Ontario’s first tall wood, low-carbon institutional building to be erected in Toronto receives federal funds

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By Kristen Frisa

Ontario Construction News staff writer

George Brown’s Waterfront Campus is about to get greener, at least in the environmental sense, as Canada expands its Green Construction through Wood (GCWood) program to build a 10-storey wood building there.

At a May 30 announcement, Adam Vaughan, Member of Parliament for Spadina–Fort York, on behalf of Amarjeet Sohi, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources,  said $4.1 million of federal dollars will help build the structure, dubbed The Arbour, which is to be used to teach students how to design, construct, use, and monitor climate-friendly buildings.

Total project cost is estimated at $134 million.

“This facility will serve as an example of how we can incorporate sustainability into all aspects of our lives, including where we learn, work and play,” says Anne Sado, president of George Brown College.

According to a Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) press release, the project is an investment in the long-term use of wood in Canada’s construction industry, which will “increase the demand for Canadian wood products, create good, middle-class jobs for Canadians and help the Government of Canada achieve its climate change goals.” The Arbour will use an estimated 3,000 cubic metres of wood.

Wood itself is a low-carbon building material, and building net-zero structures saves on one of the planet’s biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Buildings represent 40 per cent of the world’s energy consumption globally, and much of that energy is leeched out of inefficient buildings.

“We know how important innovative forest products are to meeting climate change targets,” Vaughan says. “Mass timber engineering keeps getting better, creating new opportunities in the Canadian construction industry.”

The Arbour is the first project funded through GCWood, which received $39.8 million over four years in the federal government’s 2017 budget.

GCWood encourages the use of wood in non-traditional construction projects, such as tall buildings, low-rise non-residential buildings and bridges. It aims to position Canada as a world leader in tall wood construction and the low-carbon economy.

The program follows on the heels of the Tall Wood Building Demonstration Initiative (TWBDI), through which NRCan funded two successful demonstration projects: The Origine building in Quebec, and the Brock Commons Tallwood House student residence on the University of British Columbia campus.

Carol Phillips of Moriyama & Teshima Architects says GCWood’s support of the Arbour “will, among many other benefits, make possible the testing and development of the project’s structural innovations as well as enable the rigorous proofs required to introduce changes to the building codes.”

Currently, building codes allow for a maximum of six stories for tall wood buildings. The Arbour and other projects of its kind will allow for research and technical data necessary to change the 2020 and 2025 building codes.

Amid concerns the wood building supplies industry is receiving unfair advantage through the program, NRCan says, “The successful demonstration of wood use in high-rise and non-traditional construction will enable wood to compete on a level playing field with other building materials while addressing climate change.”

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