School Building Committee Votes to Remove Kingspan K15 Insulation From Approved Proprietary List of Construction Materials (Updated)

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Rendering of Hanlon-Deerfield School, from School Building Committee Presentation (Mar. 4, 2022)

Updated 3/6/2022 at 2:34 p.m. A clarification has been made regarding the position of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail & Transportation workers on the issue of fire safety testing.

On Friday morning, March 4, 2022, seventeen members of Westwood’s School Building Committee all voted to remove Kingspan Kooltherm K15 insulation board from an approved list of proprietary materials to use in constructing the new Hanlon-Deerfield school. Chair Maya Plotkin, the eighteenth and final member in attendance, facilitated the vote but did not state a vote, herself.

However, in introducing the issue for a vote, Ms. Plotkin indicated her support of removing the material from the proprietary list. She emphasized a general policy preference to avoid a proprietary designation in material use.

“Typically we don’t want things to be proprietary. Proprietary means that we’ve specified a specific [ ] source from a specific vendor, a specific product, and that we would purchase that product without [ ] market forces at work, without going to get bids and figuring out what might be the most reasonable option. And we do that for things that are very specific, that we don’t think we can find multiple varieties of,” she said.

Committee Member and Westwood Procurement Officer Michelle Miller added that avoiding proprietary materials increases flexibility and is cheaper for long-term building maintainence.

Ms. Plotkin noted that committee members had received emails on the topic of the insulation but she did not specify what issues were raised in the emails. She noted that upon conducting research on the previously approved proprietary insulation, members of the committee discovered that there are alternate products available.

Mr. Robert Fitzgerald, a senior associate at architectural firm Dore + Whittier, explained that a change to the building insulation and material selection is being made. Instead of a rigid exterior insulation on the wall, as originally planned, insulation will be added to the subcavity, he said. He also noted that while the earlier approved insulation (Kingspan K15) has a higher R-value, the new design approach opens up the building project to a number of different manufacturers. He anticipated that doing so will result in pricing that is in a similar ball park.

Committee member Brian Bayer questioned whether the brand will remain in the specification and whether there were any safety concerns based upon research.

Mr. Fitzgerald replied that based on the research, “We had no issue with that.” He stated that the materials previously investigated had all met NFPA testing requirements.

However, as reported by Westwood Minute, the British government has recently determined that marketing materials for some Kingspan K15 insulation products have not always been accurate, and has recalled certain Kingspan K15 products from market for performing at a "lower level" than what has been described. The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail & Tranportation Workers (SMART), a North American union that includes workers who manufacture fire safety products, has noted that "Between 2006 and 2015, there was not a single successful large-scale fire test that could be applied to the K15 being sold in the market."

Mr. Fitzgerald appeared to indicate that Kingspan products would not be included in the new specifications for building insulation. But he also noted that the changed design anticipates using XPS rigid insulation.

Ms. Meredith Schafer, researcher for SMART, informed Westwood Minute that Kingspan is also a manufacturer of XPS products. Following the School Building Committee vote to exclude Kingspan K15 insulation from the School Building Committee’s proprietary list, Ms. Schafer queried Ms. Plotkin in an email as to whether any Kingston products would be used, going forward.

Westwood Minute has contacted a representative of the School Building Committee for a response to the issues of misleading advertising and fire safety that were raised by SMART. At the time of publication, Westwood Minute had not received a reply.


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