By: Michael Power

Despite some early difficulties, all of the planned features of the Robert C. Gillett Student Commons and the Algonquin Centre for Construction Excellence are now operational and the buildings will receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the Canada Green Building Council.

LEED certification is a process that, for these buildings, began in the design phase.

The buildings were designed in coordination with guidelines set out by the Canada Green Building Council, which administers LEED certification in Canada.

“The LEED system is like a menu,” said John Dalziel, head of major construction at the college. “You get points for each item you pick.”

The system is based on achieving a certain number of points in major categories including sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.

Some of the ‘menu items’ that the college picked for the ACCE building include a ‘green roof’ that has vegetation, solar panels, and a rainwater capture system that provides water for the building’s toilets; a ‘green wall’ that uses plants to filter the building’s air; and several systems to improve the building’s insulation to the point that it is expected to be 60 per cent more energy efficient than the average building of its size.

While the ACCE building received its first certification last year, the Canada Green Building Council requires that LEED certified buildings be recertified every year based on updated statistics.

There are four different levels of certification within LEED: certified, silver, gold, and at the top, platinum. The Student Commons is aiming for a gold certification while the ACCE building has achieved a platinum certification.

While the ACCE building needed to show off some of the more ostentatious things that can be done in environmental design, the features that the college picked to incorporate into the Student Commons building were a little different.

“It’s not as sexy and flashy,” said Dalziel. “It’s more about accommodating the needs of students.”

While the same steps are taken in terms of ensuring that construction materials and processes are environmentally friendly, there isn’t the same focus on eye-catching features.

Instead, the building features better insulation techniques, more natural light, good access to transit and of course, better air quality.

“A lot of the time what people like about a building,” said Dalziel, “is how comfortable they feel there, and a lot of that is air quality.”

One of the requirements for LEED platinum certification is that there be natural light in every room.
With a theatre as a main feature of the Student Commons building, aiming for that level of certification wasn’t going to be an option.

“Natural light in a theatre just doesn’t work,” said Dalziel.

The college has also erected LEED certified buildings on the Perth and Pembroke campuses.

“It’s a little bit more difficult in Perth and Pembroke,” said Dalziel.

“A lot relies on access to public transit which is different in rural areas.”

The college has committed to constructing environmentally sustainable buildings, and the LEED process is a good empirical benchmark.