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OP/ED: Unique green educational opportunity in Southern Interior

Earlier this year, I had a chance to visit the Jim Pattison Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Technologies and Renewable Energy Conservation. The Centre, located in Penticton, is part of the South Okanagan and Similkameen campus of Okanagan College. Thank you to Jim Hamilton, President of Okanagan College, and Donna Lomas, Regional Dean, for guiding my tour and telling me about their Sustainable Construction Management Technology Program.

Okanagan College boasts one of the most sustainable buildings of its kind in the world, a fact recognized by several national and International awards, as well as the continuing interest of environmentalists, engineers and builders. Three-and-a-half years after opening its doors, the Centre remains a beacon for the concepts of sustainability and rethinking the “built” environment. It is all about integrating new approaches and construction methods with a commitment to concerns for the environment.

Funds for the $28 million, 7085 square meter building were raised through generous contributions from the federal and provincial governments, in partnership with the communities served by Okanagan College. The Centre accommodates 800 students, houses 14 classrooms and labs, five trade shops, student study spaces, a gymnasium, a fitness room, a Women’s Resource Centre, and a sensory classroom for wine and food programs.

What features make the Centre sustainable? 

With the exception of the gym floor, all wood used in the building is from BC, much of it pine from beetle-kill infected forests.  Innovative structural solutions avoided extensive use of adhesives, preservatives and paints.  The walls of the gymnasium use new technology, designed by the project's structural engineers and are built with composite panels, a combination of concrete and glued laminated timber beams that are light and strong.  The walls contain the heating and cooling piping with electrical conduits and ventilation built in - technology that is new to North America. The rooftop has green spaces with local flora and provides areas for students and researchers to test various energy innovations.

The goal of the building is to achieve “Living Building” status, which means that it will be energy neutral. The Centre has the largest solar photovoltaic array on a non-utility building in Western Canada. The building is expected to use 65 kilowatt-hours of energy per square metre per year. Compare that with a building of similar size built to standard specifications that uses approximately 250 kilowatt-hours per square metre per year - almost four times the energy.

The building relies on geothermal technology, solar chimneys and interactive ventilation for heating and cooling the interior. Water is heated using solar power, and all wastewater produced on site is recycled and reused after chemical-free treatment by the City of Penticton.

Most important of all this is a centre for learning – one that communicates the importance of thinking green to the leaders and builders of tomorrow.  It houses 700-plus students from throughout the Southern Interior who attend the Penticton campus each year, enrolled in a variety of programs from trades to technology, arts to business administration.

The building is also home to a unique, exciting new program that is attracting the attention of major construction companies.  Sustainable Construction Management Technology is a three-year diploma program developed by Okanagan College with industry input. The program is designed to enable, empower and inspire the emerging generation of construction managers and technologists to learn green building principles and deliver true sustainability in construction.

A construction manager trained in sustainable construction management technology organizes and supervises large infrastructure building projects, including sourcing materials, budgeting, scheduling and managing safety procedures and protocols, in such a way that minimizes impact on the environment while maximizing energy efficiency.

The Centre of Excellence at the Penticton campus of Okanagan College provides an invaluable educational opportunity for area residents, an information resource for BC Southern Interior communities and is a model for innovative, green programming for all of Canada.  Well done!