digital edition

Thomas L. Wells Public School

Toronto, Canada

Beating Expectations: Passive measures and effective management have a school performing better than anticipated.

Originally published November 2006
Baird Sampson Neuert Architects

By Nadav Malin

The Thomas L. Wells Public School sits amidst a dense housing development in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough.
Photo Rick Keating
The Thomas L. Wells Public School sits amidst a dense housing development in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough.

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Location Toronto, Canada

Gross area 71,194 ft2 (177 m2)

Cost $16.4 million

Annual purchased energy use (2009-2010) 52 kBtu/ft2(590 MJ/m2)

Annual carbon footprint 9 lbs. CO2/ft2 (46 kg CO2/m2)

Program Classrooms, offices, gym, library, cafeteria

Click to enlarge
Annual Energy Use 2009-2010

Owner Toronto District School Board
Architect Baird Sampson Neuert Architects
Engineers Keen Engineering, now part of Stantec Consulting (mechanical); Mulvey & Banani International (electrical); Blackwell Bowick Partnership (structural)
Commissioning agent The Mitchell Partnership

Five years after it was completed, the Thomas L. Wells Public School in Toronto is exceeding expectations. The original design solutions—such as the high-mass floor slabs integrated into the air distribution system—appear to be more energy efficient than predicted, which may reflect on the limitations of the energy modeling software used in capturing the benefits of that mass. “We are finding that the building is performing particularly well in the shoulder seasons, suggesting that the passive systems are more effective than anticipated in the model,” notes Barry Sampson, principal at Baird Sampson Neuert Architects.

The Commercial Building Incentive Program (CBIP) design model anticipated a 35 percent reduction in energy use from the base case, but actual performance is now approaching a 50 percent reduction. In addition to the thermal mass, Sampson credits the cross ventilation strategies, daylighting, and passive solar heating with providing that efficiency. The energy benefit of that passive solar gain seems to have been retained even as blinds were added to control the glare.

That energy use remains below predictions and even continues to decline is a testament to the ongoing management and engagement with the students and teachers in supporting those features. Sampson points out, for example, that “the gym/multipurpose room is well daylit with monitor skylights and can be comfortably used most days without the aid of artificial lights.” The fact that the lights can stay off doesn’t guarantee that they will, however, as other designers of daylit schools can attest.

Absenteeism has not been studied specifically, but former principal Ruth Jory believes that attendance is higher than average. She also feels that the daylight and air quality may have contributed to raising the Grade 3 and Grade 6 province-wide assessment scores in reading, writing, and math, which improved by an overall average of 14 percent over three years.


This article appeared in the March 2011 print issue of GreenSource Magazine.

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