This is probably my farewell post to what I think is one of the stupidest building I’ve seen in a long time. I say it is a farewell post because I don’t have much hope for rectifying the problem and am moving on.

I’m referring to the 2009 installation of window grilles onto the PS 58 windows, the public school my daughter goes to and thus a school I have personal contact with.

This is what the grilles look like:


This is an example of the window with and without grilles:


I asked a lot of people in the school why the grilles were needed and I got a lot of uninformed answers: they cut the glare from the sun, they look nice, they stop the kids from being distracted…

Out of the more reasonable answers I got were that the grilles are meant to protect the widows from flying objects such as balls and stones. They are also meant to stop students from throwing objects from the building. Fair enough.

But their solution to these problems is in my opinion ignorant and actually harmful to the students and teachers in the school.

To start with they picked a material that was much heavier than it needed to be. If you want to see the grilles up close just look at any public trash container on Smith St. They are the exact same grille. You need that kind of strength when you are going to bang it on the lip of a garbage truck twice a week for ten years, but not to protect a window that MAYBE will get hit by a ball once in a blue moon. Maybe.

They picked punched metal grilles, meaning the manufacturer took a sheet of metal and punched lots of little holes in it. This means there is a huge amount of metal in the grille. It is a waste of resources from that point of view. A lot less metal would have done the same job.

And what is wrong with tempered glass? It would have been cheaper than the cost of installing the grilles and would let in all the sunlight. In the summer just have shades.

Can somebody please tell me why they didn’t use tempered glass??

And these grilles were expensive. I spoke to the head foreman from the construction company about it. That money could have been used for other things that directly improve the student learning experience.

They also put grilles in places like on the top floor of the building where you’d have to be a pro baseball pitcher to do any harm to the window. As for kids throwing things out the window, you don’t need grilles. Adjustable window locks work just as well. This is a classic example of the contractor billing for what they could and the school department not paying attention to where their money is going.

But the main tragedy is that the grilles block light. They are painted black and consist of more metal than holes. I was a photographer for ten years and have some experience in measuring light output. I took a photograph and light reading of two windows side by side. One window had the grilles and the other didn’t. The difference in light output was about 35%.

It is hard to see the difference in a photograph but here is an example.


The image exposure was taken for the inside of the room. Notice the books and chairs have a more or less normal exposure. Notice that the window on the right is also pretty close to normal exposure. There is no seeping of light around the window frame. Notice the window on the left is way over exposed and there is a lot of light seeping around the window frame (marked with red circles).

Because the exposure in the room and in the right window are similar it means that the light coming into the room from the right window is about as strong as the fluorescent light (which was on) inside the classroom. It is hard to see via a photograph the implication of this. But it is bright sunshine outside and the light getting into the room through the grille  is no stronger than a 100 watt light bulb!

The light coming into the room through the left window is much more, about 35% by my calculation. As you probably guessed the left window does not have a grille.

Blocking light has several consequences. The first is that artificial light is needed 35% more often in the school, which raises costs both in electric bills and maintenance. If it is sunny outside and you have a wall of windows like the classroom above then you really shouldn’t need the electric lights on. But they needed it with the grille.

But the second point is my main concern. There are conclusive studies showing that natural light has a direct impact on student performance, attendance and behavior. It is clearly documented that as the amount of available natural light goes down children get sick more, are more prone to behavior issues and have lower academic performance.

Likewise grown ups suffer similar health and emotional issues that are directly connected to the amount of natural light they are subjected to throughout the day.

These issues increase the costs to the school. Lowered attendance, grades and good behavior means the school has to work all the harder in terms of hours, more teachers and special needs classes.

I was first made aware of the grilles when my daughter came home and said the windows at her school made her eyes hurt. The matrix pattern of the black grilles don’t let enough light through to be able to see what is outside yet because they are black they don’t give you anything to focus on.

Likewise I spoke to several teachers who said they could no longer tell what the weather was outside after the grilles were installed. Apart from making it difficult for the teachers to know how to dress their students for break time, this disconnect with the outside natural world is another documented element that effects people’s ability to concentrate for long periods of time.

Studies have shown that a view where the eye can focus on infinity (i.e. farther than about 50 feet) it gives the eyes and the brain a momentary rest. Instead of the outside view being a negative distraction, it allows the mind to leave what it is focused on for a moment. This break reduces eye strain and increases concentration and endurance.

It is also clearly documented that views of natures (in this case trees and the sky) improve productivity, health and emotional moods. Hospital patients with a view recover faster than patients without one for example.

Unfortunately I don’t have links to these studies. As a green builder this stuff is important to my work and over the years I have read such studies but didn’t think I’d need them to back up my argument. But the info is out there.

I am amazed and dismayed that school in one of the most advanced cities in the world should not be aware of this information. When we asked the Head Mistress of the school, an amazing woman who has turned the school from good to great, she was oblivious to these issues. She “liked how the grilles looked,” and as far as she was concerned that was the end of it.

The head of the PTA had the same attitude.

Such disregard for the students when the solution was so simple dismayed me greatly. I feel that thirty years from now when the windows are revisited people will look back at us and call us ignorant. Like we now look back at people who smoked around kids, they will wonder, “How could they not realize these grilles had an impact on the students?”

I am a green contractor so these things are obvious to me. I have studied the issues in depth and people pay me money for my knowledge and experience in green building. In this case however nobody was interested in my opinion and it was very frustrating, both on a personal level for my daughter and on a broader level for all the children and teachers involved.

I realize there are venues to pursue this. The head of the PTA was absolutely no help but I know I can discuss this with the Board of Education. But it is a time consuming process and even if they see the error I don’t see them spending even more money to take them down.

So I am going to leave it alone. But if you are reading this and have some say in the process please reconsider. The grilles are a misguided attempt to improve the schools and do more harm than good.