Lapalala Wilderness School inspires with its Net Zero certification

Lapalala Wilderness School inspires with its Net Zero certification

Lapalala Wilderness School achieved a Green Star Net Zero Carbon Level 2 certification late last year.

The remote location of the school has necessitated a solution that, thanks to the vision of the client and project team, has successfully merged sustainability, contextual sensitivity and beauty.

Lapalala Wilderness School is an environmental educational centre in the Waterberg District of Limpopo Province. The school has been operating for over 30 years conducting outdoor and environmental programmes for children between the ages of 10 and 18 from all walks of life. Each year, the school hosts approximately 3000 children, of whom 2000 are from local communities in the region.

The school is a non-profit, public benefits organisation that is focused on increasing environmental awareness among young people. Its mission statement is, “To help our children and young adults discover the value of biodiversity of the natural world and our place within it, and to identify and nurture Africa’s future conservation champions”. This build, together with the certification, demonstrates the school’s commitment to future generations by prioritising environmental impact, social wellbeing, economic viability, innovation and resilience.

Designed by Johannesburg-based Local Studio, the new school, which was originally housed in a converted farmhouse, covers almost 4,000sqm and is located just outside the border of the 45,000-hectare Lapalala Wilderness Reserve. This new development has presented the school with a long-awaited opportunity to expand its range of educational programs and form collaborative research alliances with universities.

Says Daniel Trollip, Director at Local Studio, “The structures are designed to blend in with the environment rather than to stand out from it. The single storey structures have high ceilings, creating an institutional feel, and are oriented to maximise natural ventilation, natural sunlight, and the views of the river and surrounding ridge.

This extensive upgrade has been welcomed by the school staff and broader community, attracting new schools that haven’t previously visited Lapalala. The systems are performing well following the first few months of operation, and the school itself has become a key part of the curriculum for visiting groups.

The remote location of the school, which has no municipal electricity or water supply, necessitated off-grid infrastructural solutions. Thato Molapo, Modelling & Simulation Consultant at Solid Green, says, “Achieving this target was a collaborative effort from each stakeholder who showed their commitment to making the project a success. This dedication went beyond immediate financial gains and prioritised the long-term benefits for the environment, the community and the students who attend the school.”

The hub of the campus contains educational, administrative and dining buildings as well as dormitories that can house 128 students and educators, and two housing clusters for permanent teaching staff. The structures contain rammed earth walls in sections, which are built from soil excavated for the foundations. Other materials include clay bricks and locally sourced pine and hardwood.

One of the main teaching spaces is an outdoor amphitheatre. This space, together with other outdoor spaces, is covered by a timber structure planted with indigenous plants to create shade from the heat of the sun. Locally sourced materials used in the project include SA pine, which was used for laminated beams and some of the furniture, and clay brick pavers for the pathways that connect the indoor and outdoor spaces.

A number of efficient and renewable systems were installed to meet the school’s water and energy needs. Energy is provided by a 108 kWp solar PV system, with 240 kWh of storage. Water is sourced from two boreholes and, where necessary, is heated via thermodynamic solar hot water heating systems.

Since 1985, Lapalala Wilderness School has played a vital role in providing environmental programmes to thousands of children from diverse backgrounds. These latest milestones – both the construction of the new campus and the Green Star Net Zero Carbon Level 2 certification – provide a solid foundation for the next chapter in this school’s inspiring journey.

Project Team

Accredited Professional: Solid Green Consulting
Architect: Local Studio
Quantity Surveyors: Aestumo Avium
Electrical Engineer & PV Consultant: 1Energy



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