Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario Office

As Originally Seen in Award Magazine www.canadawide.com :

Location: 136 Isabella Street, Toronto, Ontario
Owner/Developer: Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario
Project Manager: Turner & Townsend cm2r Inc.
Architect: KPMB Architects
General Contractor: Bird Construction 
Structural Consultant: Blackwell Bowick Partnership Ltd.
Mechanical Consultant: Integral Group Inc.
Electrical Consultant: Smith + Andersen
Landscape Architect: NAK Design Group
Total Area: 11, 248 square metres
Total Cost: $39.1 million

When  The  Elementary  Teachers'  Federation  of Ontario  decided  to build anew rather than remain in the original downtown Toronto headquarters,  they saw it as an opportunity  to lead by example. As a federation that is instrumental  in influencing the young minds of tomorrow, it set its sights on becoming the first LEED Platinum new build in the city, and one of the first in North America.

As Gene Lewis, the ETFO general secretary, puts it, "One of the goals of our organization is environmental protection and education. Our members are leaders in education and we felt they should lead in the kind of building we built."

Kael Opie, project associate with KPMB Architect Inc., the head architect on the project, says that to lead by example ETFO knew this building had to be sustainable "from an environmental perspective, but also in terms of city-building."

Opie adds, "To that end, a highly-efficient and cost-effective building was a top priority, but the building also had to reflect the positive role the organization has in the community. The building also needed to be healthy, comfortable and flexible."

Lewis explains that getting the new building built, let alone setting a new envi­ronmental standard, was no easy feat. The two-acre property on which it stands, purchased in 2007, sits in the middle of a dense urban neighbourhood and the community was very vocal about what kind of development they would support.

Lewis, Opie and other members of the team attended a series of meetings with community groups and with Kyle Rae, the local councillor at the time, and listened to their concerns. The team carefully worked the concerns of the neighbours-to-be into the design, Lewis explains, and eventually the community became strong supporters.

"Facade materials were chosen to blend into the neighbourhood rather than challenge it, with brick-coloured­ fibre cement panels and a subdued warm-grey palette. Crisp whites and light ash wood surfaces on the interior extenuate the abundant natural light," Opie says. "Setbacks and  height-lines are defined by the scale of the adjacent buildings. Natural light and fresh air were critical, so we provided operable windows in every office and workspace. A top-lit atrium running the full height of the building lets natural  light penetrate deep into the floor plate."

The building also takes advantage of an extensive geothermal field below the building: 85 wells at 500 feet each. "The time required for a traditional approach to installing and drilling the field represented  a very real schedule issue, so the contractor suggested a innovative approach, and used compact electric drill rigs, developed from the mining industry, to drill the exchange wells after  the structural slabs above were in place and the structural shor­ing had been removed. This is the first project application of this new drilling technology in the world," he adds.

"The site demanded  a very sensi­tive and measured response, which respected the multivalent nature of the neighborhood," Opie says. "After a lot of listening and careful thinking, we were able to offer a scheme that  provided something very positive, to both our client and the community."

Mike Feindel of Blackwell Bowick Partnership  Ltd., the structural engineers on the project, says it was quite interesting- not to mention challenging - to translate some of the more unusual aspects of the design into three dimensions. In particular, the design is shaped to minimize shadows on neighbouring houses and to maximize the amount of natural light filtering down from the highest levels, which meant some interior structures, such as the stairwell, appear to "float" in the space.

"The switchback stair in the atrium that is hung off each floor [is one example]," he says. "Instead  of hangers or posts, the stair stringers were connected to the floor diaphragm. A vibration analysis was also conducted to see if the stairs were too bouncy." Other innovative solutions included the large cantilever at the east side, over the entry to the parking garage, which supports the upper levels of the building. As he explains, "Many columns started  above the second floor slab; a grid of large, heavily reinforced concrete beams was used to keep the transfer beams shallow." The result is a space that is both light and strong.

One of the principal issues surrounding  the design and construction of the new building had to do with its location in the heart of a lively inner-city neighbourhood. There were also a number of beautiful mature trees on the property.

"Preservation  of several large trees  was paramount  to avoid changing the tree canopy in the neighbourhood," explains  landscape  architect   Robert  Ng of  NAK  Design Group, who designed the grounds as well as the building's multiple green roofs."In particular, the building envelope was designed around a mature black walnut tree." This included stepping back the elevation to give the tree plenty of room. It also affords the workers within the building's glass walls a wonderful leafy view through its branches.

"The green roof was a 'tray' system of fully established sedum and grasses," continues Ng. "Besides reducing roof heating/cooling conditions, this system captures  rainwater in the growing medium. All available ground  planes were fully vegetated with native species, which demand minimum irrigation." To complement the low-maintenance landscape design, there  are also a number of outdoor seating  areas enclosed behind fencing in materials such as ash and steel.

For Lenna Farquhar of Turner & Townsend cm2r Inc., the project manager on the ETFO building, the very innovative nature of the project and all its various sub-systems presented the very real challenge of maintaining the integrity of the budget despite the deployment of new materials, equipment and methodologies. "A lot of the technology involved in the project was the first of its kind or used in an innovative way," she recalls. The flexibility of the team, the ability to invent and, if necessary, move seamlessly to Plan B, was impressive, she recalls with some admiration.

"There are  so many things  [about the project] that are truly enlighten­ing," she says. "This is a client whose role is to nurture  and develop young minds. The vision and commitment to this  truly  innovative, ground-break­ing project was inspiring. You can feel it when you walk in there; it's a very beautiful space. It was a privilege to be a part of it."
Elementary Teachers' Federation Of Ontario Office : News & Media : Bird Construction