Upon the completion of the co-design process in Liceul Sportiv Banatul in March 2023, we sat down with the school’s director, Prof Ramona Roman, to discuss her experience with the process. Professor Roman was one of the biggest supporters of e-SAFE, she sold the project to the schoolboard, to teachers and students, and acted as the direct link between e-SAFE and the school throughout the process.
You have been director of the Liceul Sportiv Banatul since 2015. Can you tell us a bit about the school’s history?
The Liceul Sportiv Banatul was founded in 1948. The school has a strong tradition of excellence with a focus on athletic performance. Students come here for both an academic and athletic education – they study and practice sports intensively. Our students range from eight to nineteen years old. We currently have about 700 students, of which about 100 live on campus during the school year because they come from quite far away. As for the building, it’s old. The building we’re in now was built in 1974 and has undergone minimal renovations.
You have been a huge supporter of the e-SAFE project, none of this would have been possible without you. What was your motivation to work with e-SAFE?
Because the school’s buildings are very old, and in need of renovation. Our energy bills are too high, and the buildings’ inefficiency directly impacts students’ comfort and performance. For example, classrooms are uncomfortably hot during the summer months, in June and July, when they’re writing their exams. It’s hard to concentrate and perform your best in a humid, overheated room. The infrastructure for water is also very old. Something breaks about once a month, and there’s a leak or an explosion where we can’t stop the water from running. It’s hugely disruptive, and we have to pay for all that wasted water! We also pay too much for heating. Being a public school built in 1948, the school receives heat from the district heating system, which dates back to the communist regime. The system is controlled by the city, we can’t turn the heating off when we don’t need it. It gets too hot very often, and so we open the windows. It’s inefficient, and it costs too much.
Was renovation already a priority before e-SAFE approached you?
Yes, we wanted to renovate the school for some time, but we haven’t had the budget or time to advance. So the possibility of a team of experts coming in and bringing hands-on education in addition to renovation design was a no-brainer. In terms of the process, I had to go through the school board. The board is composed of three members of city council, parents and teachers, and we meet once a month. I added e-SAFE to the agenda of our next meeting and presented the idea. They were all in favour. The parents really liked it.
The co-design process took place in several sessions over a couple of months. What were the highlights for you?
Personally, I didn’t expect the students to be so involved. I’ve never heard about anything like this before, letting kids help engineers and architects develop design plans for a building. They were very engaged. And they learned a lot about saving energy, like how and when we can open or close the window. And the students shared lots of creative ideas to customize the renovation. It was important for them to present an ‘athletic’ image through the physical building. They asked for example to use Olympic rings as seating outside, and to use the façade as a climbing area. For safety reasons, not all the ideas are necessarily possible, but it was great to see them so involved and to take the project so seriously. Through imagining so many different possibilities, they really participated in the design process from the ground up and learned a lot about how to make a building performant. Overall, the students came away with a strong appreciation for ‘building performance’. They have a good understanding of the concept of excellence and performance in terms of sports and academics, and now they want that for their school as well.
Were any of the students’ ideas taken up in the renovation plans that weren’t on the radar of the e-SAFE experts?
An easy example that comes to mind is the design of an effective evacuation plan. It’s essential to have a simple route that helps kids get out of the building easily from wherever they are. The students proposed to paint the wall with a man running in the direction of the evacuation route instead of arrows. The students also raised the issue that the southern façade of the building has a sort of glue effect due to radiation, and the rooms on this side become uncomfortably warm. The design proposal included shading panels to increase comfort.
Has the e-SAFE co-design process been a success, in your opinion?
Yes. I was impressed that the e-SAFE project team is made up entirely of specialists, architects, engineers, and the design work is very technical. From the educational perspective, it was remarkable to see students engaged and learn hands on from experts while being able to freely share their ideas. There were about twenty students and five teachers involved in the process from beginning to end. Overall, I think the students involved have a great sense of accomplishment having contributed to the design plans, and they also have a new sense of pride in their school. They want their school to be unique. In Romania, most school buildings are all the same, you can easily identify a school building anywhere. The students really want to make their school stand out; they want to put their creativity to work. And they’re already talking about their experience and sharing it with others with other students. I think this experience will stay with them for a long time.
So what are your hopes now, in terms of next steps?
To have a new school!
You mean to get the school renovated?
Yes, to have the school renovated, to implement the plans developed through e-SAFE.
The mayor of Timișoara, Dominik Fritz, launched a Green Schools initiative in 2022. Three schools were chosen to receive energy efficiency renovations, funded by EU recovery and resilience funds. What is your message to him and to the local authorities responsible for making the decision on what projects should receive finance?
My main message is that financing this project will bring tremendous value to the city. First, the renovation plans are holistic, taking into account both the energy performance and the earthquake safety of the school. This is real innovation, it would make Timișoara a leader, offering a great example to other countries at risk of earthquakes how to renovate. Second, the students were part of the process! Getting this project funded will send a very strong message to the kids that will stick with them for a long time: that getting involved, making an effort - it really can have an impact. Kids need to receive the message that theiractions matter.