Heritage Site Community Centre in Flood Plain Gets LEED Platinum Accreditation
An Interview with Colin Jones, Facility Manager
When gutsy little NGO Evergreen rose to the challenge of taking on a derelict brick making factory and converting it into a environmental community centre, the community had mixed views ranging from optimistic to skeptical. When Evergreen announced that it also wanted to include in the adaptive re-use conversion a LEED Platinum headquarters, some speculated that the organization had bitten off more than it could chew. How could a nature based NGO know anything about the development industry and energy efficient building design and construction?
Fast forward a number of years and a visit to Evergreen Brick Works today reveals a shiny silver building appendaged onto a gritty graffiti covered historical brick making factory. The contrast is striking, receiving many building awards including one from SAB Architect Magazine in 2012 (this award in 2012).
A public gathering place, the site is always a work in progress, but the final construction milestone was finally achieved this summer. Evergreen Brick Works new Centre for Green Cities has achieved LEED Platinum accreditation, the highest measure of efficient building status.
This is the first ever LEED Platinum accreditation in North America granted to a community centre on a heritage site. Adding to the fact that it was built on a floodplain, with special water harvesting and waterflow design features such as greenway like moats, stormwater marshes, and parking spaces made with permeable concrete to slow and absorb water surges make it especially unique.
The secret in this accomplishment is that many brilliant dedicated partners – from construction workers to architects and developers – worked tirelessly behind the scenes to realize Evergreen’s ambition.
Much has been written about the Centre for Green Cities from its solar chimneys to our scrooge like reticence to spark up the air conditioner. So to best understand what it’s like to work in a LEED Platinum building, we turned to Evergreen’s facility manager, Colin Jones, known as the Building Doctor, to talk about his experiences in maintaining and eeking out the maximum efficiency of the Centre for Green Cities. To him, we find out surprisingly that it’s not about the building at all, but about the comfort of the people who make use of it. But the fine tuning and precision required to keep the building just right for all requires a delicate balance.
Congratulations! How does it make you feel to be the manager of a LEED platinum building?
It has been interesting going through the process. It’s a unique facility because it is a commercial building sitting on top of an events building on a community centre like campus. You have to look at all these features because it is not like the regular commercial buildings I used to be involved with. There are all these factors that impact people inside of a building. Their comfort is the indicator I always go by since they’re paying the bills. I want them to be happy.
The building has a lot of features built into it, so I can manipulate temperatures in different parts of the building with vents (a nice old fashioned technology), sending cold air up or down where it’s needed. The design and height of the building allows for a natural circulation of breeze and fresh air. I enjoy sending out the morning e-mail where I invite tenants to open their windows.
As a user, all I know is that I can wear shorts in the summer and a sweater in the winter so my comfort range is broad. But the efficiency of the building itself, what’s the secret? Is it the ratio between glass and insulated wall?
The walls we have are R40 and in terms of window to wall ratios, we’re at 40/60 which is ideal to let in maximum natural light, but to also to control how much heat or cool can escape outdoors. Our insulation is key, and we have such a good brand of windows. The thing we have to be conscious of is the tenants and how they feel because everybody is individual and I can dim the lights in certain areas in the building. In terms of energy use we run at only about 35% of our maximum capacity.
If we don’t use the air conditioning, which I’ve only got 50 ton of, I can use natural ventilation up to about 24 or 25 degrees if the humidity is lower the 70%. If the humidity is above 70% the computer wont let me flip the thing open – it looks at wind speed, rain, temperature range, and the humidity. It says “okay engineer you want to open the window or not, because something else could be affecting it”.
In terms of winter and summer light, we can do daylight harvesting – sensors up on the ceiling which dim the lights when the sun comes down on the perimeter of the building. Some people found it a little bit dim so we adjusted the light but just for them in their space. So I don’t have to light up the whole building for one individual in one office. Interestingly, the design of the dimming system matches the natural ability of your iris to open and close.
In this building I’ve only had the air conditioning on 5 or 6 days so far this year – days where it is raining and it is really humid and days where it is really hot, or I have an event on the ground floor where the body heat of many people add to the overall temperature.
We’re a LEED platinum building built on the foundation of a heritage brickmaking factory that has been prone to flooding. Do you think that we’re the only LEED platinum environmental community center, heritage, flooding, building in North America?
We are unique here because Evergreen had the foresight to get this space and then said lets make it green but also make sure we’re ready for the case of flooding, so all major electrical and mechanical is up on the second floor. When we have a flood the only thing that’s mechanic or electric that has hurt me in the last two years was the elevators because there are sensors in the elevator pit, that, when flooded I can’t turn off the alarm.
What could someone else learn from us? Do you have people from around the world calling you for advice? Do we get visitors who want to know what we did?
When the green council was here a year ago a lot of people came to learn. We have a constant stream of visitors from New York to Amsterdam asking how we’ve achieved our efficiencies. I’m always happy to take them on a tour of the guts of the building. I understand too that the architecture firm Diamond Schmitt, and architect Michael Leckman himself fields many inquiries as well.
Is this building an eco-experiment?
It can be, yes. It is small in a way, physically, but it has all the earmarks of an excellent green building up and above regular buildings. We have 95% efficient boilers. I can open the windows, I’ve got radiant heat, I’ve got solar heat, I’ve got electric solar panels, we have so many unique features here at a small scale.
Is it true that the solar panels that are on building 14, Café Belong and Evergreen Garden Market, charge up the electric charging station where you park your car which you’ve converted to electric yourself?
They are tied into the exact same panel. So it is a pull-push situation, when it is sunny it generates electricity back into the grid and that part of the grid also hosts the charging stations. When you plug your car at Evergreen Brick Works, electrons from the sun are charging your car. Maybe not completely, but it is getting a boost from the sun.
What do you say to that developer that said it was too costly to go the LEED Platinum route, the most efficient route? If a developer said no, we can’t do it because it is to expensive, what do you say to them?
We are a little different from most commercial buildings, but the bottom line efficiencies are seen on the balance sheet, and it is a feather in the cap to rent space from an eco-efficient landlord. If you’re building from scratch you can do it but if you are rectro-fitting it’s kind of hard to get to platinum. There won’t be too much of that because it is very unique that you’ll see it. This was designed with that in mind and a lot of engineers and architects and such were associated in getting this thing going, so they always ask me how it is going. Well the controls of this place are quite unique, but because it’s a small building it has to be controlled precisely. If you’ve got a great big building and something goes wrong it takes a lot of time to feel the effect. Where as in a small building you always have to anticipate what’s to come. That is why I am always looking ahead, I have to know what event is going to be in the building, I have to know the weather forecast and such because I only have a certain amount of cooling capacity in this place. In heating I have no issue, most of the days in the winter I am heating this building by the exhaust gas from the washroom exhaust. It is amazing and a really cool thing. There is a first and second stage of heating.
How is there so much heat being generated from the washroom?
The ground floor has radiant heating. The bathrooms, just have an exhaust that goes through all the floors. The hot air goes up there and then we have coils in the air recovering that heat and spreading it across each floor. If you make that coil big enough and there’s air going through there with a temperature difference of about 5 degrees…. This five-degree difference being injected into the fresh air coming in is all you need to keep your building nice and cozy.
Finally, is it true that you can control the building while in your pajamas in your own home?
I can control the building automation system and the lighting system from anywhere, as long as I have access to Internet.