Waterloo, Ont., Office Takes Green Development To New Level

Sourced from the Globe and Mail

Long before construction began on a new commercial office in Waterloo, the project’s participants met monthly over breakfast to figure out how the proposed multitenant building could set new standards for environmental sustainability and generate surplus energy yet not charge a lease premium.

The discussions – unusual for the diversity of the parties and a commitment to solve design issues early on – culminated in the opening in late November of a 110,000-square-foot building that ticked all the boxes. The Canada Green Building Council has recognized the office, dubbed Evolv1, as the first of its kind to meet the organization’s new zero-carbon design standards.

“We wanted to ensure what we were designing was going to do what we wanted it to do,” says Adrian Conrad, chief operating officer of Cora Group, the Waterloo-based developer of the three-storey building, now 95-per-cent leased. “It is a no-compromise solution and we are delivering it at market rates.”

The project’s origins date to 2013 when Cora, with a history of clean technology in its projects, responded to an industry challenge from Sustainable Waterloo Region, a non-profit that works with local firms on climate change issues, to build an environmentally sustainable, multitenant office at market rates.

A key consideration, says SWR executive director Tova Davidson, was that the proposed office be replicable. “Creating one building does not change green building standards and organizational sustainability,” she says. “But if you can do one and it is scalable financially in a replicable model then you have a foundation to build something much bigger on.”

What followed was a Cora-led project with eclectic partners: Sustainable Waterloo Region; the University of Waterloo’s innovation-focused David Johnston Research and Technology Park, where the new building is located and holds a long-term lease; and Ernst & Young (EY Canada), a then-prospective anchor tenant with a corporate focus on climate change and sustainability. Stantec Inc., a global engineering and design firm already located in the research park, later joined as consultants.

“One of the key success factors for us is that we did a lot of the design upfront,” says Mr. Conrad. “We knew we could not make it up as you go along, as you can in typical construction.”

The regular check-ins paid unexpected dividends, says Michael Pereira, the research park’s manager of business development. “We started to see there are all these interesting things, discussions and resources we can tap into and take something that seems very difficult to do and then ground it in practicality and make it very possible.”

Some of the building’s sustainable features are obvious, such as solar panels on the roof and over sections of the parking lot, which also has 28 electric vehicle charging stations. The building is expected to produce 50,000 kilowatt hours a year of surplus energy for the local grid.

Unusual for a building of this size is a dramatic three-storey-high living wall of 4,000 plants in the foyer. Mr. Conrad lobbied to extend the wall, initially one storey, to 12 metres in height, hiring consultants to solve potential building code issues and calculate the requisite LED lighting for the plants.

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