Sittin’ On The Dock[side] Of The Bay

Victoria, B. C. is witnessing the largest redevelopment of city land in it’s history, a 1.3-million-square-foot community taking shape 10 minutes from the downtown core, and earlier this year that development — known as Dockside Green — set a world record when it was awarded the highest rating ever under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, receiving 63 of 70 potential credits and demanding the spotlight in the building industry.

While the project surpassed the score required for platinum designation by nine points, Kathy Wardle, coordinator of the LEED application for Phase I -Synergy -says a perfect score would have been impossible for this particular project. “In some cases LEED credits just aren’t available to your project so you can’t apply for them,” says Wardle, an associate principle and Director of Research at Vancouver-based Busby, Perkins + Will.

Three credits were lost when the City of Victoria demolished many of the old structures two were lost since meeting a threshold of five to 10 per cent of total cost materials coming from salvaged sources was unrealistic for the project, says Wardle.

The final two credits lost dealt with the use of rapidly renewable resources and the use of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood. While resources like bamboo and wheat-or straw-board for composite wood products were used, the overall percentage of those materials specified in the total cost materials wasn’t enough to meet the five per cent threshold.

As for the FSC certified wood, Wardle says, “you’re required to quantify the total cost of wood used in the project and then can you source 50 per cent of that wood from sources that have FSC certified wood designation, but right now I would say there isn’t enough supply within B. C.”

Needless to say the distinction that accompanies setting a world record in points awarded under the LEED system was well earned for the two condo buildings, townhouses and commercial space that comprise Synergy. With only a third of the project complete, everyone involved is keeping their eyes on the prize of platinum certification not only for the project’s second phase, Balance — already selling well and expected to be completed in February 2009 — but for the entire development.

Getting ‘green’ lit

To find out how those responsible for Dockside Green were able to turn a brownfield site into the highest LEED-rated project in the world one only need examine the process that brought the development about.

“The city of Victoria owned the entire site and had certain guidelines for how it would be developed,” says Jim Huffman, associate principle with Busby, Perkins + Will and Design Architect on the Dockside Green project. “We had to do a presentation at city hall and when the other teams presented [the public in attendance] were happy, but when we presented, the applause was absolutely amazing, and you don’t get that very often. It was an amazing feeling to have that level of support at the start of the project.”

Support form the city wasn’t limited to a round of applause or a pat on the back. Huffman says the city deferred payments from developers Windmill West and Vancity Credit Union, providing them with the leverage to spend the funds on key infrastructure right off the bat.

With the city on board the project shifted gears and began to implement a game plan that was created and executed within the framework of an integrated design process (IDP), something that all those involved credit with being vital to achieving their goals.

“All the different consultants were involved right from the outset which means more ideas get thrown around and new solutions get developed. They might be a bunch of minor solutions but when they’re added up they make a lot of sense,” says Huffman, adding, “It’s working together from the start with input from everyone and everyones’ input is valid and equal.”

Blair McCarry, principal at Calgary-based Stantec Consulting, remembers one meeting in particular that illustrates the value of developers using a truly IDP. “We had one great meeting where we talked about what we could do with the reclaimed water,” he says. “Dockside has got a water feature down the middle and we talked about ideas about storm water going through there and how that could be our main civil storm water drain system…and we were getting great input from all our teams.”

McCarry acknowledges that an IDP title can often be just a “lovely label,” but the Dockside Green development utilized the integrated process in a way that ensured a perfectly coordinated design that not only resulted in a record-setting LEED rating but could fluidly address issues that would arise during construction.

Examples of the benefits of the IDP for Dockside Green are numerous. From the initial task of remediating the contaminated soil on the land — a problem solved in partnership with British Columbia’s Quantum Environmental Group, who had developed a process where some contaminated “hot-spots” were capped with a membrane thereby saving the cost of removing the soil — to building a gasification plant to provide on-site, project-wide heating.

Utilizing an IDP helped the teams accomplish their goals in a more streamlined fashion, but it was the goals themselves that have drawn a lot of attention.

McCarry says that there were two major goals from the outset. The first was to build a greenhouse gas (GHG)-free operation, and the second was to avoid linking up with the regional district sanitary sewer system.

The City of Victoria has no water treatment facility and currently discharges its waste directly into the ocean. The design team wanted to avoid adding to this method and so decided to build an elaborate water treatment system that incorporates both mechanical and natural water purification processes.

“The technology used in the water treatment facility isn’t new, but what is innovative is the fact that the developer used it in the project,” says Robert Drew, associate principle at Busby, Perkins + Will and Architect of Record for Balance. “It’s one of the only developments in North America to have an on-site water treatment plant to deal with all the waste water.”

The essentially closed-loop system collects storm water and filters it through the on-site plant and uses that water for landscape irrigation and potable household use, such as flushing a toilet. That water then runs to the treatment plant and is filtered enough to be used for landscaping purposes once again.

Another essential part to the water efficiency standard met by the development is the ‘Green Way’ — a long linear park space in the middle of the site — which collects storm water and sends it cascading down slopes eventually feeding into the water treatment plant. The Green Way is a perfect example of how the design teams were able to meld a residential amenity, such as a park, with their water efficiency system.

“Right now most of the water seems free, but on this site we tried to deal with it at every opportunity,” says Huffman. “We have a lot of green roofs but if water does get past it goes into the water treatment system. So the idea is to get as much of the water that lands on the site to stay on the site.”

To achieve the goal of building a carbon neutral, or GHG emission- free community, the decision was made to implement a heat generation system in Dockside Green that had never been used in a commercial site before.

The Heart Of A Good Idea

For the first time in a commercial setting an on-site gasification plant — scheduled to be operational by 2009 — will use biomass waste generated by the neighbouring lumber industry to supply the community’s heating needs while keeping emissions in check.

The gasification process burns bio-waste at high temperatures making it both a very efficient process of burning fuel into power as well as a cleaner method of heat productio
n than incineration, says Drew.

“There are no heavy metals in the biomass so you’re releasing particulates into the air which are scrubbed out, but they’re not harmful,” says Drew. “From an emissions point of view this is one of the cleanest way to generate electricity.”

The process will not only fulfill the heating needs of the development but the excess heat generated will be sold to nearby businesses, securing a continuous source of carbon credits thereby lowering the environmental footprint of the community to a more-than-carbon-neutral level.

The on-site power generator is a feature of the project that stands-out for McCarry. He says that while the technology isn’t uncommon for use in industrial developments, the fact that it has been implemented in a commercial setting will help the technology develop at a faster rate and could subsequently become more common in future commercial developments.

Perhaps most significant about Dockside Green — apart, of course, from setting a world record — is its potential influence on governments and other developers across the country.

“We deal with a lot of developers who want to inch toward this dream stuff and we have to realize that Dockside Green is probably too big a step for them, but a lot of what is being done there can be done elsewhere,” says McCarry. “Maybe you don’t go for the biomass facility, but I think the important thing is it’s ahead of its time, it’s hitting the ultimate goal on the first shot of the game, carbon neutral.”

The director of development at Dockside Green, Carola Bloedorn, thinks that developers will continue to shift to green building practices as the cost of green materials normalizes over time. “Here in the west there has been such a snowballing effect of the green building industry that the cost of materials once considered to be at a premium, because they were green products, have almost come in-line with the non-green products in the last few years,” said Bloedorn.

The associated cost of green building practices is something that Huffman believes is a turn-off to many developers. He says that developers think the extra costs mean they won’t be able to recoup their investment, but points out that Dockside Green is proof that this commonly held belief is faulty.

Bloedorn agrees: “If you start thinking that each of these [green building materials] adds to the cost and you don’t look at it in a holistic way, recognizing and acting on the opportunities to create offsets along the way, then it’ll be more.”

Low-E double-glazed windows, retractable awnings to manage the amount of direct sunlight, low volatile organic compound (VOC) paint-finishes and 40 per cent fly-ash content in the concrete are all measures taken to enhance the greenness of Dockside Green, but if looked at from a bottom-line-only perspective they’re nothing more than additional costs.

Luckily those responsible for Dockside Green took the holistic approach, deciding to use those materials and build in a way that limits energy consumption over the long-run rather than saving money during the construction phase.

“We’ve got a very good envelope on these building,” says Drew. “If you think of the envelope as the clothes of the building — you put more on to stay warm, use less to stay cool — that’s the way the buildings are designed and because of that we need less power to keep people comfortable inside.”

The result is that even though more than enough heat and energy is produced on-site, the building design limits the loss of that heat, resulting in massive long-term savings. Residents of Synergy can also keep tabs on their rate of energy use via a real-time energy consumption monitor found on Dockside Green’s website, giving them the ability to see, and subsequently manage, their personal rates of energy consumption.

The ramifications of the Dockside Green project are not limited to the world of developers. According to Bloedorn the contractor used in the development says the project assisted with worker retention.

“In the construction industry it’s a well known fact that the demography is aging and there’s going to be a huge void to fill in qualified workers,” says Bloedorn. “What attracted the young smart guys to working on this project was the chance to be a part of the green building industry, specifically working under the LEED system.”

And when all is said and done, when all the acclaims for reducing potable water consumption by 67.5 per cent and diverting 96 per cent of construction waste from landfills are handed out, what is truly remarkable about Dockside Green is the interest being shown by consumers in the market.

“This is being talked about all over Canada, and the most important thing is that it’s real,” says McCarry. “So the ultimate [question] is once you build these suites, do they sell? And this one did. So part of it is now the ability to influence governments to see that this stuff can be done, it’s not all dream worlds.”

Only time will tell if Dockside Green takes its place as the standard bearer for a new green building industry, but what seems certain is that when teams that are dedicated to building sustainable developments are given the opportunity to be innovative within an IDP, the dream world and the real world turn out to be a lot closer than we thought. B

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