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Photo: Self-Help

The historic YE Smith school building in East Durham was not much to look at when Self-Help first acquired it. Having served as the area’s main public school until 1967, when it was replaced by the current YE Smith elementary school, it subsequently housed services for students with disabilities.

It sat vacant for several years, after a proposed apartment project failed to come to fruition. By the time of Self-Help’s purchase, it was in need of complete repair.

That repair, however, has been dramatic.


The newly rennovated building, which will now house the relocated Maureen Joy Charter School, has been heralded as a major development for East Durham which, like many inner city areas, suffers from social exclusion, poverty and a lack of investment.

Just as importantly, the project represents the cutting edge of sustainable building renovation. Notable green features include:

  • 75% of walls, floors and ceilings maintained
  • 50% interior, non-structural materials salvaged
  • 83% of construction materials recycled
  • 22.5% more airtight air barrier than standard
  • Reflective roofing tiles
  • Individual room temperature controls
  • Rainwater harvesting cisterns

The result, says Self-Help, is healthier, more comfortable buildings; fewer greenhouse gas emissions; and a 30% reduction in energy bills – the equivalent of over $31,000 a year.

Each of these green features, of course, also represents a learning opportunity for students. And it’s in learning and community buiding that a project like this really comes into its own. Here’s how Bill Bell described the significance of the project to The Herald Sun:

“The city has really made an investment in our inner city communities, particularly in East Central Durham,” Bell said. “We know that to have a strong city you have to have strong communities. Now when I come to East Central Durham, I no longer think of it being depressing. It’s rising. It’s really about people and a way of life.”