Program poised to complete building 0
Crystal Allsop smooths a clay, sand and water mixture on the interior walls of the Abbey Gardens building under construction by Fleming College’s sustainable building program on July 26.
Chris Lalonde wishes there had been a sustainable building program when he was starting out.
The site lead for Fleming College’s Abbey Gardens project near West Guilford was a veteran in the construction industry when he first completed the program last year.
He liked it so much, he came back as an instructor.
“I took [the course] last year and loved it,” he said on the site in July.
The hands-on program has students learn how to construct a building from scratch with sustainable materials and practices.
At the end of last month, the building was starting to resemble the vision of Abbey Gardens – a property hosting community gardens and retail space.
While the gardens have been operational for years, the building has only been under construction for a few months with a completion date of Aug. 23.
There are several features that make this 2,200-square-foot building special, designer Pat Marcotte explained.
The walls are made with straw bales, both prefabricated and made on-site by students.
There is geothermal heating and cooling using the natural temperature of the earth to control the climate inside.
Recycled products have been salvaged from other companies to reduce waste.
The windows are triple glaze glass for greater insulation and positioned just under the roofline to allow for more heat in winter, when the sun stays low, and more cool in the summer when the sun is overhead.
It is solar-power ready, positioned with the roof’s slope facing the sun, and already wired for the panels.
“It’s built strong enough to support them,” Marcotte said.
The straw bales have become a hallmark of sustainable building construction in the Highlands.
The Fleming program has used them in the walls of the 4Cs Lily Ann in Haliburton, the Kinark Outdoor Centre north of Minden, the R.D. Lawrence Place in Minden and now at Abbey Gardens.
Since the program began in 2005, eight buildings have been erected.
Marcotte said straw bales offer greater insulation with no chemicals and are do-it-yourself friendly.
Several students from the program have expressed interest in making their own homes out of straw bales, Lalonde said.
While Abbey Gardens paid for the materials to create the retail space, the labour of the students is free.
Ted Brandon, training officer at Fleming, said the partnership with a community garden organization is the perfect match for the philosophy of the sustainable building program.
“The nice thing with Abbey Gardens is they’re all about sustainability,” he said.
The program has also attracted an unusually high number of female students.
“It’s bringing women into the field,” Lalonde said, noting construction is still a male-dominated industry.
About half of the class’s 17 students are women.
Alongside the gender shift, there is also a change in the way people are viewing sustainable building.
When Marcotte built his own straw bale home in 1999, it was the sixth or seventh in Ontario.
Today it is one of a thousand.
“People seem pretty open,” he said.
When Fleming’s program started seven years ago, people used to say there were no jobs in sustainable building, Brandon said.
Now there are internships for graduates at EllisDon, a large Canadian construction company responsible for creating the SkyDome among other things.
Every Tuesday until the end of the month, members of the public can pop by Abbey Gardens to take a tour of the building’s progress. Tours can be arranged from 3 to 5 p.m.