Gulf Islands Operations Centre

Canada’s first LEED Platinum building sets the bar

For ecological footprint

East Elevation: Exterior cladding materials, Galvalume and western red cedar, were chosen for durability and appearance. Site development included removal of contaminated material, protection of the intertidal zone and marine habitat, preservation of the Douglas fir tree by the main entry, design of the storm water outfall, and marine siltation control.
by Ron Kato

The design and construction of a new Operations Centre for Gulf Islands National Park Reserve in Sidney, BC presented Parks Canada with an opportunity to create a facility with a minimal ecological footprint, fully in keeping with its core values of environmental stewardship.
The park was established in 2003 and is the first new national park reserve of the 21st century. The park protects the ecological integrity of a representative portion of the Strait of Georgia Lowlands natural region and includes 35 square kilometres of land and intertidal area, spread over 15 islands, islets and reefs and approximately 26 square kilometres of marine areas.
The sustainable design philosophy established at the outset of the project included three guiding principles:

  • Respect for the site.
  • Incorporate the natural operating systems occurring at the site
  • Integrate sustainable components into the fabric of the building.

Respect for the Site

The protection and rehabilitation of the site’s marine and terrestrial ecologies was of paramount importance to the owner. Parks Canada assisted in the process by examining potential impacts to both marine and terrestrial areas of the site and defining mitigation procedures required to minimize impact and prevent damage to habitat.

Natural Operating Systems & Resources

The site receives significant rainfall over most of the year, and more hours of sunlight than any other location of coastal British Columbia. In addition, the waterfront location enabled use of the ocean’s heat energy.
Water: Rainwater, collected off the roofs and stored in a 30,000 litre underground storage tank, is used for dual flush toilets and wash water needs in the marine operations area. Surplus rainwater passes through a sediment trap and hydrocarbon separator before being discharged into the ocean. There is no connection to the municipal storm water system and it is expected that over 108,000 litres of rainwater will be harvested and used annually. The capacity of the rainwater storage tank is expected to be sufficient except for a few weeks of the year in July. By using rainwater to flush toilets, the volume of municipally treated potable water used for the conveyance of sanitary waste has been reduced by 98%. The volume of potable water used within the new facility has been significantly reduced through the combined use of the rain water with low flow faucets and showers.
New planting is drought resistant and will not require irrigation once established.
Light: Sunlight is converted directly to electricity by photovoltaic panels installed on the roof, providing 20% of the building’s total energy needs. This system is connected directly to BC Hydro so that ‘net metering’ is possible. All workstations and offices are located next to windows.
Heat: The building does not have a natural gas connection: all heating and hot water needs are supplied by an ocean-based geo-exchange system. Seawater is pumped directly into the building and passes through a heat exchanger and a series of heat pumps. Heated or cooled water is then distributed throughout the building by a system of plastic pipes embedded in the concrete floors.
Air: The open plan layout and the atrium encourage natural ventilation. All offices and workstations are located beside opening windows; motorised ventilation louvres, at roof level and at each floor, open automatically when the building system senses that the outdoor air temperature and conditions are appropriate. Carbon dioxide sensors are linked to the ventilation system. When an increased level of CO2 is detected in a room, the building control system provides fresh air to the affected room.
This building demonstrates how it is possible to drastically reduce consumption of energy and water, provide an exceptional indoor environment, build using a significant amount of local and recycled materials and interact intimately with the site. Also of significance is that this project uses only off-the-shelf products, proven technology and local design and construction resources.
A holistic design approach has enabled the sustainable systems and components to be fully integrated with the architectural expression of the building. The ultimate objective of sustainable design is to create living buildings. Such buildings would not rely on external sources for energy, water and disposal of wastes, and until recently, seemed unattainable. For this project to reach this goal of a minimal Ecological-footprint, the building systems in place would need only minor modifications together with an increase in capacity.

Ron Kato, MAIBC is project architect with Larry McFarland Architects Ltd., Vancouver


  • Architect: Larry McFarland Architects Ltd., Vancouver [Larry McFarland MAIBC, LEED co-ordinator, Ron Kato MAIBC,
  • Project Architect: Carrie Gratland IA-AIBC, Susanne Hunter IA-AIBC, Penny Martyn MAIBC, Dean Shwedyk IA-AIBC]
  • Structural Engineer: CWMM Consulting Engineers, Vancouver
  • Mechanical Engineer: Stantec Consulting Inc., Engìneer of Record W. Perez, North Vancouver
  • Electrical Engineer: Robert Freundlich & Associates Ltd., Vancouver
  • Energy Consultant: EnerSys Analytics Inc., Coquitlam, BC
  • Environmental Adviser: Public Works & Government Services Canada, Contaminated Sites Environmental Services
  • Building Science Professional: Read Jones Christoffersen Ltd, Vancouver
  • General Contractor: Ledcor Special Projects, Vancouver
  • Photos: Derek Lepper, Vancouver. Photos 4 and 6 Larry McFarland, Architects Ltd.


  • Glulam beam and column frame by Western Archrib, galvanized steel cladding and western red cedar cladding, aluminum windows by Kawneer. Photovoltaic System by Carmanah [previously SPS Energy] supplies 20% of the power consumption, Green Power Certificates purchased from BC Hydro; LV Lighting Control System [light and occupancy sensors] by Douglas LV Lighting Control; lighting fixtures supplied by Litesource Industries; heat pumps by Waterfurnace; Shaw carpet tile
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