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Prairie Architects repurposing of Winnipeg Heritage House an award winner

Peter Caulfield
Prairie Architects repurposing of Winnipeg Heritage House an award winner

Prairie Architects Inc. of Winnipeg has won the 2019 SABMag Institutional (Small) Green Building Award for its Building Blocks on Balmoral project in the Manitoba capital.

Building Blocks on Balmoral (BBB) is a large (100-children) daycare centre that incorporates the restored Milner House.

Built more than 100 years ago for a local business magnate, the residence fell into disrepair and had been vacant and derelict in recent years.

The project succeeded in two ways: It restored historic Milner House to usefulness and made it sustainable and energy-conserving.

The two-and-a-half storey, brick veneer house was built in 1909 for William Milner. The family estate retained ownership of the residence until 1991, when it was sold to Great-West Life Assurance Company.

Great-West had acquired and demolished several houses on Balmoral Street as part of an expansion of its nearby Winnipeg head office.

Meanwhile, the City of Winnipeg listed Milner House as a heritage building, which prevented it from being demolished or removed and regulated future alterations and repairs to the structure.

Great-West needed to decide what to do with the house and it opted to make it part of a new daycare complex for the children of employees and residents of the neighbourhood.

In 2015, Prairie Architects Inc. was hired to design the project.

Right away engineers found that a new foundation was needed to support the house.

To do this, the house first had to be stabilized, then cut from its existing foundation, and finally lifted and moved so that a new foundation could be poured.

To accommodate the move, the interior plaster and finishing were stripped, and all of the exterior bricks, which were supported by the foundation wall, were removed and then put back in their original arrangement.

In order to keep the entire main floor of Milner House on one level, the original structure was lowered approximately two feet onto a new foundation, and the north end of the site was built up by four feet to provide an accessible outdoor play area.

To create a sense of home for children, the daycare was divided into two small buildings on either side of the Milner House, one for toddlers and infants, and one for older, preschool children.

Completed in 2017, the 9,500-square-foot BBB is certified as LEED Platinum.

The daycare has many sustainable and energy conserving design features:

  • A geothermal ground source heat-pump system with in-floor radiant heating and passive chilled beams for cooling;
  • An exhaust air heat recovery;
  • Displacement ventilation, which uses lower fan power and delivers lots of fresh air;
  • Reduced lighting power densities; and
  • Increased roof and above-grade U values.

In addition, the building design allows for installing photovoltaic solar arrays, which would offset roughly 10kW of electricity.

All carpets, adhesives, sealants, paints and coatings in the daycare facility have no or low VOCs (volatile organic compounds).

For the daycare project, Prairie Architects also won an Award of Merit from the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies Manitoba and the Conservation Award of Excellence from Heritage Winnipeg.

In addition to being recognized for BBB, Prairie Architects won the 2019 Tenant Improvement award from the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) for the design of its own offices in an historic warehouse in Winnipeg’s East Exchange district.

Two years ago, Prairie Architects moved into its current store front office space in the historic (1916) Stanley Brock Building.

The offices are certified LEED CI Platinum, Manitoba’s first such project.

“It was an opportunity for us to renovate a warehouse office space in a sustainable way,” said Prairie Architects principal Lindsay Osler.

“We’re very proud of having won,” added principal Melissa McAlister. “It showed that we do for ourselves what we do for our clients.” 

Like BBB, the firm’s offices rate high in sustainability.

“All office lighting is high-efficiency, programmable LED fixtures on occupancy sensors, which contributes to reducing the office power requirements,” said McAlister.

The HVAC system is a variable refrigerant flow system that provides heating and cooling, as well as heat recovery.

Ultra-low-flow faucets in the kitchen and washrooms reduce water consumption by 30 per cent.

Another local CaGBC award winner was University of Manitoba student Bianca Dahlman, who won the Students Leading Sustainability: Andy Kesteloo Memorial Project Award for design work on the Weave Cultural Centre, a multi-purpose space for the Anishanaabe community of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation on the Manitoba-Ontario border.

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