The Building Blocks of a Sustainable Future ; One Colege Is Leading the Way in Pioneering New Techniques in Construction, Says Neil Merrick

Article excerpt

Students entering the latest learning and resource centre at Somerset College are unlikely to be aware that they are walking on tiles made from recycled tyres. Nor is it immediately apparent that the surfaces around the handbasins in the lavatories were made from yogurt pots, or that the walls are insulated with old cotton denim jeans.

But thats the sort of thing you'll find at the Genesis Centre for Sustainable Construction, the first centre of its kind at a further education college. It aims to promote environmentally friendly building among learners of all ages.

The pounds 2.5m centre, named Genesis in a reference to creativity, will be officially unveiled tomorrow. But some students are already using its facilities.

It is four years since the Taunton-based college became the country's first and, so far, only centre of vocational excellence in sustainable construction. The idea of a centre built with recycled and sustainable materials came from students who were set an assignment as part of a higher national certificate programme at the college.

Four years later, the dream is a reality, thanks in part to grants from the South West Regional Development Agency and the Learning and Skills Council, which want it to be a showcase for the construction industry.

Ian Moore, the centre's operations director, is determined that it is seen as a more than just another eco-building. "We are trying to show that you can integrate the use of sustainable materials into mainstream construction, but that means you need the knowledge and skills base to achieve it," he says.

The centre, powered by renewable energy, consists of five free- standing pavilions linked by a glass wall. The clay and straw pavilions include lecture and conference facilities, while the earth pavilion is a shop selling eco-friendly products.

The timber pavilion doubles as an office block, while the water pavilion, which includes the lavatories, demonstrates the latest ways to conserve water. Roofs of rubble and sedum provide a natural habitat for wildlife.

Tim Simmons, the college's sustainable construction manager and a teacher in construction, believes the mood will benefit staff and students. "Learners are stimulated by the environment where they work. If you put people in a naturally-lit and ventilated environment, they will feel better about themselves."

The centre will eventually be used by up to 800 students on construction courses as well as those on marketing and retail cours- es, who will examine the success of the shop. …