Fast tracking Green Design - The Ron Joyce Centre: DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University

The Ron Joyce Centre is the new advanced management studies campus of the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University in Burlington, ON. The project was originally intended to be part of a mixed-use development in downtown Burlington that would have included municipal parking and an intermodal transit node. However, as the complexities of this option became more apparent, thoughts turned to the possibility of finding an alternate site.

By Neil Munro and Kathryn Denney

A major private donation enabled the project to be relocated to a parcel of land adjacent to the south side of Queen Elizabeth Way, an important east-west arterial road linking Toronto-Hamilton-Niagara Falls and the US border. Despite the delayed start, the university decided not to move the completion date, opting instead to fast track design and delivery of the project.

Site - The chosen site fronts on the South Service road parallel to the QEW and is connected to it by north-­south arterial roads to the east and west. A shuttle bus connects the site to the main university campus, but there is no municipal bus service. While bicycle access is possible, the main mode of transportation remains the automobile. The site was flat, vacant and without significant vegetation. The only topographical feature was a seasonal watercourse on the east and south boundaries of the site.

Program - The building houses post-­graduate studies including the MBA and executive education programs. The building includes faculty offices, multiple classrooms, break-out rooms, meeting rooms, student lounges, a single 250+ seat auditorium, an investment decision centre, divisible large multipurpose room and student commons, including a café. A significant area is licensed to allow major functions to be hosted.

The program is organized on four floors, with a gross area of 9624m2 [10,350sf] including a 12×9m internal “light-court”. The project cost was approximately $27 million including site works, furniture, fixtures, equipment and consultant fees.

Team Selection and Contractual Arrangement - With limited funding available in 2008, the central concern was the control of costs. The University Facilities Services Department [UFS] was tasked with delivery of the project and opted for a design-build format, partly due to recent negative experience with traditional models.

UFS engaged Cooper Construction to provide overall project management services including financial and budget programming, approvals, consultant selection, and turnkey delivery with a guaranteed price and delivery date.

Cooper Construction was responsible for assembling the design team and submitting credentials to UFS for approval. Selection was done at the beginning of the project, with team members introduced as soon as their input was required. The selection criteria included past experience on academic buildings, and past working relationships either with Cooper Construction or the university. It was also essential that each firm involved had a full team available that could be dedicated to the project from the outset.
The university also appointed its own project manager/coordinator to work with Cooper construction to act as liaison and expedite decision-making. The advantages of this model included efficient sequencing of critical-path items. This enabled municipal site planning approval, municipal and regional funding agreements, servicing improvements to site, and the development of the architectural brief to proceed in parallel rather than as discrete events in a linear sequence.

Project Team Structure - The project team was set up with a small core group being responsible for all decision making. Keeping the group small ensured that it was tightly integrated, that roles and responsibilities were clearly understood, and that there was mutual agreement on project priorities.

Having a small core group also ensured swifter and more efficient flow of information, and greater flexibility when responding to changing project parameters Meetings were also smaller and more efficient. All members of the project team were located within a small geographical radius, meaning no need to create a single project office or shared physical space.

Schedule - A project of this size and type would normally be expected to take between 3 and 3-1/2 years to design and complete using a traditional linear project delivery method. However with the delay in site selection, this schedule had to be severely compressed. The design process began in the fall of 2008 with the building targeted to open at the start of the school year in September 2010.

Early contact with the regulatory agencies including the municipality and the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario helped secure the support of these authorities and minimized the risk of delays.

Project Goals - The project goals included the realization of an attractive yet conservative building, in which all aspects of the design were subject to rigorous cost/benefit analysis in keeping with the priorities of a business school. To maintain control over both schedule and cost, the building layout was kept simple, and all aspects of the design were based on proven precedents.
The University has instituted a Sustainable Building Policy which mandated a minimum LEED Silver building that saves 35% energy, relative to the reference building defined by the Model National Energy Code for Buildings.

In developing the project’s sustainable strategy, the Team focused on readily achievable credits that balanced capital cost investment with long-term benefits. This same methodology was applied to all design decisions, whether related to LEED or not. By primarily focusing on energy efficiency and building performance – which provides a tangible return on investment – a strong baseline for a high performance building was achieved.
Design strategies that were implemented using these criteria included:
•­ Building envelope selected has high performance curtainwall
•­ Spandrel panel back pans were insulated to provide a good wall R-value
•­ Mechanical system is a water-source heat pump. Allows energy to be shared around the building and is fed by an efficient boiler/chiller system.
•­ Heat recovery from exhaust air used to pre-condition ventilation air
•­ Efficient lighting design with a reasonable lighting power density [installed watts per square metre] and a control system
•­ Enhanced commissioning process to tune the building
•­ Energy system sub-metering [Measurement & Verification] used to identify and diagnose performance issues and inform commissioning process.

Design Process - A structured approach to decision making was implemented, both within the team and with user groups. For example, after an initial workshop session with each user group, a liaison person was appointed to coordinate further data gathering and the input of that group and communicate it to the design team through the project coordinator. This led to efficient, timely and reliable decision making that helped keep the project on track.

Generating savings to meet shortfalls in fund-raising and in scope adjustments were critical right down to the final phases of the project. Programming evolved in parallel to the design and continued until specific decision dates were reached. This afforded maximum budget control and adjustment throughout the project. Final materials selection remained flexible for as long as possible, in order to respond to any fluctuations in market price or availability.

One exception was the requirement to include stone masonry cladding in some form, in order to tie an otherwise contemporary design back to the traditional character of the McMaster campus. There were relatively few issues with design or documentation, but some delivery issues and substitutions were dealt with in short order. Realistic expectations were important.

Similarly, issues of environmental comfort [including natural daylight strategies] were to be comprehensively addressed whether related to LEED or not. Overall, the emphasis was on functional design that would work well for the users of the building.

The programming and design process were geared to provide just-in-time information to parallel streams of activity and to ensure timely approvals at the site planning and building permit stages. Construction followed a similar pre-emptive pattern with site planning, structure, and key areas becoming fixed relatively early. Cost savings generated through the sequential tendering were applied to areas such as IT and furniture where funding shortfalls emerged.

Fast Tracking Green Design - Despite the widely held belief that designing a green building requires greater consideration and deliberation at the design stage, and more time and care during construction, the accelerated process did not hinder green design in this case. It is worth noting that the entire team supported the LEED process from Day 1. LEED is becoming more familiar to the industry as a whole, and less threatening. Even where certification is not contemplated, some principles of the LEED approach are now being seen as essential attributes of good practice.

Coordination - Enermodal Engineering was included in the team to provide guidance related to sustainability as well as to track and monitor all aspects of the LEED process. Essential information cross-flow was crucial. As different aspects of the project were designed, the LEED evaluation had to address the financial and practical [timing, contribution, or liability to the design] aspects of the specific item.

As with most major projects, all key members of the team were required to use the same CAD platform, in this case Revit by Autodesk. Other standard software was used for design and financial management.

Good Design = Green Design - From the outset of the project the University and Project Team had committed to developing a high-performance building. Early sustainable design charettes focused on themes [e.g., energy efficiency, maintenance] and selecting the right solutions to building challenges. Specific LEED points were not targeted per se - though these were tracked in parallel with design discussions.  When the initial LEED scorecard was presented, the design had garnered enough points for Gold, through good decisions and an eye to performance.

This differs from a typical LEED approach of picking points that “make sense”, then figuring out how to design around those points. The agreement to maintain a Gold target came from the outset. It wasn’t as if extra points were found along the way. Good design and integrated team work lead to better performing buildings, which by their nature achieve a higher LEED level.

Lessons Learned
• A tight integration of the team: client, builder, and consultants is essential.
• The project objectives must be stated at the beginning, and buy-in by team members at the beginning is essential.
• Appoint a Project Manager responsible for all aspects of delivery, with a parallel manager on the client side working in unison.
• Direct access for answers to design, site and delivery issues is key to avoiding delays.
• A dedicated LEED consultant is invaluable to keeping things on track.


Client McMaster University
Client Project manager/Coordinator Denney Management Consulting Inc., Dedicated Management Inc.
Project Management/Construction Cooper Construction
Architects Young+Wright/IBI Group Architects
Structural Dorlan Engineering Consultants Inc.
Mechanical/Electrical Crossey Engineering Ltd.
LEED Consultant Enermodal Engineering
Code Consultants HRT/Schirmer
Building Envelope Thorn Services
Roofing Consultants IRC Building Services
Interior Designers IBI Group
Landscape Architects Strybos Barron King
Civil Engineers Trafalgar Engineering
P hotos Peter A. Sellar/Photoklik Toronto []] and Courtesy Young and Wright / IBI Group Architects.

Neil Munro is Principal at Young and Wright / IBI Group Architects, Toronto. Kathryn Denney is President of Denney Management Consulting Inc., Burlington.

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