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property report

Refurbished theatre at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre.

"The greenest building is the one already built."

Whether that saying is true depends on the building, of course, but it does raise the question of whether decades-old buildings can be brought to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards.

Extending the life of an old building is not as straightforward as it sounds. Many fail to meet modern building codes, let alone qualify for LEED points. And buildings with a heritage designation come with strict renovation rules.

However, a number of projects across the country are tackling older buildings in an effort to earn LEED points for things such as water-energy efficiency and air quality which helps to reduce operating costs in the future. Projects can even earn points for the amount of original building being saved. If you're going to save a cultural landmark, why not do it to the highest standards, proponents say.

Because the Canada Green Building Council awards LEED certification based on the total number of points earned, different older buildings have the chance to achieve green status in their own unique ways. Here are three projects that have applied for LEED certification - by recycling, restoring and repurposing.

Vancouver East Cultural Centre

When it comes to older buildings, nasty surprises can be ruinous. So, when work began on the charming First Methodist Church occupied by the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, architects were dismayed to discover crumbling foundations and a roof supported by "an enormous system of trusses … that looked like my dad might have built," says Hugh Cochlin, a principal of Proscenium Architecture + Interiors in Vancouver.

The Centre, affectionately known as the "Cultch," has occupied the 1909 structure since the 1970s, but it needed a significant amount of work.

"There's always a balance that has to happen between life safety and respecting heritage fabric," Mr. Cochlin explains.

"We had a decision to make that is classic for all old buildings: You have to bring it up to current codes … you have no choice but to undo quite a bit of what was already there."

When the building's original roof structure was replaced with a steel frame, the century-old 2x4 wood pieces were reused elsewhere in the building, which helped earn LEED points. The building's restored features include an interior staircase, the balcony inside the 220-seat theatre and wood floors. The overall project also included a new administrative wing, additional washrooms and a new 80-seat performance venue for small, independent theatre companies.

When pursuing LEED points, theatres face a different set of heating, cooling and lighting situations than, say, an office building, Mr. Cochlin explains. Theatres have enormous spaces and performing arts stages that get hot under the lights. Indoor environmental quality credits were achieved by improving air quality in the theatre and maximizing daylight in administrative spaces.

While the restored building is as energy efficient as is possible, project managers didn't pursue certain LEED points where the costs would have outweighed the benefits, Mr. Cochlin says. Still, the return on investment for a project of this kind can be measured in the venue's new lease on life. It was a venue of the Cultural Olympiad which took place during the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Vancouver East Cultural Centre

Address: Venables Street

Building size: 730 square metres

Project type: Live theatre venue

Completion date: Fall 2009

Total cost: $14-million

LEED New Construction, Silver:

• Reuse of an existing building

• Raw building materials used as finishes (e.g. exposed concrete floors)

• Recycling theatrical set materials

• Education program outlining the project's green initiatives

• Low mercury lighting

Smith Hall, Banff, Alta.

It was the high cost of new building construction that saved the Banff Centre's Smith Hall from demolition.

Smith Hall was one of three original chalets constructed on the side of Tunnel Mountain in 1948. The multiuse building was to be torn down as part of the $179.8-million Banff Centre Revitalization project, but when Alberta construction costs skyrocketed a few years ago, project managers realized they could save a substantial amount of money by renovating Smith Hall, explains Bruce Chapman, president of Target Project Management Inc. in Calgary.

In June, the Banff Centre will move administrative staff into the newly updated and expanded building, which will be renamed Donald Cameron Centre.

One of the biggest challenges in redeveloping Smith Hall was its proximity to the new Kinnear Centre - a large building already being erected only 45 metres away. It had been designed and positioned on the understanding that Smith Hall would be demolished. Unfortunately, Smith Hall's original main floor elevation was too low compared with the Kinnear Centre.

"Physically it was impossible to make the transition work unless we introduced a whole bunch of stairs and ramps," Mr. Chapman says. "We decided there was no other choice but to lift Smith Hall up three feet."

It was "a significant undertaking" Mr. Chapman says, considering Smith Hall was built on the side of a mountain. The project will earn LEED points because the building was saved, and for things such as reusing the original stone foundation in nearby landscaping. Smith Hall is also part of an overall plan to develop natural storm-water management techniques on the site.

Fewer LEED points will be earned for maximizing daylight in the building, Mr. Chapman says, because the original structure was designed as several small rooms and corridors.

Smith Hall Building, BanffCentre

Address: Tunnel Mountain Drive

Building size: 1,265 square metres

Project type: Office building

Completion date: June, 2010

Project cost: $6.33-million

Project architect: Gibbs Gage Architects, Calgary

LEED New Construction, Silver:

• Water and energy efficiency

• Recycled and low-emitting materials

• Regional building materials

• Sustainable certified wood

• Operable windows

Leon's Furniture store, John Street Roundhouse, Toronto

When Rod Fortune first walked into the John Street Roundhouse, it was like stepping back in time.

An 80-year-old, semi-circular structure built by the Canadian Pacific Railway to service as many as 32 locomotives at a time, it looked pretty much the same as when the facility was closed in 1986.

"The ceilings were covered with soot … and there were pits where they used to drop down underneath to service the steam engines," says Mr. Fortune, real estate manager for the Leon's Furniture chain.

Leon's jumped on the opportunity to lease the space and committed $4-million toward the total $25-million building restoration cost. (Steam Whistle Brewery and an interpretive centre occupy the rest of the building.) The store opened last summer and Leon's is aiming for a LEED-Commercial Interiors designation on this project.

"The fact that it's a commercial interior as opposed to a [LEED]New Construction project makes it a bit of a unique discussion about how to design sustainably within a historic building," explains Alan Murphy, LEED consultant and a principal of Green Reason in Toronto.

"You're not as beholden to the energy efficiency of the building envelope. You can focus much more on the efficiency and controllability of the tenant systems, the quality of the environment and the selection of the materials in the project," he adds.

The amazing thing is that all of the work done to the space is completely reversible. Because the Roundhouse is a heritage site, no permanent alterations were made: Even the new concrete floor can be removed to reveal the original inspection pits underneath.

As a retail space, lighting was a special consideration. Areas such as aisles, furniture displays and office space were lit differently by using accent lighting, clamping lights to the ceiling and making the most of daylight streaming in from the clerestory windows located in the centre of the space. The television sales area needed to be dim so that customers could see the screens. Designers used panels just above and around the area to diffuse light.

The entire space is outfitted with daylight sensors programmed to dim or turn off interior lights, thus reducing energy consumption. Leon's even earned LEED points for outfitting the administrative space with pre-owned office systems and furniture.

And while the fact that the building is connected to the Enwave Deep Lake Water Cooling system won't earn it any LEED points for Commercial Interiors, it does help Leon's keep track of its energy use and costs.

"If tenants have an opportunity to pay for their own utilities, it creates an incentive to design [the space]more energy-efficiently," Mr. Murphy says.

Mr. Murphy points out that this project "was never an exercise in chasing LEED points," but rather making smart decisions for Leon's as a retail tenant in this particular space.

Mr. Fortune says the Roundhouse will be Leon's first LEED-certified store, and was an important lesson in how to green an older building as the retailer looks to open more downtown locations in other major cities.

Leon's Furniture store, John Street Roundhouse, Toronto

Address: Bremner Boulevard, Toronto

Project size: 3,745 square metres

Project type: Retail

Completion date: June 2009

Project cost: $4-million

LEED Commercial Interiors, Silver:

• Reclaimed wood used in the millwork

• Energy-efficient lighting and daylight sensors

• Water use reduction

• Low-emitting paints and adhesives