysis of safety aspects of building entrance for those arriving by various means.

10. Parking lots downwind (prevailing winds) and 50 ft from building.

11. Copy rooms isolated & with separate ventilation.

12. Ventilated halls. Cleans out "dead", used air in halls, plus locker contents can be concentrated sources of indoor air pollutants.

13. New locker design has them off the floor for ease of cleaning and to prevent build-up of mold-producing dirt under them over time.

14. Openable windows, screens, and all classrooms have windows except drama (stage area).

15. Clear glazing in windows. Window orientation and shading provides pleasant brightness and prevents overheating during hot afternoons. Broad spectrum fluorescent lighting assists natural light for health, performance and comfort.

16. No pressure treated wood (PTW) anywhere it could come in contact with skin. Also, care in disposal of PTW sawdust and other toxic materials such as solvents.

17. Sealing of all cut edges of fibreboard cabinetry to prevent off gassing of formaldehyde and other emissions.

18. Minimal use of fabrics and other fleecy materials, including carpeting.

19. There are no plastic garbage cans throughout, and the kitchen equipment is mostly stainless steel. Pranksters occasionally set fires in garbage cans. Several teachers in Nova Scotia breathed toxic fumes from this in the past year alone.

20. Special entryway mat system to clean off boots & shoes.

21. Easy access for maintenance and cleaning. In this school, maintenance was given priority.

22. Gym floor is easy on the eyes - no visual "noise".

23. Heavy ceiling tiles that minimize particle abrasion.

24. Whiteboards & electronic boards plus low-emission corkboards.

25. Controls for electromagnetic fields (EMF) exposure from computers in the computer rooms (the other classrooms with rows of computers don't rank as well), and wiring and electrical areas located to minimize EMF exposure to occupants.

26. Well designed recycling system, including a recycling room with floor drain for hosing down.

27. No indoor plants or water fountains (a mold issue).

28. No cabinets under sinks and no gyproc in or below washrooms (leak and mold issue).

29. New design for water-resistant baseboards.

30. An extensive radon system was installed, including mechanical exhaust of foundation.

31. Lead and plastic-free water coolers.

32. Computers and other electrical equipment were plugged in, turned on and off gassed for several weeks.

33. Care taken not to allow sawdust or garbage to fall between walls or into block walls. (One new school had to have a wall dismantled because of odours from this.)

34. No pesticides were used during landscaping.

35. Least toxic cleaning materials were used.

36. The on-site inspector and construction heads were trained in healthy school construction issues. They in turn explained the goals to workers. For example, during construction, wet or damaged or unspecified materials were turned away, and no open-flamed heaters used.

37. Training of building operators. Training of the maintenance personnel was video taped for future use, for example, for refreshment sessions or if there is staff turnover.

38. Archive of design drawings & operations information in three locations Department, board, and school. Important for maintenance and for reference so system can be altered easily in future renovations.

39. An extensive off gassing "flush-out" period of several weeks, with cabinets open, furniture and equipment off gassing with ventilation on 24 hours.

40. Extensive pre-occupancy testing and evaluation using residential rather than industry standards for indoor air quality.

(photo: Mainland Common)

Improvements continue

Even more achievements could be listed, including subcategories of many of the items. Our request for such basic things as "a roof that does not leak" and "windows that do not leak" were taken very seriously.  The project demonstrated that it is not more expensive to build a healthy school - it came in UNDER budget! Time will tell the success, but a huge amount was accomplished in building a healthier school.

For more information on
Healthy School Design and Construction, visit: