How a Net Zero Fire Hall Came to Be

September 27, 2022

By Lloyd Perrin
Director of Asset Management and Development Services, Municipality of Central Elgin 

A modest fire station was established in the heart of Port Stanley, a small harbour town in Southwestern Ontario, in 1973. This 1,200 square foot fire station was built on the village's old gas station at 218 Joseph Street. At the time, the population was around 500 people, and the station served the community well, with quick response times. As the village grew in size, so did the need and demand on the station. Over the years, the population of this once-quiet port village has grown to nearly 5,000 residents, with up to 5,000 visitors per day during the summer months. Given the state of the station, its insufficiency in size, and a lack of parking for responding volunteer fire fighters, it was evident that the station's useful life was coming to an end. A Fire Master Plan was conducted in 2008 and recommended the construction of a new Port Stanley station.

Municipal Council approved construction for the new station in 2018. A year later, the Council also declared a "climate change emergency." This action assisted Council in identifying a priority in its strategic plan to be both environmentally and financially sustainable. With this goal in mind, Council planned to construct the Port Stanley station that was not only Net Zero Energy, but also Net Zero Carbon. This new station would not only provide improved facilities for the volunteer fire fighters, and the demands of a growing area, but it would also assist in the municipality showing the public that it is important to lead by example when it comes to climate change, as well as environmental and financial sustainability.

During the design phase of the project, it was determined that in order to achieve the Net Zero Energy deliverable, alternate methods of heating and cooling the facility would be required. This entails more than just installing a few solar panels on a roof to produce electricity. It was vital to consider the project in its whole and undertake integral design of the building's electrical and mechanical systems, as well as improve on building code standards for building insulation and building envelope systems when suitable. Heating and cooling are achieved through the use of 23 deep geothermal wells, which capture heat from the ground and transfer it to heat in the winter, or cooling in the summer. Over the parking lot you will see two large structures which house the photovoltaic solar panels. These generate electricity, which is then transferred into the power grid. The station then draws power from the grid.

A reconciliation is completed at the end of the year, and the station will create more power than it takes from the grid. With such a success, it is important to highlight that Central Elgin collaborated with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) to create a feasibility study to assess Net Zero Energy Options, as well as low interest financing for project construction.

The Municipality also placed its sights on reducing its carbon footprint, which entailed looking into more environmentally sustainable building materials. Enter Corrugated Laminated Timber (CLT) and Mass Timber. While both involve the use of wood in construction, Mass Timber is a design term that refers to beams and columns. CLT is a design term that refers to the use of glued and formed structural lumber to create large format wall and roof panels. Depending on the loading and span, typical panels range in thickness from 125 mm to 150 mm. The structural parts for the station’s large apparatus bay are made of Mass Timber. All of the bay's wall and roof panels, as well as the hall's administration area, are made of CLT. The exterior of the building envelope is wrapped in Rigid Rock Wool insulation, which improves structure insulation while lowering the project's environmental imprint. The interior of the building is constructed from CLT panels and remain natural wood with very limited ‘stick framing’ or drywall in the building. The result is a very environmentally conscious design that is warm and friendly.

During construction there was a requirement that 95% of the construction debris realized from the site had to be diverted from landfill. This was accomplished by the contractor being diligent in separating different construct wastes and recycling.

The Municipality’s environmental goals and objective did not end there. Restoration of the remainder of the site continued with an environmental view. The area around the parking lot and surplus property was restored using Tall Grass Prairie Grasses for the remaining three acres of property. This will provide pollinator habitat for migrating butterflies that come through this area travelling south during fall and back in the spring. Additionally, this area will not require ongoing grounds maintenance for mechanical grass cutting further reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

This new facility not only satisfies the need to provide a Port Stanley Fire Station and alternate Emergency Operations Centre, but proves that a municipality can be environmentally and fiscally sustainable.

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