Over 1,100 delegates attended the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association’s (ONPHA) annual conference in Niagara Falls this past weekend, and a busload of them accompanied me to Hamburg on Saturday. We toured the new home of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph (FSSJ), Western New York’s first LEED Platinum-certified residential building. It is also the first known Platinum seniors’ housing project to use the LEED for Homes program, and the first for a religious order.
The Immaculate Conception Motherhouse looks like a small residential building from the outside as you drive down South Park Avenue in Hamburg. But this facility, which provides both independent living and skilled nursing care for the Sisters, is over 100,000 square feet in size. The new building was built for 72 residents and currently houses 61. It replaces an older building across the street which can house 200 people, far more than the Order needs. The new home features “cluster” apartments for 32 sisters which have a shared living room and dining / kitchen area. On the main floor are two wings of skilled nursing facilities with 40 beds.
The Sisters wanted to build a new home that would meet their needs for both the immediate future and long-term. But equally important was the desire to have a building that reflects their Mission Statement: “The Gospel way of life directs us to respect and care for all persons and all creation”. As followers of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology, the Sisters’ directive to the design team when they started the project was that the new building needed to be “low, wide, and green”, meaning that it had to be accessible for all levels of mobility and that it needed to have minimal impact on the Earth.
Translating that request into a LEED-Platinum building was the task of Perkins Eastman Architects, Lecesse Construction, and Steven Winter Associates, who served as the LEED for Homes Provider and oversaw the certification. Under the LEED for Homes Multifamily Projects program, the building achieved 85 and 1/2 out of a possible 130 points.
Sister Sharon Goodremote of FSSJ and Ken Ogden of Lecesse Construction spoke about how the project was designed and built. Starting with the placement of the building on the site, the design team moved it away from an existing wetland and made it two stories instead of the original one story to minimize site impact. Ogden spoke about the issue of affordability and construction, and how wood frame construction is the “structure of choice for LEED housing”. He explained in great detail the effort that went into designing the building envelope to make it as energy-efficient and airtight as possible. Cellulose insulation in the attic is 90% recycled. All windows are Energy Star rated with low-E glass.
Wood is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and all interior materials are low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) to improve indoor air quality. The building also has low-flow plumbing fixtures, energy-efficient lighting, motion sensors and timers.
The mechanical units in the independent living areas are air induction systems that combine room air and ventilation air. Using air volume that is already in the building means that there is no electricity required, no moving parts, and no maintenance. Unlike most hotels and a lot of apartment buildings, these units are not located in the outside wall: instead, they are above the ceiling at the entrance to each bedroom. The money saved on ductwork was put back into the highly-insulated building envelope.
There currently isn’t any renewable energy on-site, a surprising fact to many on the tour for a building that rated so highly on the LEED for Homes program. But the Sisters are very interested in lowering their already low environmental impact and are looking into installing solar photovoltaic panels in the future.
The tour group appreciated all of the technical information that Ken Ogden provided, but the overwhelming feeling as we piled back on the bus was just how comfortable and homey the building was. The architects avoided making it feel like an institutional building by using residential interior finishes, lighting fixtures, and soft colors. The Sisters also brought furniture from their old building to keep it from being landfilled. High ceilings and large windows fill the spaces with light, and even on a dull gray day the rooms felt bright.
Saturday’s tour was sponsored by the Canada Mortgage & Housing Corporation (CMHC), which has a long history of promoting affordable & green housing. CMHC’s initiatives have included the EQuilibrium Housing program, a sustainable-design demonstration project that features leading edge, buildable green homes across Canada . Click here for more information on EQ houses.