Mohawk College attempts to balance the energy budget


This fall, Mohawk College is making a statement about renewable energy by opening the country’s largest institutional net-zero-energy building. With highly visible rooftop solar panels, it will provide a home to engineering students while greening the grid.

The Joyce Centre for Partnership & Innovation is designed to operate without producing negative emissions, which means that for every kilowatt hours of energy used, a kilowatt of renewable energy is produced.

Three years in the making, the facility will be ready for the Hamilton-based school’s students in September, and is among several sustainable building projects set to open on college campuses in and around Toronto in the coming years.

“Everybody who occupies the building should see a benefit: students, researchers, teachers, administrators and parts of the public,” says Kevin Stelzer, a principal with B+H Architects, which was involved in the building along with firm mcCallumSather. “We’re going to pump a lot of green electricity into our grid so that people’s homes and workplaces will be less carbon-intensive, if they use electrical energy.”

The very nature of the 96,000-square-foot building, which will offer space for around 1,100 students, made the net-zero plan a challenge.

“As an engineering building, it has high-energy equipment, and it’s a high-occupancy building, so we have to ventilate it a lot,” he says.

To that end, labs containing sub-electrical panels have breakers that are triggered if a lab uses more energy than scheduled.

Construction on the $54.25 million Joyce Centre will be completed in mid-May and will connect to the existing engineering building. Solar panels installed on the roofs of the building’s wings will generate all the electricity the building needs. A geothermal field consisting of 29 wells dug approximately 600 feet deep will heat and cool the facility through a distributed heat-pump system. Additionally, its shape – almost an L configuration – will flood the interior with natural light, reducing daytime electricity loads.

“Every job has a financial budget, but we’re also introducing an energy budget,” says Stelzer. “What makes our building different than other sustainable buildings that are, for example, LEED certified – which is a great system – is our energy simulation will be compared against actual consumption rather than a virtual simulation. In the net-zero calculation, if it doesn’t actually operate to the balance, it’s not successful.”

Tony Cupido, Mohawk College’s chief building and facilities officer, plans to offer classes centered around the building’s operations in the engineering school’s curriculum. While fall programming is still being finalized, he says engineering and trades students will engage with the net-­zero lab and renewable energy lab, and there will be engineering programs relating to the operation of the building. Some of the classes will be new, and in other cases, existing classes will be updated.

“Students will have experiential learning first-hand in the building that they’re being taught in,” says Cupido. “They’ll have controlled access to the systems in the building, and the ability to go onto the roof safely to monitor and observe the solar panels and do testing if required.

Outside of school, students will also be able to monitor the building via an app, website or other data techniques.

Meanwhile in Toronto, George Brown College is planning to build “the Arbour,” a 12-storey timber-framed building, the first of its kind for an institutional building in Ontario, near the waterfront campus.

Though still in the very early stages (four different design proposals will be presented at the end of March), the Arbour will include a “living laboratory” for climate-friendly building design, as well as serve as the home of the Tall Wood Building Research Institute, and the George Brown Centre for Information and Computer Technology.

Luigi Ferrara, the school’s dean of the centre of arts, design and information technology, describes it as a low-carbon, net-positive and smart building that will be future-proofed.

In other words, the Arbour will be “resilient against changes in climate, and resilient as education is changing.”

Site plan approval is lined up for March of 2019, and construction is expected to begin March 2021.

Other colleges in the Greater Toronto Area that are investing in sustainable buildings are Humber College, which has a new LEED Platinum Centre of Technology and Innovation building slated for completion this spring Centennial College, which has incorporated sustainable design principles in all major building projects and Sheridan College’s new Davis building in Brampton that has a wing that is LEED Gold standard for siting, design, construction and energy performance.

Humber’s new building, located on the North campus, has an aggressive energy target of 100 equivalent kilowatt hours (ekWh) for the year. The college’s other buildings are typically around 300 ekWh. With a highly efficient ventilation system and standard LED lighting, the building is part of Humber’s overall goal to reduce energy per square foot by 50 per cent over a 20-year period. The integrated energy master plan, as Spencer Wood, the school’s director of facilities management, calls it, will also include how to retrofit older buildings with energy-efficient designs.

Students in the HVAC, sustainable building technology, project management, supply chain management and interior design programs are participating in a multidisciplinary project to come up with retrofitting solutions, along with professional engineers and architects.

“They’re all coming at it from a different angle. When they go off to their jobs, eventually they’ll be working on those kinds of teams,” says Wood. “It gives students really good experience on a real-world project, and introduces them to people in the industry.”

While large institutions are exploring architectural sustainability more deeply, end users must also do their part to help foster a net-zero culture. There will be electrical outlets in the Joyce Centre, but not as many as in other buildings in order to encourage students to come to school with laptops fully charged.

“Each individual needs to be conscientious,” says Joanne McCallum, CEO of McCallum Sather Architects. “We’re used to gliding into any coffee house with an automatic assumption we can plug in and charge up on somebody else’s dime. We need to be more cognizant of how much energy we use and how we acquire that energy.” | @KellyKaliopi



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