Schools Made Out of Straw

Written by Andrew Morrison

kids on straw balesHow amazing would it be to send your kids to schools made out of straw? Imagine if all of our public school systems actually took that kind of care when designing and building new structures for our public schools.

Here’s the good news. Some school districts, including the Upper Grand District in Ontario Canada, are doing just that. In fact, this could become a trend and may already be poised for that. There are several schools and learning centers (or centres since we’re talking about Canada) that are implementing straw bale construction in their comprehensive plans for school expansion. It’s very exciting.

Check out the article below for more about the Upper Grand District School Board’s decision and implementation of straw bale construction on campus.

Forward Thinking Schools Made Out of Straw

ROCKWOOD — This fall, students at Centennial Public School will be sitting in a classroom made primarily of straw.

Designed by the Guelph-based Evolve Builders Group Inc., the new portable at Rockwood Centennial would put the three little pigs construction efforts to shame. It is completely made out of natural materials, providing a healthier and more educational learning environment for students. Evolve said it is the world’s first portable constructed with strawbale walls.

“Kids learn by investigating,” said Paul Scinocca, the building manager for the Upper Grand District School Board. “As a group that just builds buildings for them to live in, we would like to try and build some buildings that they can learn from too.”

The portable was assembled in Mount Forest and delivered in two pieces to the Rockwood school on Friday. A total of 180 bales of straw and plaster make up the walls that have an insulation rating of R-50, which is very high. The roof is steel, the paint is mineral-based; even the adhesives used are water based. The entire building is free of volatile organic compounds, which should mean cleaner air for students.

Scinocca said the comparison between traditional portables and this eco-building is like comparing apples and oranges. Outside of the different materials used, the new green classroom has many different bells and whistles.

In the winter, the air in the portable is to be moved out of the classroom, heated by the sun and then recirculated back into the room, cutting down on the heat bill. Photovoltaic cells will be on the roof to help provide power to the classroom, which will be lit by LED light bulbs. As opposed to normal portables which use particleboard, all the wood trim in the classroom was milled locally.

The president of Evolve, Ben Polley said the eco-building out performs the standard portable classrooms in every respect. Because it is so efficient, the operating costs will be much lower, helping shave a little bit off its price tag over time.

“If you can get a better outcome for the same cost it’s worth considering,” he said.

While Scinocca couldn’t reveal the actual price of the new portable because not all the bills have come in, he said the school board usually gets these buildings from the Ontario-based Niagara Relocatable Buildings company. The company said the portables purchased by the school board several years ago would run at about $60,000 plus tax if purchased today.

Polley said the new green building cost roughly 70 per cent more than these standard portables mainly because of all the extra add-ons. If it were just the basic unit without the solar cells and air recirculating unit and other extras, he said the cost would be within a 20 per cent price difference.

“We’re interested in showing kids things can be done differently than our parents did it.” Scinocca said. And schools made out of straw is just one way to accomplish this.

“If you want to get a different outcome, you need to look at doing things in a different way.”

He said this classroom is the perfect marriage between a sustainable, long lasting building and a teaching tool for students. Inside the portable, the builders have left a spot on the wall so the students can see how the structure was built.

“Instead of a building that just houses the students, it’s now a teaching resource,” Polley said. Schools made out of straw not only provide great spaces for the kids, but also inspire them to learn more about green building.

If you find this inspiring, talk to your school board. Talk to those people in a position to do something about it near you. This type of work can make such a difference in a child’s ability to learn, grow, and be inspired. To me, there is nothing quite as important as creating a healthy and inspiring world for our kids. I hope you’ll join me in spreading the word about this important work.

If you’re interested in really learning how to build with bales and you want to have perhaps one of the best weeks of your life in the process, then come to one of our workshops. In fact, BRING YOUR KIDS TOO!!! We ALWAYS have a good time and you will gain the confidence to build your own house too. CLICK HERE to see what workshop locations and dates we have available this year! We have kids join us all the time and it’s one of my favorite ways to share the amazing concept of straw bale. Its like the ultimate schools made out of straw: workshops that teach the process hands-on!

2 Responses

  1. Hi Andrew

    Have you any suggestions for rebuilding a school that was destroyed in Nepal three weeks ago. I am an Australian who has set up a free hearing clinic in Pokhara, Nepal 5 1/2 years ago.I am there at present and have been helping out with disaster relief. Most of the dire emergency relief has been carried out but the country is left with hundreds of thousands if not millions of homes, schools etc. to be rebuilt.

    I have been considering the use of straw ( even better if can be made with rice straw). This would be able to be resourced locally, it would be cheap, lightweight, earthquake resistant and were it to fall would present little injury. I am sure with a little instruction the locals could be taught to make and assemble the bales.

    I am returning to Australia this weekend but would appreciate any suggestions eg.

    Does the straw need to be totally dry to bale?
    Would rice steals be suitable. ? They grow wheat but mainly in the lowlands where
    rebuilding is generally not needed.
    I can be reached either on Skype “spinifex5” email or mobile +61 0428961744

  2. Hi David. The rice bales (or any bales) need to be dry before use as the interiors won’t dry out well enough once baled and stacked. I would suggest you contact Darcey Donovan at PAKSBAB as they have done a lot of straw bale work in Pakistan and probably have some great information details to share.

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