Centennial College opens Canada’s first LEED Gold, zero carbon, mass timber, higher-education building

Photo credit: Centennial College

Centennial College has opened its A-Building; Canada’s first LEED Gold, zero carbon, mass timber, higher-education building. This innovative A-Building, previously known as A-Block, serves as a fresh entrance to Centennial’s flagship Progress Campus in Scarborough and is designed to promote Indigenous traditions in both learning and living.

Throughout the development process, an Indigenous Working Group played a crucial role in incorporating Indigenous elements into the project. The College collaborated with Colliers Project Leaders, EllisDon Construction, DIALOG, and Smoke Architecture to complete this ambitious project, which had an estimated cost of approximately $112 million. The expansion encompasses six stories and spans over 130,000 square feet, complemented by a 15,000-square-foot renovation.

As the fall semester commences, students, staff, and faculty arriving on campus are greeted by an inclusively and sustainably designed structure, inspired by the Indigenous concept of ‘two-eyed seeing.’ This approach encourages viewing the world through the combined perspectives of Indigenous and Western knowledge.

“At a time of increasing climate calamity, Centennial is eager to deepen its commitment to environmental stewardship,” said Dr. Craig Stephenson, president and CEO of Centennial College. “Acknowledging the relationship between sustainability, Indigeneity and inclusivity was essential to creating a welcoming new gateway to Centennial’s flagship campus. Intended to serve as a beacon of hope and a force for good, this new build embodies the journey we’ve all been on, and are still on, as individuals and as a college community, to fully recognize our Commitments to Truth and Reconciliation.”

A-Building places Indigenous traditions in the spotlight, with a particular focus on Indigenous ways of living and education. Additionally, it houses administrative offices, collaborative spaces, dining facilities, and accommodations for the School of Engineering Technology and Applied Science. A central courtyard serves as an open-air classroom, facilitating circular teaching methods and offering versatile classroom settings. Furthermore, the building includes 13 rooms outfitted with specialized exhaust systems to enable smudging ceremonies.

“This building is a living teaching tool. Indigenous students, staff and faculty will now have a place on the Progress Campus to gather and practice traditions. People from around the globe have a place to learn more about Indigenous worldviews, ceremonies and teachings,” said Seán Kinsella, director, the Eighth Fire, at Centennial College. “Treaty is reflected in this building not just in the representation of the Covenant Chain, or of the Beaver Bowl/Dish with One Spoon, but also in the ways so many parts of the building were constructed to embody the coming together of all people.”

“Narratives imbedded throughout inspire curiosity, a focus for long-term knowledge sharing,” said Eladia Smoke, principal of Smoke Architecture. “This is a heart building, a place of becoming, where we acknowledge that our intentions have often been obscured but will come into focus when we walk true to our ode’ (heart). The design represents a commitment to uphold our responsibilities to each other and to the life systems that support us, and express a sense of wonder for ndinawe maaganidog | all our relations.”

“Centennial College’s commitment to Truth and Reconciliation was embedded in every aspect of the A-Building’s project process,” said Robert Balicsak, national higher education sector lead, Colliers Project Leaders. “Chief R. Stacey Laforme’s book Living in the Tall Grass: Poems of Reconciliation served as a touchstone for understanding and inspiration. It was a privilege to help deliver Centennial’s vision for the A-Building. The collaborative process motivated the entire project team to learn more and act differently. This project is special and truly inclusive, while also achieving important sustainability standards.”

The mass timber construction of the A-Building prominently features Black Spruce sourced from Chibougamau, Québec. This distinctive wood is prominently displayed in the form of cross-laminated and glue-laminated columns, beams, and floor slabs, with ample wood surfaces showcased throughout the structure.

“From the College’s inspired imagining of the building, and all through our Design Build team’s efforts to bring that vision to life, there were so many contributors and everyone really wanted to emphasize the first-of-its-kind mass timber structure,” said Dan Beadle from EllisDon Construction, who led the detailed design and construction of the building. “It not only speaks to the Indigenous ideal of living sustainably in harmony with nature, but also gives this truly special building such a warm, natural and inviting feel.”

The A-Building has earned its zero carbon certification, primarily due to its exceptionally efficient building envelope. Additionally, it utilizes all-electric systems for domestic hot water heating and HVAC. Atop the building, a solar photovoltaic panel array is in place to produce sufficient electricity, effectively offsetting 68,000 kilowatt hours of annual energy consumption, which in turn contributes to its attainment of LEED Gold certification. Furthermore, the inclusion of floor-to-ceiling windows that allow natural light to flood the space is a significant factor in its pursuit of WELL Silver certification.

“We are so excited to see Centennial College’s A-Building expansion be completed,” said Craig Applegath, partner and architect at DIALOG. “It’s a source of immense pride that this project stands as the nation’s pathfinding zero carbon higher-educational facility, underscoring DIALOG’s unwavering commitment to achieving and exceeding sustainability benchmarks across our work. We want to thank Centennial College for being great partners and for ensuring both Indigenous principles and environmental justice were at the forefront of this design.”

Indigenous community members played a vital role in the activation of A-Building on August 23, 2023, engaging in a sequence of ceremonies and culminating in a community drum gathering. This special occasion fostered a sense of unity among College and Indigenous community participants, embodying a commitment to acknowledging Treaty relationships and the Prophecy of the Eighth Fire. An inaugural event, featuring a ribbon-cutting ceremony, took place on September 21.

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