South Operations Centre - Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

As Originally Seen in Award Magazine :

It could be said that with its new $52-million South Operations Centre, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) in Fort McMurray, Alberta is putting its money where its mouth is. 

That’s because municipalities in general are strong proponents of sustainability, and when it came time to build a new home for its equipment fleet with a maintenance area and workshop, service bays and vehicle wash areas as well as an administration office, RMWB decided to “walk the walk,” according to project manager John McKay. 

Hence, the new 65,800-square-foot facility, which is part of a multi-year master plan of a 14 acre site, has been built to LEED Gold standards and boasts elements such as a raised floor for all wiring (including fibre optics), LED high-efficiency indirect and direct lighting; a living wall consisting of 50 plants that are maintained by a self-watering system in the main corridor; and even LEED compliant ergonomic furniture. 

In discussing the project with the press prior to the building foundations being laid in February of 2013, McKay pointed out that RMWB’s objectives were simple: “We want to have a sustainable building. We want it to be energy efficient with good indoor air quality. At the same time, it has to be low cost to operate and own so all of the best possible things are at an affordable rate. We’re trying to demonstrate we can do it.” 

Moreover, RMWB wanted a design that would be easily duplicated on future municipal sites, with an interior for its 140 employees that was modular in order to allow for easy change and expansion. 

It fell upon the architects at Stantec Architecture Ltd., with Bird Construction Group – which initially acted as construction manager and subsequently was named general contractor in charge of construction – to plan, design and execute this ambitious project, with a delivery window of just under two years. 

Involved throughout the design and pre-construction phases, Bird worked closely with Stantec – which presided over the structural, mechanical and landscaping as well as the architectural elements of South Operations Centre – to convert RMWB’s requirements into a functional and cost-effective reality. The extensive use of BIM enabled the company to eliminate clashes between mechanical, electrical, structural and architectural components, thus avoiding many change orders and mitigating serious site issues. 

As specified by the owners, architectural and mechanical designs were influenced by the need to control noise impacts on the areas surrounding the facility site. 

It was decided early on to create an open concept interior for the sake of easy interaction amongst staff, and enhanced sound absorption in such a large space was achieved through carpet tiles and soft fabrics. 

Other interior design schemes combined functionality with pleasing visual esthetics. For example, a kitchen was separated from the office space by glass walls and a glass door; this leads directly to a patio area with a walkway to a storm retention pond, which in turn has a dock and a footpath around its circumference. Natural daylight was maximized in appropriate areas. 

The approach to achieving LEED Gold standards was dictated by the owner’s goal of the South Operations Centre out-performing the specified reference building constructed to model National Energy Code standards by at least a 33 per cent cost performance. 

In addition to an extremely low heatloss building envelope, all of the facility’s HVAC systems have heat recovery plus in-floor heating for the warehouse, storage and shop areas; replacing less efficient overhead heaters. On the south side of the parking lot, four banks of solar PV panels were installed to provide an estimated 13 per cent of the building’s energy needs and 50 per cent of peak demand during sunny weather conditions. Excess energy from these panels is returned to the electricity grid as part of the district’s energy management system. 

For the interior, lighting controls such as occupancy and daylight sensors were chosen for energy efficiency. “We took advantage of everything we could to get us the best possible building,” notes McKay. 

Stephen Eborall, senior estimator at Bird, says that while actual construction was fairly typical for a project of this scope, “It’s always a challenge to build in Fort McMurray because, due to severe weather conditions, you often have a short window of between June and October to maximize output, and many of the trades are busy due to the high volume of construction work in the area.” 

Bird commenced work in January of 2013 with site prep and the creation of the storm retention pond; concrete work was underway by April and at the peak of construction, 120 workers were busy on site. 

Eborall notes, “There were a few other challenges. For example, the addition of LEED Gold standards, district energy, solar power and the installation of the partitions and access flooring systems meant the design concept was revised. The subsequent $3-million interior fit-up package was negotiated directly with Bird so this resulted in the facility being completed in mid-August rather than the original June target date.” 

However, Eborall credits a close relationship with Stantec and the owners for successfully meeting all requirements: “South Operations Centre is functional and works very well, and we’re proud of it.” 

South Operations Centre was partially occupied by the municipality in September and became operational in stages as the furniture contract was implemented. 

It took considerable skill and effort to make what could have easily been just a large pre-engineered industrial building a facility that meets LEED Gold requirements, let alone in the space of less than two years. But McKay notes, “When you get the right people and right framework in place, it can work to everybody’s advantage.”
South Operations Centre - Regional Municipality Of Wood Buffalo : News & Media : Bird Construction