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2002 Buildings — Co-winner 2

City of Airdrie, Alberta

Environmental Education Centre

Population: 20,382

The City of Airdrie departed completely from conventional building methods and materials to construct its Environmental Education Centre. More than 375 locally grown wheat bales make up the centre's straw bale walls, photovoltaic cells on the roof generate electricity for the entire centre's needs, and solar heating tubes provide radiant infloor heat for the system. Surplus electricity is fed back into the city grid. The centre's electrical consumption has been cut by 45 per cent, cutting 1,000 kg of CO2 emissions per year. A combination of a solarwall and a solar hot water system, airlocks at both entrances, and window-mounted mirrors that direct natural light into the building, have reduced heating needs by 37 per cent. A heat recovery system draws in fresh air from the solarwall and circulates it throughout the building to ensure proper ventilation.

Background

Airdrie is a young community and is growing quickly. Although the Village of Airdrie dates back to the early 1900s, Airdrie was not incorporated as a city until 1985.Two issues in particular are at the forefront of the city's future challenges — sustainable land-use planning and water conservation. Leading by example, the city's Environmental Education Centre (EEC) is helping to educate residents, as well as visitors, about energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, sustainable building practices, and the conservation of natural resources.

Airdrie is a leader in the area of waste management in the Province of Alberta. In 1991, the city formed the Airdrie environmental advisory board (AEAB) to see how it could reduce the amount of waste the city produces. Research by the AEAB resulted in the "Tag-a-Bag" user-pay garbage system — the first of its kind in Alberta. The city has continued its work in waste management by adding household hazardous waste collection, an annual paint exchange, a "Pitch-In/Spring Clean-up" program, and Christmas tree recycling.

These programs, however, highlighted the need to educate residents on an even broader range of environmental issues. In April 2000, the city saw its opportunity in the Alberta Municipal Affairs' Municipal Sponsorship Program (MSP), which promotes innovation, co-operation, and excellence in local government.

The city's environmental services department received approval from city council to apply for the program and was subsequently awarded $170,000 from the MSP to design and build an environmental education centre that would use sustainable, cutting-edge technologies, and act as a showcase for the entire community.

Results

  • The EEC has become a showcase for learning. Over 30 tours have been conducted for schools, community, and industry groups, and the EEC has welcomed over 250 visitors. Staff also produced an activity book for use during tours; the content also meets the requirements of Alberta's public school curriculum.
  • The EEC cost $211,000 to build, with an estimated payback of 20 years for all the technologies combined. Some technologies, however, have shorter paybacks. The ultra-low flow toilet, for example, saves $400 per year in water costs, so the purchase price of the toilet was recovered six months after the EEC opened.
  • The solar electric power system reduced electrical consumption by 45 per cent and CO2 emissions by one tonne per year, compared to the city's previous facility.
  • The solar water and air heating systems have reduced overall heating needs by 37 per cent and CO2 emissions by two tonnes.
  • Salvaging fixtures and reusing construction materials reduced the amount of construction waste produced.
  • The use of low-VOC finishes, paints, and formaldehyde-free straw board cabinets (made from heavily compressed straw) have improved indoor air quality.
  • Homeowners have shown a great deal of interest in the technologies used in the EEC. "The rising cost of nonrenewable resources is driving the interest," said Ms. Faucher. "But people also want to be self-sufficient and they like the fact that many of these systems are healthier for them."

Lessons Learned

  • There are few guidelines for sustainable buildings, so educating other members of city staff and the public was critical. The project was visible to the public from day one given that the city's centralized recycling depot operates at the same site. Environmental services department staff was also instrumental in keeping all stakeholders informed every step of the way.

Partners and Collaboration

Internal

  • Environmental Services, Planning, Building Inspections, City Clerks, Parks, Building and Grounds, Communications, and Public Works departments.

External

  • Ducks Unlimited and Canadian Waste Services sponsored interactive educational models that are used to demonstrate water-related issues during tours.
Page Updated: 21/12/2015