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PacificEdge | September 17, 2019

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From energy glutton to energy efficiency… a new centre for learning in Randwick

Russ Grayson

…by Russ Grayson

In Randwick, a humble and environmentally inefficient community centre has been turned into an innovative sustainability hub—a learning and demonstration centre imagined around the sustainable use of our water, energy and food.

The wind turbine sells energy to the grid and forms part of the Sustainability Education Hub's Energy Trail

The wind turbine sells energy to the grid and forms part of the Sustainability Education Hub’s Energy Trail

You know when you are approaching the Randwick Sustainability Hub-the tall wind turbine spinning in the breeze is seen well before the buildings of the Hub. But it’s not until you go inside that you notice the simple innovations designed for householders to copy to make their homes more energy and water efficient.

That’s the idea of the Hub-to demonstrate simple technologies, most available commercially, that householders can employ rather than costly, hi-tech solutions that need lots of maintenance and lots of money to buy. It answers the question you sometimes hear about why going sustainable at home involves buying so much new stuff and spending so much money. It’s really an updated addition of the idea of appropriate technology that EF Schumacher (look him up in Wikipedia) developed way back in the 1960s… technology intermediate between traditional technology and hi-tech and that is cheaper to acquire, easy to maintain and operate.

As you approach the buildings of the Randwick Community Centre-the Hub is what Randwick Council have named their sustainability makeover of the Community Centre-notice the moveable louvres on the outside of the west-facing windows. These block summer’s hot afternoon sun. Putting the shading device on the outside of the windows is far more effective than putting blinds on the inside in an attempt to block hot afternoon light that has already come into the room.

Inside, what were a dark hallway and dark kitchen are now flooded with diffuse light thanks to the installation of skylights. Nature’s bright light now replaces the flicker of flourescents.

The doors of the kitchenette feature educational displays for use by adults and visiting school groups. This one demonstrates the volume of 'virtual' water embodied in the production of different foods.

The doors of the kitchenette feature educational displays for use by adults and visiting school groups. This one demonstrates the volume of ‘virtual’ water embodied in the production of different foods.

What has been a cavernous and cold hall in winter is now warmed by a gas heater, reducing the Centre’s use of coal fired energy. Above, reversible ceiling fans push down the warm air during winter and cool summer days with their downdraft. Ceiling fans are a less energy intensive solution to cooling than air conditioning.

Tucked onto the far wall of the hall is a new kitchen hidden behind the warm glow of stained plywood doors. Open the doors to reveal a workbench of recycled hardwood, an energy efficient dishwasher and low-VOC (volatile organic compound) emission E-board. This efficient, modern kitchenette was designed by Terry Bail from the architecture practice Archology, that specializes in energy efficient design using sustainable materials.

Even the toilets in the building have had a makeover, you notice this in the combined hand basin/toilet cisterns that are filled from the big rainwater tank outside.

Water is the other resource that has received water consultant, John Caley’s attention. The sustainability makeover installed a range of rainwater tanks in a range of sizes and materials to demonstrate the different types to the visiting public. One large tank stores rainwater for toilet flushing, another stores water that irrigates the adjacent PIG-the Permaculture Interpretive Garden.

A 5000 litre water tank equipped with a tap raised so as to et a watering can below provides water for Sustainable Gardening course practical activities.

A 5000 litre water tank equipped with a tap raised so as to et a watering can below provides water for Sustainable Gardening course practical activities.

The PIG is an experiment in a new type of public open space. It combines public park, complete with BBQ, with educational facility. The raised gardens beds that currently have salad rocket going to seed spilling from them will be used as a learning facility by participants in Randwick Council’s Sustainable Gardening course and for peer-to-peer learning by people who have completed the course and wish to learn more as Council volunteers.

But the PIG is more than vegie garden. Designed and installed by Steve Batley’s Sydney Organic Gardens, there’s an orchard in the process of being planted out, a shelter designed to illustrate a common pattern in nature called the Fibonacci Series, almond trees, espaliered fruit trees to be planted soon, a soon-to-be compost demonstration system and a balcony garden illustrating what visitors can do on their apartment balcony or courtyard. A sustainability educator is presently designing a school visit learning program around the Sustainability Hub.

Surrounding the site on two sides is a remnant patch, 13 hectares in size, of Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub, the type of vegetation that covered the Eastern Suburbs prior to European settlement. There is little of this vegetation system remaining.

For a local government the Randwick Sustainability Hub is pretty adventurous stuff. Sure, there’s still work to do and planting out to be finished, however the gentle hum of the wind turbine reminds us that challenges can be met and that design thinking, innovation and taking a systems approach always beat the piecemeal and the disconnected.

Project manager for the Randwick Sustainability Hub is Randwick Council’s Sustainability Education Officer, Fiona Campbell.

More on the Randwick Sustainability Education Hub

Clarification: The author was a member of the steering committee for the Water Wise Trail section of the project.

The Sustainability Education Hub demonstrates simple energy technologies that householders can have installed..

The Sustainability Education Hub demonstrates simple energy technologies that householders can have installed. Skylights were installed in the dark corridor and kitchen.

Reversible ceiling fans were installed to improve the thermal performance of the Hub. The fans produce evaporative cooling in summer and in winter are reversed to push warm air back into the room.

Reversible ceiling fans were installed to improve the thermal performance of the Hub. The fans produce evaporative cooling in summer and in winter are reversed to push warm air back into the room.

Bathrooms are fitted with hand basin cisterns from which used hand washing water drain into the cistern for flushing.

Bathrooms are fitted with hand basin cisterns from which used hand washing water drain into the cistern for flushing.

Louvres on the building's western side are adjustable to all in sun in winter and exclude it in summer. Beside the louvres is a 5000 litre water storage that surge fills the large water tank that flushed the toilets.

Louvres on the building’s western side are adjustable to all in sun in winter and exclude it in summer. Beside the louvres is a 5000 litre water storage that surge fills the large water tank that flushed the toilets.

The kitchenette is made of Australian hoop pine ply, recycled hardwood working surfaces and zero-VOC (volatile organic compound) melamine. A water efficient tap and dishwasher complements the sustainable materials.

The kitchenette is made of Australian hoop pine ply, recycled hardwood working surfaces and zero-VOC (volatile organic compound) melamine. A water efficient tap and dishwasher complements the sustainable materials.

A University of Technology Sydney, Institute of Sustainable Futures film crew produced a training film for plumbers during the water efficiency retrofit of the building.

A University of Technology Sydney, Institute of Sustainable Futures film crew produced a training film for plumbers during the water efficiency retrofit of the building.

Some of the design and construction crew - from left: Peter Manganov, council's sustainability manager; water system's plumber, Shannon Black; landscape architect Steve Batley (Sydney Organic Gardens); council's project manager Fiona Campbell; Matt, builder; Archology architect, Terry Bail.

Some of the design and construction crew – from left: Peter Maganov, council’s sustainability manager; electrician, John Coulston; landscape architect Steve Batley (Sydney Organic Gardens); council’s project manager Fiona Campbell; Matt, builder; Archology architect, Terry Bail.

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