Photo of Amber Trails Community School

Winner of the Greenest School in Canada 2017:
Amber Trails Community School

2017 Winning schools

First Place
Amber Trails Community School in Winnipeg, MB

Second Place
Dewdney Elementary School in Dewdney, BC

Third Place
Windermere Secondary School in Vancouver, BC

Located in the heart of a new neighbourhood in North Winnipeg, Amber Trails is a 78,000 sq.ft., newly constructed building that acts not just as a school, but as an open and accessible hub within the community. The school received LEED® Platinum certification in 2016, and won the CaGBC’s Excellence in Green Building for New Construction award in May 2017.

Photo of Amber Trails Playground Photo of Amber Trails Gym

Teaching Early Learning up to Grade 8, the school’s design was based on the idea of providing a family home-like scale building that is both transparent and flexible with a strong connection to the community. The school achieved this by incorporating a welcoming entrance, daylighting, atelier spaces, a mix of indoor and outdoor environments, piazza and common learning centres, and outdoor classrooms.

Bringing a community together

Included in the Amber Trails design was a large gymnasium and public library that both incorporate glass facade entrances, demonstrating that these school facilities are open to all within the community. As the area will not contain a community centre or library, the school is an important resource and has exceeded all expectations as a community gathering space, with community groups gathering daily in the large foyer and school yard from sun up to sun down.

The wings of the school are designed to be a ‘school within a school’ with four ‘academies’ that are home base to 150 students each. The child care and early learning centre, located centrally in the plan, was designed as an integral part of the building. Along with the other indoor and outdoor amenities, the school was designed with three levels of outdoor play areas that cater to all ages of the school’s pupils.

 
Photo of video of Amber Trails

With the combination of geothermal heating and cooling, radiant floor heating, low flow fixtures and other initiatives, the school achieved over 68 per cent energy savings and a lower carbon footprint.

 
Photo of Students standing by a garden at Amber Trails
Photo of Students at Amber Trails

Cutting water use in half

The school was consciously designed to address the impacts a large school has on the environment. Since the beginning of the 2017 school year, these measures have reduced over 5000m3 of potable water.

Amber Trails has achieved over 50 per cent reduction in water use. The school division reported that they are saving approximately $7,224 per year on water and it was found that the average water consumption for Amber Trails is 1.21 m3 per student, in comparison to 3.2m3 per student at a similar school.

Growing together

A student run organic vegetable farm was developed last summer on site enabling students in the farming club to work together with a farm coordinator to cultivate a mixture of over 20 varieties of vegetables. Vegetables are sold to staff and community members and students work on the farm throughout the summer, while learning about the benefits of local food systems.

The school is currently working on a timeline based document that incorporates the climatic seasons as a teaching activities’ guideline surrounding the school’s vegetable farm in order supporting land-based education to promote a deeper sense of place, an awareness of human impacts and how they acknowledge and connect with natural cycles.

Weaving LEED certification into school curriculum

As part of their path to LEED Platinum certification, Amber Trails included a public teaching document that wove the school’s green design features into the daily instruction and learning activities. This enabled students to interact with the daily functions of the school facility in ways that raise their awareness of energy conservation, resource consumption, waste generation and the influence of the micro-climate on building systems and human comfort.

 

Minimizing energy consumption, GHG emissions and cost

The project owner, Seven Oaks School Division and PSFB, made the decision to eliminate natural gas from the project to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and future mechanical maintenance costs.

With the combination of geothermal heating and cooling, radiant floor heating, low flow fixtures and other initiatives, the building achieved over 68 per cent energy savings and a lower carbon footprint. There are no gas emissions from this school since this building is primarily heated with heat pumps with electric boilers as backup giving zero carbon emissions.

Health and well-being

Each classroom has three large windows and a partially glazed wall separating the classroom from the hallway. This allows for fresh air, outdoor views and natural light to come into the classroom and filter through to the central hallway providing positive impacts on the mental and physical well-being of both students and teachers.

The centrally located Outdoor Learning Environment and integration into the surrounding public trails encourages sustainable development programs and encourages teachers to take their instruction outside. Additionally, the school has adopted a “balanced” school day schedule which provides students and teachers with two longer nutrition breaks rather than one lunch break, as well as activity breaks allowing students more time to play outside.

Amber Trails Community School was designed to be a healthy, energy efficient building. By implementing sustainability programs and through the participation of students and teachers, the sense of environmental stewardship extends well beyond the building. Students are learning how to be healthy members of the community and have embraced these important first steps to becoming future leaders and environmental advocates.

Second and Third Place Winners

Photo of Dewdney Elementary School
Photo of Dewdney Elementary School

Second Place
Dewdney Elementary School in Dewdney, BC

Dewdney school is a small rural school with a vision to make an impact on the world. They started their focus on environmental education three years ago and have since doubled their population and welcome teachers, principals and other organizations to learn with them.

They have changed their school focus and school grounds as well as their thinking in order to be greener, healthier and more sustainable.

Here are some key elements of their green school story:

  • Learning programs: implementation of the Community Outdoor Recreation and Environment program (CORE) that reconnects children with nature through place based learning opportunities, field studies, outdoor recreational experiences and environmental service projects.
  • Indoor plants: indoor container gardens, terrariums and plants are present throughout the school.
  • Waste reduction: reusable lunch and water containers, compost bins, classroom recycling, and the donation of leftovers from events to the local Mission youth centre.
  • Water savings: classroom water buckets used for hand washing in place of taps with excess water used in outdoor foliage as well as water conservation barrels set up to catch rainwater for use in the garden.
  • Energy savings: a windmill was installed in the DEN to provide an alternative energy source for lights or simple electric tasks off the grid.
  • Health and well-being: Natural daylight is used as the primary source of light in all classrooms and outdoor activity improves physical and mental well-being of the students and teachers.
  • Giving back: the school has partnered with the Adopt a Block organization to ensure the Dewdney slough and Norrish Creek watershed are free from litter, and have also partnered with BC Wildlife Federation and Fraser Valley Water Coalition to promote and educate the community on the riparian zones that border the school.
 
Photo of Windermere Students
Photo of an Orchard

Third Place
Windermere Secondary School in Vancouver, BC

Windermere Secondary School is located in the Renfrew Collingwood Neighbourhood of East Vancouver. The school has been recognized by organizations such as the City of Vancouver, Environmental Youth Alliance, Haste, and others for their ability to engage students in meaningful ways to positively impact the environment.

Here are some key elements of their green school story:

  • Leadership program: part of a community support network that prioritizes social responsibility, community engagement and environmental stewardship within the school.
  • Learning programs: locally developed courses, such as Ecology and Intro to Sustainability, emphasize project based learning and help students to develop a number of green initiatives. These programs also encourage outdoor education in order to connect students to nature on a regular basis.
  • Waste reduction: reusable water containers, compost bins, and classroom recycling.
  • Energy savings: the installations of Solar panels, approximately eight years ago, are used to heat water in the kitchen.
  • Culinary Arts program: the schools garden and orchard contributes approximately 125-150kg of food to the program during the school year, including a salad bar.
  • Giving back: the school partners with Collingwood Neighborhood House (CNH) food to their Morningstar breakfast program which provides food for low income individuals, as well as running a weekly summer market stand at CNH.
  • Climate Change Conference: organized by the Grade 11 Leadership class, the conference brings together over 300 students from across Vancouver for a full day of presentations, workshops, networking and community action.
  • Health and well-being: a courtyard, including a large greenhouse, is a student friendly place that encourages students to be outside and is regularly used by teachers for a variety of classroom activities.