Canadian Consulting Engineer

Award of Excellence: Vale Living With Lakes Centre

October 1, 2012
By J.L. Richards & Associates

Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario is home to one of the most environmentally sustainable laboratories in North America. The Vale Living With Lakes Centre on the Lake Ramsey campus is a $21-million research facility that houses a...

Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario is home to one of the most environmentally sustainable laboratories in North America. The Vale Living With Lakes Centre on the Lake Ramsey campus is a $21-million research facility that houses a partnership of scientists known as the Cooperative Freshwater Ecology Units. Their expertise is in industrially damaged water systems.

Naturally when it came to their own new building, the users had a desire to “walk the talk.” The form of their building was carefully designed for the shores of Ramsey Lake and is designed to be about the lake.

Since the centre was completed last year, the client has had over 2,000 visitors and it has become a benchmark and resource for the public to learn about green building systems and design within Northern Ontario.

There are two separate buildings: the Main Building, a two storey structure housing office, laboratory, teaching, and meeting spaces; and the Watershed Centre, a single storey structure that houses field crew operations and storage. J.L. Richards & Associates provided prime consulting, engineering, architectural, and project management services for the project.

The interior spaces provide a healthy and quiet work environment, offering spectacular views of Ramsey Lake. Interior spaces are naturally day-lit and are provided with natural ventilation.

Stormwater management

The client was very concerned that the project, both during construction and after, would not adversely affect the overall health of the lake and watershed. To address this concern, storm water on the site is carefully managed to hit one of three surfaces: the natural landscape, green roofs on the buildings, or parking areas.

The green roofs act as a sponge to slow storm water down. They provide an initial level of polishing and then divert the water to two bio-swales within the parking area.

The storm water is then deposited into a pond which acts as a cistern to store the water until it can be pumped back into the building to be used to flush toilets or clean equipment and gear. Storm water that lands on the parking area is filtered through permeable paving where, through filtration and a series of sub-drains, it is slowed and directed to the bio-swales or the pond. Finally, storm water that lands on the hillside beyond the centre is directed towards the bio-swales or the pond.

All indications are that the system works as per the design intent. The water leaving the site is as clean or cleaner than pre-project conditions.

Wood structure

Wood was selected as the structural system partly because of its carbon sequestering properties. Together with Woodworks! and local mills, the design team developed supply sources that could make products from locally harvested materials, such as FSC glue-laminated Jack Pine timber frame harvested in the Chapleau area and produced in Northern Quebec.

The lateral loads of the main building are managed by wood-clad shear walls in the short direction and a structural panelized system in the long direction. The structural design team developed a special panelized system that was an extremely quick way to construct the building. It helped to finish the project one month ahead of schedule.

Energy target

The client calculated how much energy their former facility used (approximately $42,000 per year) and told the design team that if the new facility could not operate using the same amount of energy, then they did not want the new buildings.

An important part of meeting this goal is a geo-exchange system that provides both heating and cooling. A field of 40 wells feeds three heat exchangers that in turn feed manifolds for in-floor heating. Auxiliary VAV units provide top-up heating in extreme cold periods and provide cooling in the summer.

The green roofs provide additional insulation and are sown with wild blueberries, a species which thrives in the acidified soil of Sudbury. This is Sudbury’s first extensive green roof and it will be the only blueberry green roof in the world (to the engineers’ knowledge).

The design carefully integrates all systems so that they work together, rather than independently. Working with all disciplines at the table allowed for cross fertilization of design principles between the team, so that in the end the project is holistic. cce

Name of project: Vale Living With

Lakes Centre, Sudbury, Ontario

Award-winning firm (prime consultant, civil, structural, mechanical engineers, architect): J.L. Richards & Associates

(Jeff Laberge, arch., Saverio Parrotta, P.Eng., Laura Grover, P.Eng., Terry Vivyrka, P.Eng.)

Owner: Laurentian University

Client: Cooperative Freshwater Ecology Unit

Other key players: Perkins + Will Architects (architectural partner); Fast + Epp

(structural partner); Stantec (mechanical partner); K. Lang Engineering (electrical engineer), PWL Partnership (landscape), CFMS Consulting (commissioning), Tribury Construction (general contractor).

Supplier: Interface (carpeting)


This project deeply impressed the jury members because of its capacity to represent engineering as it ought to be i.e. an innovating discipline that pays attention to social issues and seeks to integrate the environmental, community and architectural aspects of a project.


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