By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Gutting Morinville’s St. Germain Plaza, home of the library and town offices, is nearing completion, allowing St. Albert-based Synergy Building Solutions to carry on with renovating the building to serve Morinville for another two decades.
Although the building has housed the library and town offices for some years, it was originally designed as a Commercial Retail Unit (CRU). Making the now 30-year-old building fit the needs of a community whose population has grown by 11 per cent in the past two years alone presented architects with a number of challenges, namely fitting more library space and more office space into a building that has not grown along with the community.
Claude Valcourt, Morinville’s director of public works said the bottom floor will be extended on the front of the building to run flush with a second-story overhang. A similar renovation will be made to an overhang on the back of the building. When completed, Valcourt said the building will consist of two 900-square metre floors, the lower floor will continue to house the Morinville Public Library and Multi Media Centre, the upper for town offices and council chambers, the latter of which is being moved to the north face of the building overlooking 100 Avenue. The lower floor will have a large entrance foyer which will contain public washrooms and a lounge area for the library.
Valcourt explained the renovation was necessary to give the Town and library better use of existing space. “The way ahead is we will need some room to breathe,” Valcourt said, adding the previous configuration allowed no room for growth. “The idea was to have a certain amount of office space to accommodate new staff over the next 10 or 15 years.”
Making that future space a reality was the task of ONPA Architects. Chris Woollard, ONPA’s head architect on the project, said often the biggest challenge on renovation jobs is working around existing features. In the case of Civic Plaza, those features included structural supports, stairwells, elevator shaft and two vaults left over from when the CRU housed a bank. Fortunately, both the elevator shaft and two stairwells were housed on the outside of the building, giving designers the inside box to work with.
Now that interior walls, venting, insulation and flooring have been stripped, contractors will be able to make ONPA’s design happen. “When you gut it and get to look at the actual interior, it is a lot bigger than it seems,” Woollard said, noting that over three decades different parts of the building were renovated or upgraded at different times, creating a mix and match that does not always work in harmony with the other parts of the building.
“The plan is not as efficient as it could be if you started from scratch,” he said of the piecemeal approach common in older buildings. “That’s where this is good. Because the building is essentially being gutted, then we’re just dealing with the overall outside box of that building. Then we can re-plan the inside and actually make it a lot more efficient and you can fit more people into the same floor plate.”
Efficiency with staff space is not the only efficiency being dealt with in the renovation. The buildings heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system is being completely redesigned to offer better performance and more energy efficiency. Both the library and Town offices have been plagued with an HVAC system that was hot in summer and cold in winter.
“In a project like this it just makes the most sense to do a new system because a lot of times a mechanical system will not be updated as much as the interior of the building will be updated,” Woollard said. “What you get is a mechanical system that was designed for a certain layout and a certain use at the beginning of the building’s life, but then over 30 years the use of the building changes. Then the mechanical system isn’t actually properly designed for how it’s being used 30 years later. That’s why you start to get an inefficient and dysfunctional mechanical system.”
In addition to replacing the HVAC system, the buildings windows will be replaced with energy efficient windows and the building’s exterior envelope will be completely redone to provide better insulation and moisture protection.
It is anticipated the project will be completed by December of 2011. Currently town offices and library are sharing the lower floor of the Parish Hall.