June 7, 2007
City of Calgary's Water Centre shooting for gold
The City of Calgary and Dominion Construction are shooting for gold with their green efforts on The Water Centre.
When the $33 million office project began in 2005, the aim was to achieve a minimum silver leadership in energy and environmental design rating.
“We are confident we can achieve gold or even higher,” Russ Golightly, the city’s project manager of building infrastructure, said of the evaluation by the Canada Green Building Council.
In 2003, Calgary introduced a sustainable building policy which means all public buildings — either new or renovated — must be constructed to meet or exceed LEED’s silver environmental standards rating. Platinum is the highest rating.
“This would be the company’s first gold, if it’s achieved,” said Glen Clark, Dominion’s manager of design and engineering.
The Water Centre — a 183,000 square-foot, four-storey building to house 400 office staff and facilities for another 400 outside workers — features 100 per cent day lighting, 59 per cent reduction in water use, 58 per cent saving in annual energy consumption resulting in annual savings of approximately $108,000.
Environmental improvements began from the start as a brownfield area, already owned by the city, was used for the project.
Golightly said the land, located at the Manchester Centre at Spiller Road and 25 Avenue S.E., was previously home to a furrier and a depot for Calgary’s streetcars.
“It’s a great redevelopment of an industrial area ... a site that was being ignored” he said.
Before construction could begin, additional contamination from spills on the site was discovered and cleaned up before work could proceed.
Golightly said the project had already been delayed because the “geometric complexities of the design meant it took longer in the drawing phase.”
Clark said the Water Centre is “unique in terms of its shape and design.”
As a contractor, he said that meant it was “more technically difficult to build.”
Noting the building is curved in two directions, following the roadway, Clark said “there’s no separation from the roofline to the wall. There’s no break. It’s like a large foil.”
He said the large curved steel structure required had to be shipped in from out of town because no one in Calgary could do that work.
With such a unique project, Clark said there’s always a “challenge in working with the subtrades to develop new details.
“You have to start at the ground and work up.”
But that “definitely adds more excitement to the team. There’s interest in solving technical problems,” he added.
“The curvature of the building follows the roadway to maximize the amount of green space,” Golightly said. “It reduces its ecological footprint.”
The building really draws an impression.
“You love it or hate it,” Golightly said of people’s reaction. “We needed something different in Calgary other than square boxes.”
He described this building as “half-moon shaped in curvature ... it’s like putting a hat on the building, like a brim.”
The so-called hat is just one of the energy-saving initiatives aimed at shading the building from the sun’s heat.
It also helps to collect water, which can be used to help irrigate the prairie grass that will be planted on the five-acre parcel of land.
While the exterior is unique, and expected to become a landmark for the city, the interior is just as distinctive.
Workers there are expected to benefit from a higher quality workplace.
“It’s about the best light and air flow for the employees,” Golightly said. Utilizing the northern light means employees can have daylight and operable windows.
Hallways and meeting rooms were strategically placed to protect from the stronger southern sunlight. “It helps to monitor and manage the temperature,” Golightly said.
Labour shortages have delayed completion of the project, which was expected to wrap up in March.
“We hope to move in this July,” Golightly said.
The project cost, at $33 million, is on budget.
While Calgary has been a leader in constructing sustainable buildings, Golightly said it’s a “fallacy” to think it costs substantially more.
“There’s no great deal of extra cost,” the municipal official said.
With this project, he said, they’ve been tracking the cost at about two per cent higher.
And he anticipates the long-term savings will more than compensate for that.
In addition to utility savings, he also believes there will be some savings in sick time, as the workers are less likely to become ill as the improved air flow restricts the spread of viruses.
Clark added the first sustainable building cost substantially more to construct because of the learning involved in the process.
“A lot of it is common sense principles and tracking it with paper,” he said.
And he believes this is the way of the future.
“Whether we use LEED as a reason or not, we have to recycle to minimize the landfill impact.”
He said it’s also about constructing more energy efficient buildings.
As for the labour shortage, he said, it’s difficult. In this situation he said “highly skilled teams” were required because of the complex work.
Overall, there aren’t enough skilled tradespeople. Clark predicts that will get worse in the future, as the majority of those working today are older and nearing retirement age.
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