When General Motors Canada decided to open a new Canadian Technical Centre (CTC), it opted to retrofit an existing building in Markham, Ont.
One of four engineering facilities under the CTC umbrella, the new Markham centre occupies the south tower of a campus originally built between 1984 and 1986 for American Express Canada.
The 150,000-square-foot CTC facility in part houses 12,000 square feet of test labs, 2,000 square feet of training space and a 1,000-square-foot garage for end-to-end software development.
“We wanted to get up and running in a short timeline,” says Nick Fortomaris, GM Canada’s Engineering Operations Group manager and the driving force behind the project.
“Building a new facility from scratch would have been a lengthy process — factor in the availability of land and various approval permits. This (retrofit) made sense for us.
“Also, it was more cost-effective to retrofit an existing building versus constructing a new one.”
The campus, located on McNabb Street, officially opened in mid-January. The focus is on software development and innovation in the areas of next-generation active safety, in-car “infotainment” systems and software and controls related to GM’s development of self-driving vehicles.
“We needed an open concept, state-of-the-art work environment,” Fortomaris said.
To that end, reconfigurable work stations and meeting rooms allow for cross-functional “ideation” and collaboration, he said. Lab spaces are flexible as well.
Eighteen months for a design and build for such a large footprint is unprecedented
— Nick Fortomaris
The facility houses close to 90 meeting and conference spaces equipped with technology and connectivity tools as is the in-house IT department.
As well, the campus has more than 50 Level 2/3 vehicle charging stations, which are believed to be the densest concentration in the Toronto-Kitchener–Waterloo innovation corridor, the company stated.
A carport for 20 in-development vehicles is equipped with 220 roof solar panels to help generate electricity for charging stations and the facility itself.
The campus also houses an atrium equipped with a two-storey LED screen, full-service cafeteria, cafes on each floor, multi-purpose wellness rooms and a 24/7 gym.
“The building superstructure was in place,” Fortomaris said of the retrofit project. “This provided a clean slate to work with. We tailored and designed the three floors around our growing business needs around future vehicle development.”
Work got underway in July 2016 on the estimated 50,000-square-foot first phase (floor one). Work on the 100,000-square-foot phase 2 (floors two and three) began a year later.
“It took us 18 months to complete retrofitting the three floors,” Fortomaris said.
The project was undertaken by a team that included HOK and Kelman Sample Consultants Inc. The firms provided design assistance and helped translate workspace requirements into reality.
Construction management services were provided by Crown Property Management. General contractor on both phases was Gillam Group Inc.
“The only real challenge was the tight timeline,” Fortomaris said. “Eighteen months for a design and build for such a large footprint is unprecedented for this type of project.”
Markham was chosen as the location for the campus, he said, as a result of its status as the “tech capital of Canada.” The city is home to one of the largest information and communications technology clusters in North America.
“This (location) offers opportunities to look for partnerships and expand GM’s ecosystem further,” Fortomaris said.
“Its close proximity to Toronto and the Toronto-Kitchener–Waterloo corridor gives access to some of the top, world-renowned universities and first-class research institutions with a link to academic experts and the next generation of innovators.”
In addition to the new Markham facility, GM Canada operates a Canadian Technical Centre campus in Oshawa, a cold weather testing facility in Kapuskasing and the 2908 innovation lab at Communitech in Kitchener-Waterloo.
In April 2016, the company announced plans for a new GM mobility campus in southeast Toronto.
The CTC Markham campus is Canada’s largest automotive innovation hub.