Bill Fisch Forest Stewardship and Education Centre

Bill Fisch Forest Stewardship and Education Centre

The Bill Fisch Forest Stewardship and Education Centre (BFFSEC) is designed to be an integral part of one of the most successful forest regeneration projects in the world with the purpose of helping residents of York-Region, and the extended community, learn about the importance of natural resources and forest ecosystems.

The DIALOG Project Team with the Regional Municipality of York, and corresponding Natural Heritage and Forestry team, worked closely to design spaces and environments that people want to be in, and created a design that is exemplary of performance and sensitive to the environment it inhabits.  For the BFFSEC, the building was always conceived of being “of the forest”, and not “in the forest”.

The design team worked diligently throughout the project’s development to optimize its sustainability. The building removes the boundaries between the structure and the forest, creating a building that reflects the site and the ecosystem. The structure has been designed for an almost 100-year lifecycle, respecting the heritage and legacy of the forest. The building’s design, details and function blend together with the natural history of the site.

From the beginning of the project, there were four key areas identified for integration:

  • Energy: the facility runs primarily on the electricity generated by solar panels
  • Water: the facility captures rainwater, returning it to the watershed as clean as when it entered the facility.
  • Place: the facility is uniquely rooted in its place, reflecting the natural landscapes that surround it.
  • Beauty: the facility provides delight and wonder, inspiring all who visit it and reinvigorating visitors’ and occupants’ connection to the natural world.

VITAL STATS

Certification Status Petal Certified
Version of LBC 2.1
Location Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ontario, Canada
Project Area 1,188 SF
Start of Occupancy April 2016
Owner Occupied Yes
Occupancy Type Education, Administration
Number of Occupants 2

PROJECT TEAM

Owner Regional Municipality of York
Owner Representative Environmental Promotion and Protection of Environmental Services Dept.
Project Director/Manager Regional Municipality of York
Architect DIALOG
Contractor Struct-Con Construction Ltd.
Mechaical DIALOG
Electrical DIALOG
Plumbing DIALOG
Lighting Design DIALOG
Geotechnical Terraprobe
Civil MTE Consultants Inc.
Landscape DIALOG
Structural DIALOG
Interior Design DIALOG
Specialty Consultants MTE Consultants Inc. - Air Testing, WSP MMM Group - Building Envelope Commissioning, Ted Kesik - Envelope Consultant
Key Subcontractors Honeywell Building Solutions, A1 Service Group, Independent Mechanical Supply Inc., Acuity Brands Inc.
Photo Courtesy of Cindy Blazevic Photo Courtesy of Cindy Blazevic

01. Limits to Growth Imperative

The Bill Fisch Forest Stewardship and Education Centre is built on a previously developed site surrounded by a 90 year-old forest.

The approach to the site planning and landscape design is of an ecological focus, where site elements and plant materials are thoughtfully integrated into the existing mature forest.  The result is a site that supports the ecological education mandate of the site in both a functional and demonstrative manner.

The site spaces are designed to support interaction, collaboration and learning in a natural outdoor setting.  An outdoor classroom space is located in the centre of the woodland garden, which has been planted with an entirely native palette of plant materials.  These species complement and enhance the surrounding mature forest landscape.  Grading and stormwater management promote natural infiltration and minimize erosion of soil, mimicking the natural condition of the site.

The overall intention for the planting approach and plant species selection for the site is to enhance the existing and established vegetation.  The forested site context is complemented by the proposed plant palette of native trees and shrubs that are commonly found in the immediate site vicinity.  A layered approach to the planting includes both canopy and understory vegetation, reflecting the natural successional process of the surrounding forest.  Native vines and naturalized grass seed mixtures are visually appealing and ecologically appropriate.

SIGNIFICANT SITE INFORMATION

The building construction and site work slightly modify the footprint of current development, enhancing the educational capacity of the site.  The project site is surrounded on four sides by old-growth forest that is sustainably managed by York Region. Forestry experts on the project team reviewed the site plan to confirm that ecological systems were not disturbed.

The project has avoided development in the 100-year flood plain and other areas of concern.  A map of Regulated Areas from the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Area (LSRCA) was overlaid on the site to confirm that development is not located in the 100-year flood plain.

02. Urban Agriculture Imperative

As the Transect is classified as L1, Natural Habitat Preserve, the project is not required to include an agriculture element on the site.  However, urban agriculture opportunities were discussed with the project team as part of the Integrated Design Process.  It was realized that with a limited site area, any space and organizational resources dedicated to agriculture would require a tradeoff for program area dedicated to forestry and education.  There is currently no plan for agricultural activity on-site. However, York Region is planning for educational content dedicated to agriculture as well as ongoing partnerships with local farm groups.  A forest ‘fungus harvest’ is being considered, which would allow for agricultural activity on the site.

03. Habitat Exchange Imperative

York Region has created a program dedicated to Environmental Land Protection and Preservation.  The goal of this program is to protect core natural areas and restore linkages with a target to pursue a minimum of four sites or 60 hectares of land annually. The program was refined in 2012 and in its first implementation year (2013) achieved protection of 120 hectares.

York Region has maintained Council endorsed partnership agreements with Nature Conservancy of Canada and Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust since 2001 and 2002 respectively. Over 61 percent of environmental lands protected through York Region Environmental Land Protection and Preservation initiatives are a result of these two strategic partnerships. Through these agreements, York Region provides base funding to help advance negotiations with land owners on protection of individual properties, with a focus on conservation easements, bequests and donations. Fee simple purchases are the last option to be considered.

Since adoption of the Regional Greening Strategy in 2001, properties totaling 1,105 hectares have been protected. Included in this total are 318 hectares, which are now part of the York Regional Forest. The team feels that a long term strategic partnership clearly has greater value to the Land Trust Partners and to the ecosystem then a one-off transactional land purchase.

04. Car Free Living Imperative

This facility functions as a trailhead for the Hollidge Tract. There is a moderate amount of parking provided for public use. The number of parking spaces was examined carefully considering the surrounding area development is rural, and largely occupied by forests, farms, homes, and small business.  As much as possible, York Region encourages transit to the site by bus, carpool, and bicycle in an effort to encourage healthy living and access to the site for a diverse range of uses.

York Region has developed a transportation demand management plan to reduce single occupancy vehicles to the Centre.  The main implemented measures of the plan are carpooling and the use of chartered buses.  Information regarding the Smart Commute online carpooling tool and booking York Regional transit chartered buses are available at the time of booking the Centre’s space.  Using these strategies, the Region has determined that the target for reducing the amount of single vehicle occupancy is approximately 33%.

Photo Courtesy of Tom Arban Photography Inc. Photo Courtesy of Tom Arban Photography Inc.

From the beginning of the project, the design team declared that this would be a highly demonstrative wood building.  The project site is a forest, certified to the standards of FSC.  In this circumstance, not only did the building need to be 100% FSC certified wood, but it was imperative that the building be an example of how innovative wood products can be used to create a green building.  The building is also designed to be highly adaptable, and will evolve over the course of its 90-year design lifetime to house different users and functions.

11. Red List Imperative

The project team faced multiple manufacturers who expressed their desire to maintain trade secrets or proprietary ingredients of products. This caused the project team to rely on the I11-E15 Proprietary Ingredients.  Materials such as paints, coatings, adhesives and sealants were particularly reliant on this Exception.

I11-E20 Small Electrical Components was also widely used with respect to building automation and control components, communications components and security equipment.  Of the dozens of components in these product categories, the majority were RoHS or EU Directive 2011/EU/65 compliant, or had a manufacturer-provided list of ingredients for products containing more than 10 components.

Finally, some components of the photovoltaic system, such as the solar relay and underground Teck cable, could not be sourced in the marketplace as compliant with RoHS or Red List requirements.  Every effort was made by the project team to find suitable alternatives; when none were found, the team performed due diligence and used I11-E1 General Red List.

12. Embodied Carbon Footprint Imperative

The BFFSEC was conceived as a building that would emulate the surrounding forest, using wood as a building material to sequester carbon.  Glulam beams and cross-laminated timber are the main structural materials and interior finish for the project, providing low-carbon solutions while creating a natural and welcoming interior.  A shallow concrete foundation was chosen to minimize the carbon footprint of the structure.

EMBODIED CARBON FOOTPRINT – 144.3 TCO2e
PROJECT – Landfill Methane Capture; Renewable Energy
PROVIDER – TerraPass
WEBSITE – www.terrapass.com
CARBON CALCULATOR – Athena Impact Estimator Tool (v4.5)

13. Responsible Industry Imperative

NOTABLE MANUFACTURERS OF FSC CERTIFIED WOOD PRODUCTS

Product Type Manufacturer Manufacturer Location
Glulam (Nordic Lam) Nordic Engineered Wood Montreal, QC
Plywood (SierraPine Medite FR) Timber Products Company Medford, OR

NOTABLE BROKERS OF SALVAGED MATERIALS

ShelfLife (Dundas, ON) – Reclaimed Douglas Fir Siding

14. Appropriate Sourcing Imperative

The vast majority of materials used on the project were readily available and manufactured and/or extracted within the maximum distance of their corresponding zone designations, thereby supporting the regional economy and reducing the associated energy impact of transporting materials over long distances.

The only challenge with sourcing regionally extracted products was with the availability of some FSC products.  In particular, FSC-certified plywood was not available within Zone Two (1,000 km range) at the time of the BFFSEC construction.  The team had to source plywood from the west coast (Oregon).

NOTABLE REGIONAL PRODUCTS

Plywood (SierraPine Medite FR) – Timber Products Company

15. Conservation and Reuse Imperative

The design of BFFSEC embodies a set of key principles to minimize the overall materials and environmental impact over time:

  • Minimize the environmental footprint of the building with a focus on embodied carbon
  • Use natural and indigenous materials that reflect the heritage of the site and Great Lakes Basin
  • Provide a durable, flexible and adaptable building that will last 90 years
  • Use materials and assemblies that can be deconstructed at the end of life
  • Create a high-performing envelope that is well-insulated and air tight
  • Transform the industry by requiring transparency and disclosure and excluding worst-in-class materials found on the ‘Red List’

Extensive research was done by the designers, spec writers and contractor to locate the most suitable products and materials based on these principles.

Space in the building is designed to serve multiple uses, removing the need for additional program area and associated materials.  The building mass and systems are capable of easy expansion when more space is needed.

Project decisions were made on a 90-year time frame to match York Region’s stewardship of the Hollidge Tract over the last 90 years and see the next cycle of forest regeneration.  Materials, systems and assemblies were selected for long service life as well as ease of replaceability: foundation, columns, beams and decks are robust, durable and expected to exceed the 90-year service life.  Components such as sealants and membranes that may break down sooner are located such that they can be easily replaced.

During the construction phase, the team worked to limit off-cuts and excess materials, use reusable blankets and strapping in place of cardboard and foam, and reuse excess materials (insulation) on other projects rather than sending elsewhere for reprocessing or recycling.

The Region is strongly committed to reducing waste during the operational phase of the building, including collection of organics and recycling within the building, and reduction of waste that is hauled to landfill as described in their Solid Waste Management Policy for Building Operations.  The policy is based on the principles of Source Reduction, Reuse, Recycling and Composting, and Hazardous Waste and Durable Goods.  Performance metrics and reporting are in place to ensure these goals are achieved.

Finally, the BFFSEC was conceived, designed and constructed to account for materials processing at the end of its useful life.  Where possible, materials are designed to be reused or recycled, with landfill of non-salvageable materials as a last resort.  The structure of the building (glulam columns and beams) are tied together with steel connectors and can be taken apart piece by piece.  The wood panel cladding is modular and reusable, milled in a regular configuration and installed individually for replacement or access to the wall assembly layers beneath.

SALVAGED MATERIALS

Existing materials were surveyed to identify opportunities to further reduce the materials footprint. However, the team determined the education building outlived its useful service life and had concerns about the prevalence of hazardous materials.  Ultimately, the existing materials were deemed unsuitable for adaptive reuse due to concerns with hazardous materials, siting, size and remaining service life.  Ultimately, the Region chose to incorporate elements from other projects in the new facility, including salvaged beetle-kill wood as the main material in the front entrance.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Dion Photography Inc. Photo Courtesy of Evan Dion Photography Inc.

16. Human Scale + Humane Places Imperative

The BFFSEC is intended to encourage human gathering, to get people out of their cities and automobiles and to encourage them to experience nature first hand.  The site spaces are designed to support interaction, collaboration and learning in a natural outdoor setting.  An outdoor classroom space is located in the centre of the woodland garden, which has been planted with an entirely native palette of plant materials.  These species complement and enhance the surrounding mature forest landscape.  Grading and stormwater management promote natural infiltration and minimize erosion of soil, mimicking the natural site condition.

Because this facility functions as a trailhead for the Hollidge Tract, there is a moderate amount of parking provided.  The number of parking spaces was examined carefully and a balance was chosen between human scale and granting access to a remote resource. The quantity is above the amount prescribed for an L1 site. However, the parking is not intended to solely serve the building, but rather the 80 ha nature site on which it is situated.  Since the site is not regularly serviced by public transit, carpools are the main mode by which the site is accessed.

Parking areas are deliberately broken up using landscaped islands planted with native trees. This results in a more natural feeling for the site, without the traditional ‘sea of parking’ character.  Walking and activity is encouraged, and safety is enhanced, by having parking de-emphasized on the site.  The parking area has a permeable surface to promote natural infiltration of stormwater and reduce run-off.  Drive aisles are narrow, minimizing the area disturbed on site and encouraging slow vehicular speeds.  The permeable pathways are shared spaces, maintaining functional site circulation within the overall natural character of the site.

Signage on the site is limited to wayfinding, educational exhibits, and a minimal amount of functional signage for the fire reservoir and other equipment.

17. Democracy + Social Justice Imperative

The BFFSEC was envisioned to operate just like the forest – its beauty and wonder accessible to all, regardless of gender, race, class or physical ability.  While this is not a public building, it will be made available to all members of the community throughout the year.  The Hollidge Tract is open to the public year-round and is free to access around the clock.  There is no fee for any person to visit the site and walk the network of trails.

York Region provides a program called ‘Nature’s Classroom’, a fun and informative outdoor education program held in the York Regional Forest.  Some of these programs will be paid classes that require registration while others will be open to the public and free-of-charge.  Participants in Nature’s Classroom will be welcomed into the building and learn information about the building, its inspiration and ecological features, and the Living Building Challenge program.  The program and the site itself are designed to attract a variety of groups including school groups, Scouts and Girl Guides, seniors, naturalists and persons with disabilities.

Several times a year, the site and the building will host ‘Forest Festivals’ to which all members of the community are invited, free of charge, to celebrate the forest.  The forest festivals include hikes, nature classes, meet-and-greets with forest animals, and tree-planting workshops.  Some sessions will explore the native cultures that inhabited these lands and their connection with the forest.

The building is designed to be accessible to people of all physical abilities. Dimensions of spaces and doors, easily operable components such as handles and switches and graphics and large text to distinguish signage are some of the intentional accommodation strategies employed throughout the building.  The building is designed to meet and exceed the standards of the Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).  Outside the building, the site is designed to the same standards, including wheelchair accessibility not only in the parking/classroom areas, but also along a special 1 km trail that is graded and cleared regularly.

Photo Courtesy of Cindy Blazevic Photo Courtesy of Cindy Blazevic

19. Beauty + Spirit Imperative

The approach to the design of the building was equally important as the siting and building placement.  The design process was not only rooted in the performative qualities of the building, but also in the expression of space that would blur the lines of interior and exterior space.  This theme is expressed in numerous ways through form, materials, light, views, circulation, and programed spaces. For the BFFSEC, the building was always conceived of being ‘of the forest’, and not ‘in the forest’.

On approach from the access road to the site, the building is expressed in a panorama of trees and naturalized planting.  The predominant building material of wood is dominant and deliberate, augmented by seemingly random vertical strip windows that are analogous to the adjacent tree trunks and reflective of the immediate environment.  The roof’s deep overhang ultimately provides solar shading and protection from the elements.  The soffits of the cantilevered roof are constructed of CLT that appear to seamlessly transition from interior spaces to the exterior. The exterior cladding is salvaged wood reprocessed by a local company specializing in salvaging construction materials from decommissioned buildings in Ontario.  The finished boards were maintained as a rough saw finish and left untreated to weather naturally in the forest environment.

Feature interior finishes include black spruce cross-laminated timber, maple veneer wall panels and reclaimed ash.  Ash across Ontario has been infected by the invasive Emerald Ash Borer and has caused widespread destruction.  Its presence in the building provides a didactic reminder of the vulnerability of our forest systems.

The trees enhance the interior environment as well – impressions of leaves in the concrete flooring are a visual clue that even inside the building, occupants are walking the forest floor.

20. Inspiration + Education Imperative

The very purpose of this building is to house forest stewardship and education initiatives and create a community for learning. The centre and its surrounding landscape, including the Hollidge Tract, are open to all walks of life to learn about and appreciate environmental conservation.  To spur further interest and engagement, several initiatives have been implemented by York Region.

York Region hosts ‘Forest Festival’ events at the Hollidge Tract at least twice yearly.  These events are celebrations of the forest, during which the entire community is invited to the site to learn about the history and ecology of the forest.  The building is open for tours during these events.

Two web sites are publicly available and give information about the building:

Two brochures are available at the building; one is produced by DIALOG and the other is produced by the CWC.  A digital copy of each brochure is included in this application.  Additionally, user instructions are relayed to visitors and users of the facility in the brochure.

Signage is located outside and throughout the building to guide visitors through their learning journey.

A learning video was produced, and can be viewed here:  https://vimeo.com/141227639

Evoke DIALOG – Bill Fisch Forest Stewardship and Education