Housing upper-year, graduate and international students in accessible, energy-efficient environment
GTA Construction Report staff writer
Brock University’s seventh residence, Gateway Suites, intended specifically for upper-year, graduate and international students, opened its doors in time for a Sept. 1 move-in.
Located at the corner of St. David’s Rd. and John Macdonell St. (formerly Norman Rd.) and directly across from the campus, the residence has been designed by Quartek Group Inc. and was constructed by Merit Contractors. Both companies have worked on previous university projects.
The residence houses 86 upper year, graduate and international students through a combination of 24 three or four bedroom suites built to a high level of energy conservation and using advanced systems and equipment in keeping with Brock’s construction model. The four-storey building is 865 sq. m. with a total area of 3,592 sq. m.
Brock’s director of residences Jamie Fleming has said the move addresses the changing student population, and the fact that the university’s current residences are occupied primarily by first-year students who then move off campus in subsequent years. These new suites will allow some to stay under the university umbrella. “The variety of living space options we can now provide increases our capacity and will attract a specific segment of the population that may otherwise choose to go elsewhere.”
Architect Nigel Scott says the residence design has gone full circle and is based on a shared apartment model. “Each unit has two full bathrooms, one with a shower, and one with a tub/shower. The greatest difference to us from past student or other residential models is that they are wired directly into the university’s I.T. system allowing students spontaneous access to the university’s website.”
Scott says it was important to the design team that the building look like a residence, yet blend in with its institutional building environment. “We scaled the building and selected the materials to be similar to the surrounding buildings. Now that it’s completed, it looks like it’s always been there.”
He says two of the design’s main driving principles were accessibility and design for active living, in part to reflect Brock’s adoption of the Facility Accessibility Design Standards (FADS), also used by the Region of Niagara. Scott says all units meet the Ontario Building Code (OBC) accessibility standard, making them visitable by FAD Standards. “There are also two barrier free units that incorporate FADS principles in their design with larger bedrooms and bathrooms and accessible showers.”
‘Design for active living principles’ include making it necessary to pass by open stairs to get to the elevator to encourage the use of stairs. All units also have bicycle hangers installed in their entrance vestibules and the elevator has been sized to allow for bicycles.
To help meet energy efficiency requirements, the building uses a Mitsubishi VRF heat pump system, allowing for simultaneous heating and cooling. Scott says the system’s energy efficiency, as well as its control features, were attractive.
He says the property’s modest size, combined with the fact that most students living in residence opt not to drive, meant the team could request a variance from the city to reduce the number of required parking spaces to make better use of the land area.
He says other site challenges included an adjacent university residence townhouse development on the north side. “We were able to keep the landscape and fence buffer in place right up to this summer’s break so the construction did not adversely affect the students in the residence.”
Other challenges, including a severe winter, were mitigated by Merit. “We have one of the best contractors in the Niagara Region on the project who persevered through these difficulties. Having a good contractor on a project is really the only way to deal with project challenges.”
Scott says the residence’s name reflects its location. “The building defines a new edge to the university precinct and as such has been named the Gateway Suites. Our immediate neighbour on the other side is the Glenridge Quarry naturalization site which connects to the Bruce Trail.”
Fleming says the residences initially opened with an eight-month lease from September through April, recognizing the construction schedule, and come spring will be available on 12-month leases.
In leasing the property from the developer, Brock’s residence facilities team will manage the property and provide support for tenants for maintenance and warranty issues, especially during the first year.
Fleming says there is cohesion in working with the team responsible for developing other university residences. “We’ve certainly had some conversations and discussion but really little involvement is required on our end,” he said. “The team knows our needs and expectations regarding things like life safety and specific design components and we know they have the experience to get the job done.”
Scott says student security concerns have been a main overarching discourse for the residence. “Emergency notification systems, security cameras and enhanced emergency telephones have become part of the project.”
Scott says Quartek Group has had a Standing Offer Agreement with Brock University for 10 years. Through this agreement Quartek has completed more than 350 small and mid-sized projects involving re-planning existing spaces and additions; projects for the Central Utilities Building; Library Tower building; fire alarm replacement for student residences; retroﬁts for barrier-free accessibility to the university’s FAD Standards; and various site alterations.
“Having both a long term working relationship together and knowing our particular counterparts at the university has aided the process tremendously. The information technology components of the project could not have been realized without this exchange,” Scott said.
Scott says the heroes of this project are developers John and Rob Lean who own the property and are leasing it to the university. “It was their vision of seeing the possibilities for the property and collaboration with the university that has brought this project into being.”