Canada Post Pacific Processing Centre

As Originally Seen in Award Magazine :

LOCATION: 5940 Ferguson Road, Richmond, B.C.
OWNER/DEVELOPER: Canada Post Corporation
ARCHITECT: Kasian Architecture Interior Design and Planning 
GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Bird Design Build Ltd. 
PROJECT MANAGER: MHPM Project Managers Inc. 
STRUCTURAL CONSULTANT: Weiler Smith Bowers Consulting Structural Engineers
MECHANICAL CONTRACTOR: Canstar Mechanical Ltd. 
ELECTRICAL CONSULTANT: Applied Engineering Solutions Ltd.
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR: Nightingale Electrical Ltd.
CIVIL CONSULTANT: Aplin & Martin Consultants
TOTAL AREA: 700,000 square feet  
TOTAL PROJECT COST: $200+ million

Canada Post is changing with the times, and its Postal Transformation program, which kicked off in 2008, is dramatically modernizing operations and facilities across Canada for the nearly 150-year-old institution. “Our business is changing as e-commerce grows, and parcels are an important  part of our future,” says Canada Post’s VP of engineering Bill Davidson, who led the Postal Transformation program in Western Canada.

But Vancouver’s 56-year-old processing centre in the heart of downtown wasn’t built for that. “For many years now, we’ve had two sites – we sorted letters downtown and parcels in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, plus we had to open a third facility in Richmond for three months a year during the holiday season.”

The obvious choice was to consolidate operations in a single, new facility strategically located next to the Vancouver International Airport in Richmond – one with the capacity to handle the volume of mail processed on the West Coast. “So we looked at the most efficient way to process the products in our future,” says Davidson, “and then – architecturally and engineering-wise –wrapped those processes in a building.” 

That building is the Canada Post Pacific Processing Centre (PPC), totalling a massive 700,000 square feet. It houses 74 high dock bays for shipping and delivery, and its walls are virtually nothing but rows of doors – 106 in total – to accommodate delivery trucks.A two-storey office area houses administrative staff, but the building is best described as a shell, protecting the staggering complexity of sophisticated equipment and technology inside.

And whereas mail sorting in Vancouver has been a primarily manual and labour-intensive task, the new PPC boasts a state-of-the-art level of automation.Put end to end, the conveyor belts alone would stretch a distance of about 10 kilometres. “Think of it as a race track all around the plant, with products moving onto it and off of it,” says Davidson.

“It’s the most integrated and automated plant that Canada Post has, and probably in the world,” he adds. 

What makes the building even more impressive is how fast it was completed – just 30 months. And because much of the processing equipment needed to be integrated into the building, to speed things along, Canada Post’s vendors were beginning installation long before final occupancy, explains Bregje Kozak, MHPM Project Managers Inc. principal.

It was a unique process of completing a section of the building, handing it over to Canada Post so its vendors could install the equipment, and then handing it back to the design-builder to finish off the base building items that remained, such as sprinklers and other systems that had to be co-ordinated with the processing equipment, says Kozak. The project was split into five milestones or phases, the first of which comprised 200,000 square feet and had to be completed within just 11 months of awarding the project.

“Adding to the complexity of the project, we had about 15,000 square feet of program space dedicated to the Canada Border Services Agency [CBSA],” says Ajaz Hasan, associate at Kasian Architecture Interior Design and Planning.

As Canada’s gateway to the Pacific Rim, every package that comes in from Asia Pacific must go through CBSA’s security screening process.

“And as part of CBSA’s security mandate, this area essentially had to be designed as a building within a building,” explains Hasan. Perforated steel sheets line the inside of every common wall that CBSA shares with the rest of the facility, and every air duct or plumbing opening more than one-foot wide has been outfitted with burglar bars.

The PPC is targeting LEED Silver certification. “It’s kind of ‘table stakes’ in the industry these days to be as sustainable as possible,” says Scott Douglas, senior principal at Kasian. “And the sheer size of the building just magnifies the importance of making good decisions with respect to energy and consumables,” from an efficient building envelope to high-efficiency HVAC equipment.

“Electrically, it was very complicated, what with the density of the outlet requirements, and the footcandle lighting levels in the plant and the surrounding parking areas being higher than normally required to serve the employees,” says Rod Douglas, business development manager with Nightingale Electrical Ltd. “And Canada Post required redundancy in the distribution, so we had four unit for a better working environment for employees, plus reduces energy consumption and heat output from light fixtures. However, because the processing centre is a 24-hour operation, it was necessary to limit the amount of light pollution emanating from the skylights during the night shift – particularly due to the building’s proximity to the airport. The response, says Douglas, was a fully integrated lighting control system with occupancy sensors and light-pollution-reducing fixtures.

Unfortunately, nothing can guard against the intense heat load created by the mass of machinery inside. 

“We have mechanical cooling using a chiller plant –there are three 650-ton chillers with a cooling tower housed in the mechanical rooms with a cooler tower outside,” explains Alex Mitro, project manager with Integral Group, mechanical consultant to the project. “But we’re using free cooling whenever possible, ventilating the space with cooler air from outside.”

The unique demands of the processing centre make free cooling an even more efficient strategy than usual. “With most buildings, you’re heating them the most in winter. But with Canada Post, Christmas is the busiest time – they’re running at their peak capacity in winter, and the amount of mail they process varies during the rest of the year,” explains Mitro. “So peak cooling [needs are] actually in the winter, and we were able to achieve good energy savings using free cooling. Plus, the heat generated by the machinery provides supplementary heating in the building by transferring the warm air around inside...The building is really quite energy efficient.”
Canada Post Pacific Processing Centre : News & Media : Bird Construction