Vineland Research and Innovation Centre’s $10 million greenhouse to be Canada’s largest dedicated for horticulture research

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GTA Construction Report staff writer

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland), a world-class research centre for horticultural science and innovation in the Niagara Region, has nearly completed building its $10 million innovative greenhouse.

The greenhouse will be Canada’s largest dedicated to horticulture research. A news release says the site “will conduct research for developing innovative technologies that will help deliver more food to the market faster,” including growing more resilient and profitable crops and developing pest-management systems for commercial greenhouses.

The 3,700 sq. m. structure, constructed by TR Hinan Contractors Inc. and designed by Toronto-based Baird Sampson Neuert, will be completed later this summer.

Vineland chief operating officer Gary Moffatt says the project’s philosophy has been to create a pre-commercial scale research facility. “A lot of research greenhouses are small but our objective is to have a facility that can evaluate how products will perform in commercial greenhouses and this larger scale will allow us to provide better assessments.”

Moffatt says, for instance, vegetable plants will be evaluated through two 540 sq. m. compartments with 7 m. gutter heights in one-third of the space. Another third of the greenhouse will evaluate floral plants and be divided into large, small and medium spaces all with 5 m. gutter heights. The final third will be used for potting and systems.

In addition to creating a size that is more reflective of a commercial environment, the materials and systems chosen also reflect more commercial applications. “We’ve used tempered glass over the poly options, which is consistent with the trend in new commercial greenhouse construction. The exterior side walls are made of sealed units for energy efficiency, while the roof system uses a single system to encourage snow melt.”

Electrical and mechanical systems have also been installed to provide research control while maintaining commercial growing conditions. These include a 250-tonne chiller to control cooling, as well as boilers, humidity control and lighting in the floral space managed with a control system. Although vegetables do not normally require controls, that area has been equipped with systems that can be adapted to include them later.

Moffatt says Baird Sampson Neuert was selected in part for their experience designing the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory and a new world-class dairy research facility in Elora and also for their creativity and approach to managing cost and design.

“The budget was critical,” he said. “The design we started with wouldn’t have been workable so we went through an intense process to ensure we had the key elements needed but the costs were controlled. In the end we made the tough decisions ahead of time and as a result, the project is expected to come in at or under budget.”

For example, the typical brick exterior structure housing systems has been eliminated. Instead, internal spaces have been constructed for the mechanical and electrical components, with beautiful colours visible from outside.

Understanding that the first season will be a learning curve for staff, critical crops will not be planted until the second season, Moffatt says.

TR Hinan project manager Sean Racher says the severe weather meant extensive hoarding was required to work on the interior of the header house (the building within the building). “Construction of this type is challenging in general because of limited space, staging and the equipment that must be placed.”

“We started construction last July and went through one of the coldest winters on record,” Moffatt added.

Among the challenges for Vineland and the contractors was keeping the site open and accessible. The campus is also home to, among others, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, the Canadian Landscape Nursery Association, the Winery & Grower Alliance of Ontario and the Wine Council of Ontario. Extensive pathways means the space is also open to the general public.

Racher said as of June the site was packed with trades completing finishing stages at the header house, working on the main mechanical and electrical components and completing the greenhouse’s interior structure.

The project means Vineland Research and Innovation Centre can move away from an existing greenhouse constructed in the 1960s to further evolve research elsewhere. “These new spaces are coming at the right time in our research process and will allow us to develop and validate new varieties,” Moffatt said.

As with any facility undertaking key research, back-up power is critical. In this case Total Power will provide stand-by power systems and ongoing maintenance to ensure uninterrupted power to critical systems including pumps and water.

Total Power strategic account manager Andrew Lee says his company worked with Crossey Engineering Ltd. on the design and selection of equipment for the Vineland project.

In business for more than 50 years, Lee says Total Power is the largest dedicated generator service in Ontario and the largest Generac distributor in Canada. Experienced with industry sectors including health care and data facilities, he says Total Power was able to work with the project team to establish needs and the best equipment to meet those needs.

Moffatt says the centre co-ordinate with growers and associations across Ontario. Construction has been funded by a large capital investment from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, along with contributions from Meridian Credit Union and Farm Credit Canada.

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