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Historic buildings prepped for next act

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Special to The Globe and Mail 
Published Tuesday, Mar. 23, 2010

'The greenest building is the one already built.'
Whether that saying is true depends on the building, of course, but it does raise the question of whether decades-old buildings can be brought to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards.

Extending the life of an old building is not as straightforward as it sounds. Many fail to meet modern building codes, let alone qualify for LEED points. And buildings with a heritage designation come with strict renovation rules.

However, a number of projects across the country are tackling older buildings in an effort to earn LEED points for things such as water-energy efficiency and air quality which helps to reduce operating costs in the future. Projects can even earn points for the amount of original building being saved. If you're going to save a cultural landmark, why not do it to the highest standards, proponents say.

Because the Canada Green Building Council awards LEED certification based on the total number of points earned, different older buildings have the chance to achieve green status in their own unique ways. Here are three projects that have applied for LEED certification - by recycling, restoring and repurposing.
Smith Hall, Banff, Alta.

It was the high cost of new building construction that saved the Banff Centre's Smith Hall from demolition.

Smith Hall was one of three original chalets constructed on the side of Tunnel Mountain in 1948. The multiuse building was to be torn down as part of the $179.8-million Banff Centre Revitalization project, but when Alberta construction costs skyrocketed a few years ago, project managers realized they could save a substantial amount of money by renovating Smith Hall, explains Bruce Chapman, president of Target Project Management Calgary.

In June, the Banff Centre will move administrative staff into the newly updated and expanded building, which will be renamed Donald Cameron Centre.

One of the biggest challenges in redeveloping Smith Hall was its proximity to the new Kinnear Centre - a large building already being erected only 45 metres away. It had been designed and positioned on the understanding that Smith Hall would be demolished. Unfortunately, Smith Hall's original main floor elevation was too low compared with the Kinnear Centre.

"Physically it was impossible to make the transition work unless we introduced a whole bunch of stairs and ramps," Mr. Chapman says. "We decided there was no other choice but to lift Smith Hall up three feet."

It was "a significant undertaking" Mr. Chapman says, considering Smith Hall was built on the side of a mountain. The project will earn LEED points because the building was saved, and for things such as reusing the original stone foundation in nearby landscaping. Smith Hall is also part of an overall plan to develop natural storm-water management techniques on the site.

Fewer LEED points will be earned for maximizing daylight in the building, Mr. Chapman says, because the original structure was designed as several small rooms and corridors.

Building size: 1,265 square metres

Completion date: June, 2010
Project cost: $6.33-million
Gibbs Gage Architects.
LEED Silver