Acclaimed eco-school forced to shut classrooms three years after opening
It was hailed as a green-dream – a new dawn in eco buildings which would shut the door on outmoded schools of yesteryear.
But just three years after it opened, pupils at Dartington Primary School, near Totnes, is suffering such bad leaks that its pupils may have to go into temporary accommodation while repairs are carried out.
The debacle has prompted Devon County Council to threaten that it may sue the architects of the £7 million Dartington Primary School near Totnes.
Tania Mountney, whose son attends the school, said: "There's been leaking there ever since it opened.
Fantastic offer at Swanson Ford, Newton Abbot. 3 Years FREE Servicing and 5 Years Warranty available on your BRAND NEW FORD FIESTA with the AWARD WINNING ECOBOOST ENGINE!!!
Terms: Limited stock available. Only whilst stock lasts
Contact: 01626 240583
Valid until: Tuesday, December 24 2013
"Last year we could see the roof was starting to warp."
She added: "I went to a parents' lunch and you could see these large patches of mould. My ex-partner is a builder and he couldn't understand how it could get that bad."
Children are now being taught in five large marquees in the grounds, with repairs to the main buildings predicted to take up to two years.
Miss Mountney, a childminder, said she only found out about the tents when she took her son to school for the beginning of term this week.
"I drove past on Sunday and saw several marquees. I thought there must have been some sort of event on," she said.
"The next morning I arrived to find classes had moved, some of them into marquees and some of them into the library and the art room. The children are too young to know what's happening. They think it's all very exciting."
Devon County Council says it has already spent £250,000 to investigate the problem and without urgent repairs, it says teaching pupils inside the building could seriously damage their health.
Dartington used to house pupils in a Victorian building but it reopened in 2010 as one of the first zero-carbon schools in the country.
The new site was praised for being "stunning" and "extremely environmentally friendly".
Its design features four buildings made from "sustainable" timber, with solar panels providing electricity and heat.
The roof was supposedly weather-proofed with strips of sweet chestnut grown nearby and angled so rainwater could be collected and used to flush the toilets.
But apparent faults in the structure mean the roof and walls have become sodden, buckling over time and leaving gaping holes for rain to leak inside. Architectural firm White Design said it was aware of the problem and was working with the council to establish the cause and resolve it.
A report commissioned by the council blames the design and highlights "complexities within the rainwater harvesting system".
The report said: "Following the receipt of the technical specialists' report and after taking legal advice, Devon County Council has put the design practice and its insurers on notice of a potential claim."
The school has four separate clusters of buildings which are constructed from pre-fabricated sustainable timber panels.
They are insulated with natural wood fibre and clad in locally grown sweet chestnut.
The under-floor heating is provided by air source heat pumps with ventilation via a heat recovery system.
The report says the building started letting in water shortly after it was finished, and that "significant" repairs are now needed.
Temporary buildings will be set up on the school's playing field, and the work could take up to two years.