Ontario education centre earns Living Building certification

Wood and stone forest education centre at night.
Designed by Dialog, this forest education centre has met all seven “petals” of the Living Building Challenge. It is the first LBC-certified project in Canada.
Photo courtesy York Region

The Bill Fisch Forest Stewardship and Education Centre in Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ont., has been awarded Living Building Challenge certification—the most rigorous sustainability standard in the world—by the International Living Future Institute.

“A truly inspirational example of forest stewardship and regenerative building construction, the Bill Fisch Forest and Stewardship Education Centre integrates with the local ecology and becomes one with its forest neighbors,” said Amanda Sturgeon, CEO of the International Living Future Institute. “The Centre is a model example of humanity’s ability to reconcile our relationship with nature.”

Designed by Dialog, the building has met all seven “petals” (performance areas) of the Living Building Challenge (LBC). It is the first LBC-certified project in Canada, and one of only 21 buildings achieving full LBC certification worldwide, according to the Institute.

From the beginning, the building owner, The Regional Municipality of York, conveyed to Dialog that they wanted the new 370-m2 (4000-sf) building to be “the greenest education centre ever built.” To achieve this goal, Dialog brought together an interdisciplinary team that included architects, engineers, and interior designers, as well as forest education experts, arborists, and ecologists to design a building that would be net-zero energy, net-zero water, and offer an inspired place of learning with a projected 90-year life-cycle.

“When we learned about this project we said to ourselves – what a great opportunity! We can bring all of our understanding, our ideals, our integrated design methodology, and our passion together in one symbolic project,” says Craig Applegath, Dialog principal in charge.

According to the International Living Future Institute, “Living buildings give more than they take, creating a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them.” Successful projects demonstrate excellence in seven performance areas over a minimum of 12 months of continuous occupancy.

Material selection was challenging

Meeting the red-list requirements for a Living Building under the Materials petal was the most challenging aspect of achieving this certification. This required the complete elimination of 20 chemicals of concern which include carcinogens, toxinogens, mutagens, persistent bio-accumulative chemicals, and hormone disruptors. According to Dialog, a materials advocacy letter was issued to approximately 10,000 suppliers to request health product declarations and environmental product declarations for all products.

The use of wood in the design was integral to the building’s performance and appropriate to its function as a forest education centre. The structure was built almost entirely of laminated and cross-laminated timber (CLT), all of which was sustainably harvested (per FSC certification) or recycled wood, and was designed to be easily disassembled and recycled in the future when the Bill Fisch Centre comes to the end of its useful life. The project’s exterior wood cladding, for example, was salvaged and repurposed from the an old Cascades warehouse in Toronto.

“Opportunities of this sort don’t come along very often. We knew if we wanted to do a LBC building, this was our chance,” recalls Charles Marshall, sustainability consultant at Dialog. “It’s a nice flat site, incorporates natural storm water management, natural infiltration, and at the same time, this site demands that you do something special.”

The Living Building achievement is in addition to this project’s many other significant accomplishments, including:

• Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification
• Public Project of the Year – American Public Works Association
• Public Project of the Year – Ontario Public Works Association Canadian
• Green Building Award – Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC)
• Leadership Award – Forest Stewardship Council
• Environmental Building Award – Canadian Wood Council

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