1 Feb 2017

Elite Christchurch school has smell issue

2:01 pm on 1 February 2017

Award-winning buildings at an elite Christchurch primary school have been emitting a smell, but the school says the odour is not harmful.

The Cathedral Grammar School

The Cathedral Grammar School in Christchurch. Photo: RNZ

In a letter to parents, The Cathedral Grammar School principal Scott Thelning said K2 Environmental tested the junior school over the holidays because of the "new building smell" not going away.

It found a high level of "volatile organic compounds" in the laminated beams - "hence there is a strong smell".

Parents raised the smell issue with Mr Thelning. One said it smelled like varnished wood. Testing found no harmful substances, Mr Thelning said.

The wood oil coating, rather than glue, was the more likely source, he said.

The architects, Andrew Barrie and Tezuka Architects, have won several awards for the buildings, including at the Interior Awards and the Designers Institute of New Zealand Best Design Awards. Pupils moved into the new buildings in time for the 2016 school year.

"We have asked the teachers to increase ventilation into the rooms as much as possible and we will get air fresheners," Mr Thelning said.

Mr Barrie, who is an architecture professor at Auckland University, twice visited the school this month, his letter said.

"His preliminary findings indicate that the timber may have been coated more heavily than required, and this is causing the oil to dry more slowly than normal," Mr Thelning said.

Dr Barrie is working with paint manufacturers to see if there was any way to speed up the drying of the oil - "and hence dissipation of the 'new building' smell".

Dr Barrie said a ripe banana would give a high VOC reading, Mr Thelning said.

"It is unavoidable that the natural materials used in the building does mean it will have a timber smell throughout its life.

Mr Thelning reassured parents he was confident from the testing the building was a safe environment.

A call to the school was not returned.