An almost century-long endeavour to preserve and enhance York Region, Ont.’s managed forests reached another milestone earlier this year with the LEED Platinum certification of the Bill Fisch Forest Stewardship and Education Centre.

Set in the Hollidge Tract in the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville, the 362-square-metre (4,000-square-foot) single-storey building is the first regionally owned facility to achieve that designation.

Last year the centre won the Public Project of the Year at the 2016 Ontario Public Works Association Awards in the category of historic restoration and preservation. This year it was awarded the 2017 American Public Works Association’s Public Project of the Year.

The region is also pursuing certification under the Living Building Challenge, which measures sustainable building performance through a ‘pedal’ system.

Designed by DIALOG Design and built by Struct-Con Ltd., it is constructed almost entirely of Forest Stewardship Council certified wood.

“We wanted to create a building that could function like a forest ecosystem and be an integral part of nature and enhance it,” says Craig Applegath, principal with DIALOG.

Reclaimed Douglas Fir from a Toronto factory was used for the exterior cladding, while the interior is comprised of glulam columns and cross-laminated timber walls and ceilings, says Kevin Reese, the region’s program manager of forest conservation.

Other natural materials, such as limestone for a hearth that links a classroom with a boardroom, were also used, he says.

The centre replaces an outdated onsite administration building.

Right from the start of the planning process the goal was to target both LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge certification by incorporating a host of environmental features, says Reese. An example is two rooftop solar panels that are designed to generate more electricity than the building consumes. Similarly, there is a target of net zero water consumption via a greywater roof recycling/harvest system that redirects rainwater and snowmelt into a storage tank. There is also a second storage tank for fire emergency purposes, Reese says.

“Sourcing the materials was fairly complicated,” he explains, adding specific building materials had to be chosen to meet the rigorous certification requirements, especially those of the Living Building Challenge.

An example is the building’s polyisocyanurate insulation, which came from a Pennsylvania manufacturer.

The centre has received four of the Living Building Challenge’s seven petals. Acquiring the other three —water, energy, and health—will require intensive monitoring and documentation, says Reese.

Named after former York Regional chairman Bill Fisch, the centre’s mission is to promote green building and forest education programs through a series of classroom sessions, tours and events. It will also be rented out to various groups.

Although there are a couple of workstations for regional employees, it is not staffed on a full-time basis, Reese says. The history of the building dates back to 1924 when the former York County became one of the first Ontario municipalities to partner with the province to plant trees on marginal farmland.

“The land couldn’t support agriculture, especially on the Oak Ridges Moraine, with its sandy soils,” he adds.

The first forest was the Hollidge Tract, where the centre is now located, and in the years and decades that followed more were created. There are now 22 managed tracts, of which 18 are open to the public and feature a combined total of 100 kilometres of hiking trails. Included in that list is an accessible trail immediately adjacent to the centre. It was one of the first trails in the province to meet the standards of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, says Reese.