New library breaks ground as first net-zero facility in Waterloo Region




Libraries have long been a place of creative and professional growth, and a new branch of the Kitchener Public Library, which broke ground last October, is no exception.

While housing a recording studio, digital leaning labs for coding and technology, a commercial kitchen and an outdoor learning garden, the Southwest Community Library (the KPL’s sixth branch) will also be the first net-zero, carbon-neutral municipal facility in Waterloo Region – in keeping with the KPL’s commitment to building sustainable communities.

“As a public institution we have a responsibility to be sustainable in our designs,” says Penny- Lynn Fielding, deputy chief executive officer of the Kitchener Public Library.

Canada currently has 642 public library systems with 3,350 branches and more than 100 million visits a year.

The library’s location, near Bleams and Fischer-Hallman roads in the city’s growing Rosenberg community – which is expected to eventually house 25,000 residents – was identified on the KPL’s long-range plans as a future branch site more than 15 years ago.

“In choosing the locations for all our libraries, we draw a radius of 2.5 miles around the community we serve,” Ms. Fielding explains.

“This building represents the forward thinking of what the Rosenberg community wants to be,” says Willems Ransom, principal and senior architect at the project’s design firm, mcCallumSather. “Since it is one of the first commercial buildings constructed in this neighbourhood, it sets a precedent for this community’s collective values.”

Sustainability was always part of the conversation, but because of a tight budget ($11-million from the City of Kitchener), carbon neutrality was initially considered unattainable. But thanks to a $5.9-million Green and Inclusive Community grant from the federal government, the project was able to move in a new direction.

Meeting net zero on the 14,000-square-foot building required collaboration with the architects and mechanical engineers at mcCallumSather and the senior leadership at the KPL.

Sustainable features of the new library branch include controlled use of glazing to capture solar heat, an all-electric building, geothermal technology, photovoltaic systems (solar panels), triple- panel glazing, a thicker roof wall, floor insulation and a custom heating, cooling and ventilation system.

“This was not just design for design’s sake,” says Drew Hauser, director of design and business development at mcCallumSather. “KPL pushed us to make good choices that were sustainable. These are tricky buildings to design when aiming for net zero. You have to look at the repercussions of every little change and its impact on carbon and energy output. You can never design these projects in a bubble.”

With an energy budget and sustainable design guiding the architectural decisions, the building took shape using materials with a low carbon impact, such as wood and high-energy-efficiency glass.

From the roof’s solar panels to the landscaped bioswales that collect stormwater runoff, soak it into the ground and filter out any pollutants, to the geothermal field, all of which are public- facing, the library is also a teaching tool on sustainable best practices.

In partnership with 4 Directions of Conservation Consulting Services, Trophic Design and SpruceLab, mcCallumSather held public focus groups to make sure the planned facility was going to meet residents’ needs.

The discovery of Indigenous artifacts and a First Nation village near the site reinforced the importance of working with Indigenous partners to ensure that the building and programming reflect the shared relationships and responsibility to this land.

SpruceLab (a landscape design and urban planning consultancy that prioritizes Indigenous communities) helped facilitate conversations with the Mississauga of the Credit River and Six Nations of the Grand River.

“Engagement is design and involving First Nations rights holders and the local community as early as possible in a project is fundamental to the creation of a meaningful and successful public realm,” says Sheila Boudreau, principal landscape architect and planner at SpruceLab. “For the Southwest Library, this engagement inspired the ‘learning landscape’ design that honours and celebrates water throughout, with multiple opportunities for people to connect to nature.”

Future programming in these outdoor spaces, created in collaboration with First Nations, will be instrumental to increasing Indigenous awareness for those who visit. Permanent Indigenous art installations (winners of a public art competition) are also featured in this new building.

“Sustainability is broader than just our use of energy,” Mr. Ransom says. “It’s also about how the building respects materiality and the land around it.”

The library is being built on a portion of city-owned parkland, with a proposed elementary school and community centre to be developed nearby.

“We see ourselves as a community campus with the library as the anchor of all this new development,” Ms. Fielding says.

Creating spaces that are adaptable and can change over time was critical, Mr. Hauser says.

“[It’s] not always just about what looks cool and pretty, but how people can interact with these buildings, feel safe, and how they fit within our environment.”


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