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Building for the future

Marine Atlantic unveils new, more sustainable building design for its PAB operations

Jim Lane, Project Manager for Marine Atlantic (left) and Don Tulk, Vice President and General Manager of Maderra Engineering Inc., were on hand last week to field questions from the public about the new administration building. © Rosalyn Roy / Wreckhouse Press.

By Rosalyn Roy

Senior Staff Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES – Last Monday, April 4, representatives from Marine Atlantic held a public information session to unveil designs and answer questions about the new administration building being constructed along Hardy’s Arterial, directly across from the Bruce II Sports Centre. Also on hand were representatives from Maderra Engineering Inc., the St. John’s based firm responsible for the design.

Story boards were placed around a room overlooking the cleared lot where the building will be constructed. The design showed it will be back from the roadway, behind the parking lot, and at an angle which will offer better views, along with sustainable components factoring into the overall design.

“It will be a two-storey building, and it has been designed to blend in and sort of match the geology and the environment where it’s actually being established,” said Murray Hupman, Marine Atlantic’s President and CEO. “The site work is complete.

We are well into the design and engineering phase.”

The expectation is that tendering and construction will take place over the next four to six months.

“We’re hoping by mid, late May that we’ll have tendering documents ready. We’re hoping by July that we’ll have the tender awarded and August we hope to have construction started, and of course we’re looking at an 18-month so-called build cycle,” shared Hupman. “Weather permitting.”

The two-storey glass window panel at the front entrance will in fact be illuminated with LED lights. Not only are they more environmentally friendly, they will allow Marine Atlantic to display different images or schematics on the front of the building, including participating in future community celebrations like Come Home Year or Astrolabe Days.

The glass frontage is actually aligned towards the Tourist Chalet on the Trans Canada Highway coming into town, making it highly visible to tourist traffic.

“When you come around the corner this is the sight line that you’ll actually see,” said Hupman. “It will meet a lot of the design requirements around LEEDS certification.”

The 24,000 sq. ft. building will be a fully accessible LEEDS silver rated facility, which means it is designed to be a healthier, more productive place to work as well as a more sustainable one. To achieve and maintain a silver rating, the building must earn points through measures such as water efficiency, energy efficiency, materials and resources used in its construction, and indoor environmental quality. LEEDS buildings are re-assessed every five years to ensure they are still meeting those targets.

The design plans also included electric vehicle charging stations and raised garden beds for staff to enjoy, and a back corner outdoor space is designed to shield them from the prevailing winds. Landscaping design surrounding the building will consist of foliage and shrubbery native to this area. There’s a small outbuilding set to one side of the parking lot that will house a pumping station for the sprinkler system along with a generator, and will have a solar array on the roof. Housing the larger, noisier components separately allows for more interior work space within the building.

“The solar panels are part of the LEEDS requirement,” explained Project Manager Jim Lane.

To meet the silver requirement, at least one per cent of the building energy’s supply must come from renewable energy. The new administration building is anticipated to have about four to five per cent of its energy use coming from the array, but that design is not yet finalized.

Embracing LEEDS design for the new building is attractive to Marine Atlantic for a couple of factors. First and foremost is energy efficiency.

“We’re significantly reducing our energy footprint per square foot,” said Lane.

Everything has been taken into account to increase sustainability, from the North-South orientation of the building on the lot itself to the windows that allow maximum exposure to daylight.

“The glazing on the windows will be designed to reduce heat gain and heat loss,” said Lane. “There are a lot of different considerations. There are water usage considerations in it as well.”

It’s not just the construction that has been designed so carefully, but also how the building will be used for years to come. By incorporating these measures into the initial design, they will represent a cost savings in the long run by reducing the amount of waste. Also of importance during the design phase was staff comfort, day-to-day usage and combating job stress.

“That’s less related to LEEDS in general than it is to our actual plan for the design of the building,” said Lane. “One of the biggest principles that we followed in terms of designing the building is accessibility and inclusivity.”

Lane said there are a lot of different aspects beyond the physical when it comes to considering full accessibility beyond what government regulations stipulate.

“Right to light is one of them; right to light and quality of use,” explained Lane. “All of the service spaces for the building, so elevators, washrooms, anything that’s totally enclosed hard wall, we’ve done our best to move that to the core of the building.”

Individual offices are also situated more towards the centre, leaving a walkable perimeter for staff to easily access another department and enjoy the scenery and daylight. Frosted glass walls will also ensure daylight reaches as much interior space as possible while still maintaining privacy.

“Not only does that work for the employees in terms of exclusivity and accessibility, it actually works to your advantage with the building, and in particular the potential for smart building technology in terms of reducing, again, your cost to operate and your electricity usage.”

Marine Atlantic has yet to finalize exactly what smart building features it will include in the interior design, but under consideration are automated temperature and sensored lighting controls to keep staff comfortable as room occupancy levels fluctuate. For co-workers who cannot agree on whether a room is too hot or too cold, there is even an app that will seek to find a happy balance so that all are comfortable when sharing a space.

Lane said that smart building technology has grown leaps and bounds even since Marine Atlantic first started the new administration building project back in 2017. Lane has a background in I.T. and Marine Atlantic visited Cisco’s Toronto office, which can be viewed on YouTube entitled ‘Cisco Canada – Working in the Smartest Office’.

“A lot of the technology that’s out there nowadays have things built into them like occupancy sensors, temperature sensors, humidity sensors,” said Lane. “In an ideal environment or a smart technology environment, you’ve converged all that data into your networking and converged it into the building’s systems. So your telepresence system that lets you do your remote meeting can also tell you a count of how many people are in your room, what the ambient temperature is and what the airflow is.”

For example, a meeting room that sees a spike in occupancy will be automatically readjusted by the network to increase air flow to keep temperature levels comfortable, and readjust itself downward once the meeting is over and the room is vacated.

“There are lots of options and we are exploring what all the possibilities are for this building. The real idea behind it is to create an efficient and as comfortable, inclusive work space for people as possible,” said Lane.

Currently Marine Atlantic has five leased spaces around town, and will consolidate about 70 employees to the new building sometime in 2023-2024 if all continues on schedule. Unlike the weather that can hamper the sailing schedule, the design work schedule continued to hum along during the COVID-19 shutdowns thanks to remote work technology.

Lane said the staff that will occupy the new building have been incredibly supportive.

“Absolutely. People have been looking forward to this space for a significant period of time. They look forward for the ability to be together in one space,” shared Lane. “One of the things that has been mentioned significantly is that sense of community within the company.”

Don Tulk is the Vice President and General Manager of Maderra Engineering Inc., which has designed the building as per Marine Atlantic’s exacting requirements. The company is based out of St. John’s, but Tulk is from Corner Brook originally.

“There’s nothing unfamiliar about this to us,” said Tulk. “Knowing Marine Atlantic and how long they’ve been here; they’ve been here over 100 years in one form or another. They go right back to the Reid Company in 1898 and their facilities need to be durable and stand the test of time. It needs to be modern but it also needs to be suited for here.”

The building will be constructed with concrete and is designed to be not only appealing and appropriate for the region, but also to maximize the use of local materials. It’s not only going to be durable, but easy to maintain.

At Maderra’s head office, should the elevator experience a breakdown there’s a technician not far. In Port aux Basques, sending out a technician to troubleshoot problems would take longer.

“So we’ve done things like in the front stairwell, to maintain the HVAC units on the roof, there’s a walk out door here. You can come up the stairs and go out. You don’t need to use the elevator. So if the elevators go down, the building still operates.”

The solar panels on the outbuilding are rated to wind speeds of 300 km/h.

“This will be the first installation of that (kind) in the province,” said Tulk. “We’ll use all the solar power that can be generated, and at the moment now with the 330-335 watt panels we can generate four per cent of the building’s energy from solar and we’re looking at upsizing the panels to the 400 watt and hoping to get five or six per cent of the building’s energy from solar.”

Also new for Port aux Basques construction is the installation of Molok bins for waste management. The large, round concrete bins are poured in place and emptied via a boom truck that lifts out the large bags and drops the contents into a standard commercial dumpster for transportation to the waste management facility.

“They’re actually in the ground so that seagulls can’t get at them, garbage doesn’t blow away in high winds and things,” said Tulk. “It keeps things very clean and you don’t get any of the mess that you normally see.”

Inside the building, Maderra has turned to the same Newfoundland design team that worked on the Hew & Draw pub in Corner Brook.

“The whole team is all Newfoundland,” said Tulk. “We’re all from here.”

When the Maderra team first visited the site, Tulk said that the first thing they noticed was the beauty.

“It’s a beautiful view out there, right? And I said, ‘Just look at it. Where have you ever in your career have you been able to do something that’s going to have such an impact on the people and the community?’ If you take a building and you put it in downtown Halifax or downtown Toronto, it’s a building among many. But this means something. And it means something to us.”

Tulk and the Maderra team aren’t the only ones who have become personally invested in the project.

“I’m excited,” admitted Gary O’Brien, Chair of the Board of Directors. “It’s been quite the journey and we’re here.”

O’Brien is among those keen to see occupancy sooner rather than later, but said that it is crucial that first and foremost the construction must be done right.

“It’s going to have a huge impact on the environmental footprint that we have a certain accountability to achieve as a Federal organization.”

The project represents the crowning achievement in Marine Atlantic’s current strategic plan, but it is not the end of the work they will undertake within the town. The corporation has also acquired ownership of Vardy’s Island, which it intends to remove from the harbour to allow safer accessible for its ferries. There’s also a new ship scheduled to enter the fleet sometime in 2024.

O’Brien’s tenure as chair lasts five years, and he hopes to achieve most if not all of these goals before that tenure is up.

“If I can achieve all of these things in that period of time I’ll walk away.”

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