Building Blocks on Balmoral at Great-West Life is the first stand alone day care in Canada to receive LEED Platinum certification. The project marks Prairie’s 25th LEED certified building.
Building Blocks on Balmoral at Great-West Life, is a testament to adaptive re-use, taking a century old building and transforming it into a leading example of sustainability. The restored, historic William E. Milner House now sits proudly at the heart of a modern and vibrant childcare facility in the West Broadway neighborhood of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Although the heritage structure has new life, its story began over a century ago.
In the early 1900s, Western Canada experienced significant growth in its economy, social institutions and population. As the region’s major centre, Winnipeg underwent a building boom to keep pace with the growth. Many new residential districts emerged, including a new subdivision of 63 lots where a two-and-a-half storey, brick-veneered house was built in 1909 for William E. Milner. The family estate retained ownership of the house until 1991, when it sold to Great-West Life Assurance Company, which had acquired and demolished a number of neighbouring houses in the 1970s as part of an expansion. As such, the Milner House is the last remaining house on the east side of Balmoral Street. In 1995 the house was listed as a Historical Resource with Grade III designation, which prevented its demolition or removal and regulated any alteration or repair. Faced with a decision on what to do with the heritage structure, Great-West Life came up with the idea of incorporating it into a new day care complex that satisfied a need for child care space for both the company and the community.
The design objective was to accommodate licensed spaces for 100 infant, toddler and pre-school aged children in a new facility, incorporating the heritage structure within a highly sustainable framework. In 2015, Prairie Architects Inc. was hired to execute the project. The design team undertook extensive building and site review, research, community consultation, re-zoning and development permitting processes. An engineering assessment of the structure indicated a number of areas of concern, but most significantly, substantial foundation movement and heaving of the basement slab, which meant that a new foundation was required to support the house. However, in order to do this, the entire house had to first be stabilized, then cut from its existing foundation, lifted and moved to allow for an entirely new foundation to be poured. To accommodate this move, the interior plaster and finishing were stripped, and the entirety of the exterior masonry veneer had to be removed as it was supported directly on the foundation wall. All of the original masonry was salvaged and used to re-clad the building to retain the original arrangement.
With an overall energy use reduction of 56% less than a model building, the day care’s energy use was even less than initial design expectations and achieved over 50% potable water use reduction through water conserving fixtures alone. The project originally targeted LEED Gold certification, but through an array of sustainable and energy conserving design features including: a geothermal ground source heat-pump system with in-floor radiant heating and passive chilled beams for cooling; an exhaust air heat recovery; displacement ventilation translating to lower fan power and optimal fresh air delivery; reduced lighting power densities; and increased roof and above grade u-values, the facility exceeded expectations and received LEED Platinum certification. Additionally, the building was designed to allow for the installation of photovoltaic solar arrays at a future date, which would offset roughly 10kW of electricity in the facility.
Revitalizing a designated heritage structure meant going through a detailed inventory of heritage items and receiving approval from the City of Winnipeg Historical Building and Resources Committee in order to undergo any renovations to the home. This was an innovative initiative recognized by LEED, “to encourage the preservation and adaptive use of a historic building that represent significant embodied energy and cultural value, in a manner that preserves historic materials and character-defining features.” The entire historic review process of this Grade III heritage house was documented through photographs, detailed drawings, meetings, conditions reports, and the heritage permitting process.
Building Blocks on Balmoral is committed to communicating the importance of sustainable building and sharing the lessons it has learned with parents, staff, children, and members of the community. Standard introductory tours of the facility for parents include sustainability information and access to a self-guided brochure as part of their environmental education program.
The design not only endeavoured to restore the Milner House to again have a useful life, it also transformed the building to be among the leaders in sustainable, energy conserving and healthy buildings in Canada. With an array of sustainable features that include significant use of salvaged, refurbished and re-used materials; substantial water use reduction; an abundance of daylight and views; and use of low-emitting materials, the new facility received LEED Platinum certification in 2018, the first stand-alone day care to achieve such an accomplishment.
Read more about Great West Life Daycare.