net zero

Net zero facility to become teaching tool

Mohawk College to give students chance to operate carbon neutral building
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
By Michelle Ervin

The Joyce Centre for Partnership & Innovation is poised to become a teaching tool for current and future building professionals alike.

The net zero-targeting project is part of Canada Green Building Council and World Green Building Council pilots that will establish benchmarks for carbon neutral buildings. And once the four-storey, 96,000-square-foot institutional facility is occupied, Mohawk College will give students the chance to participate in its operations for credit.

“Students, through capstone projects or research projects, will have the opportunity to, either for a day, or a week, or a month, actually manage the building — make sure that the temperatures and the lighting and other key components are performing properly,” said Tony Cupido, chief building and facilities officer at Mohawk College. “And they’ll be able to do that electronically and through data review and analysis.”

Fittingly, the facility is designed to support the expansion of the college’s engineering program, although it will ultimately accommodate up to 1,000 students from various disciplines in flexible learning spaces. Slated for a narrow site, the facility will rise on a slice of green space between two existing buildings, which will give it a prominent position at the entrance to the college’s roughly 66-acre Fennel Campus in Hamilton, said Cupido.

Now under construction, the project is on a tight April 30, 2018, deadline tied to $20 million in funding obtained through the federal Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investments Fund, which was announced in the 2016 budget as part of an innovation agenda.

In addition to differentiating the college from other post-secondary institutions, the pursuit of net zero on the project was considered a way to make the application for federal funding stand out, said Cupido.

“The planning, design, construction, operation of the building will be unique, because it will be one of the largest net zero buildings in an institutional setting, certainly in Ontario, but perhaps in Canada,” he said.

The strategy evidently worked, and the project, which will also see another facility renovated, broke ground early last fall. The Joyce Family Foundation, for whom the building is named, has committed $5 million to the project, which is expected to cost an estimated $54 million.

The capital budget wasn’t the only budget for the project. The architects created an energy budget for the educational facility, a building type known to be energy-intensive, particularly when it includes labs, as this one will.

“As we designed our systems, we gave them these allowances so that we were confident that the energy simulation we were developing would be accurate,” explained Kevin Stelzer, principal at B+H Architects, which is collaborating with mcCallumSather on the project in a joint venture partnership.

The facility is forecast to operate at roughly 70.5 to 71 kilowatt hours per square metre on an annual basis, said Stelzer, one-third of which is assigned to equipment and plug loads and two-thirds of which is assigned to building systems. Office buildings operate at roughly 335 kilowatt hours per square metre on an annual basis, he said by way of comparison.

The facility will rely on a geothermal system and photovoltaics for heating and cooling. The expectation is that it will generate and store for future use more power than is needed in the summer but may require some supplementary power from outside sources in the winter, said Cupido.

With the lighting and ventilation on occupancy sensors, the decentralized systems will automatically adjust to the distribution and number of occupants within the building, which typically dips in the summer months.

“It’s easily demand-operated, so if one portion of the building needed heating and cooling, and not the rest, it can operate that way,” said Stelzer.

Curtain wall will enclose the building, despite the thermal shortcomings of the cladding system. The ability to prefabricate the system and quickly install it on site made it the right choice for the project given the tight construction deadline, Stelzer explained.

The use of structural rubber gaskets will help resist the heat flow that generally occurs through the aluminum framing of the system, he said. The building will also be buffered from the heat loads of western sunlight by the rooftop solar panels as well as vertical aluminum shading.

Plug loads are one of the variables that could compromise the carbon-neutral operation of the building, Stelzer noted. The facility’s design discourages this by limiting the number of outlets available for use as well as by making occupants aware of real-time energy use through apps and on-site displays in the facility.

The net-zero target will take more than design to achieve, as the performance of the building will depend on how it’s operated on an ongoing basis. It will take a change in the attitudes and behaviours of occupants, observed Joanne McCallum, principal at mcCallumSather.

“There is a true cultural shift that we need to go through as a society as we become more accountable for how we use our energy,” said McCallum. “We’re used to being able to take our phones, our computers, doing whatever, and plug in wherever we want.

“You have to be aware in terms of when you go into the building; [for example] don’t come with your computer battery dead.”

In addition to informing occupants of the facility’s real-time energy use, its design will provide visual reminders of the project goal of sustaining the facility’s operations on only the electricity it generates.

On the interior, a learning space called the “collaboratorium” will feature direct current (DC) lighting, which, McCallum said, has become available in response to the increasing uptake of solar power. Normally, she explained, the power captured by solar panels would have to be converted to alternating current (AC).

On the exterior, the photovoltaic panels will be elevated, literally, as a design feature, in two “wings” that cantilever over the building as it steps down from four to three to two storeys.

“Solar panels tend to be hidden on roofs,” said McCallum. “You’ll see them in fields as you drive along, or you see people starting to put them on their houses, but it’s something we wanted to celebrate.”

The design of the rooftop solar panels will also allow students to safely access an area that might otherwise be restricted, added Cupido. They will have the ability to take an up-close look at how the technology is installed, maintained and operated, as well as check data from an accompanying weather station.

As the fall 2018 occupancy date gets closer, Mohawk College plans to start preparing students for the move to the new facility, said Cupido. Despite losing roughly a day per week to rain in recent months, the project is on track to reach substantial completion on schedule next spring.

Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.

One thought on “Net zero facility to become teaching tool

  1. I am interested in any new ideas in building Net Zero Homes and also Net Zero larger condominium projects. Can you please assist me in understanding what may be required to reach a Net Zero Townhomes and as well what would be required for larger projects to achieve Net Zero for Larger projects?

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