Cora Group’s Evolv1 is ground-breaking in every way, first innovation benchmark for Building Excellence 2020! It's pretty cool!
By Jon Rohr
Picture this: you walk through the front doors of what looks like a modern building, and you find yourself in a soaring atrium created from glass and natural wood. Directly in front of you is a floating staircase. To the right, a three-storey-high living wall, covered with live plants that are reinvigorating the air with oxygen. The outdoors seems to have moved indoors.

To the left you see a diverse group of casually attired people, working, collaborating – professionals socializing. You think about enjoying an espresso at the café.

As you walk deeper into the atrium, glass and open space continue to make the indoors blend seamlessly with the outdoors.

Today was crisp, but the sun was shining. Directly in front of you is a digital readout: “-1.25 EUI”. Energy Use Intensity is a measure of carbon production. At this moment, this building is in an “energy overspill”. In other words, Waterloo Hydro is not supplying energy, but banking it.

Looking outside, you see rows of EV cars under a canopy of solar arrays.

When your visit to the building is over, you head out the door, past the art in an outdoor courtyard, and in three minutes, you are standing on the LRT platform ION South. All is well.

“When you talk these things through with other people and the CGBC, you get the confidence, and yes we can do this!”

This is not science fiction. This revolutionary building exists, right here in Waterloo Region. “We’re achieving zero carbon certification with this building. We’re pretty pumped about doing that,” says Adrian Conrad, Chief Operating Officer with the Cora Group Inc., developer of Evolv1, a first-of-its-kind commercial building in Canada.

“It’s these features,” he adds, referring to the living wall, solar charging and state-of-the-art air exchanging, “and achieving that which is important for the tenants of the building.”

Evolv1 boast lots of windows: triple pane windows, two inches thick. “At any place in the building, you’re probably only 40 feet away from a window. There is nowhere where you’re not going to have natural light…. And you just feel better when you’ve got natural light.”

The three-storey atrium “is a pretty cool space,” adds Conrad. “This will be a collaborative space, it will have a corner café, it’s located by the LRT stop which is 80 metres away from the building, there’ll be a small park, with seating and green space with public art. The landing pad will invite you from the LRT to the building.”

Energy efficiency

Evolv1’s energy efficiency is achieved throughout the entire building envelope. The clean, fresh air is managed by a leading-edge mechanical system. “It’s very high end,” says Conrad. “It’s smart enough so that it can heat at one fan coil unit, and at another one, be cooling, within the same system.”

“More importantly,” he adds, “it will take the heat from one side and transfer it to the other, so we’re not even having to use a central plant to do that.” Temperature is regulated by every fan coil, with a ECM fan motor that adjusts automatically to use only the energy needed, eliminating energy waste by up to 50%: “the systems are that smart now that we can do that.”
The environmental plusses – natural light, better air quality, all mean “fewer sick days, better employee engagement – there are a lot of benefits.”

Evolv1 is Cora Group’s fourth building constructed in the University of Waterloo’s David Johnson Research and Technology Park.

Says Conrad, “Our other buildings in the park are LEED Gold certified, they have the same principals of being close to windows, great air quality, lots of air changes, so that is a common theme for us. With this building, we wanted to focus on the energy generation as well. So we have an innovative GEO thermal system, we have a 700 Kilowatt Photovoltaic array that spills over energy.”

When the building is generating more energy than it needs, Waterloo Hydro “will take that and bank us a credit, then when we need more than we’re producing, we draw from that credit.” This all adds up to zero carbon emissions.

Conrad adds, “We’ve designed the building for a high optimum load and then, through LED lighting and asking people to have energy star compliant appliances, we want to do all the right things… My goal is to make it easy for my tenants. So I’ve focused my team on developing a building that looks after that for them.”

That “team” consist of three very well know and respected ICI contractors and sub-contractors, all members of the Grand Valley Construction Association. Melloul Blamey’s Jeff Shantz heads up the on-site effort, with Stecho Electric and Conestoga Mechanical responsible for the state of the art mechanical air system. Stantec was also crucial to the partnership.

What’s unique about Stantec is that they have architecture, mechanical, electrical engineering, and structure, all in-house. Says Conrad, “Those are the typical things and we use them, but they also have a solar division, and sustainability division. We have a really innovative GEOtheramal system here; when it comes to hydrogeology and geothermal systems, these people are leaders in the industry.”

Using their modelling software, he says, “we probably went through 10,000 iterations, making windows bigger or smaller, where do we put them, do we do double glazed, triple glassed, changing all the little design elements of the building. It’s what we had to do to meet our goals.”

Almost full

The building is almost sold out. “We do have about 10, 000 sq. feet left,” says Conrad. EY is taking about two-thirds of the third floor. TextNow, a local technology company, (Exchange Magazine January/February 2017) is taking the second floor, and on the main floor will be Evolve Green, a collaboration between Sustainable Waterloo Region, UW, Wilfrid Laurier University and the Accelerator Centre. “They are going to be focused on clean tech and research around sustainability.”

“We want to see people use less carbon”, and to Conrad that means electric vehicles. “We’ll have 28 charging stations when the building opens, roughed in for more as that progresses… We’re going to have secure bike storage, we’ve got showers in the building,” for people who bike to work.

Evolv1 is targeting a Leed Platinum designation, and they already received Zero Carbon Certification from the Canada Green Building Council, a nationally recognized institution that pursues innovative change to the sustainability of buildings.

Thee CGBC pilot program includes 16 buildings across Canada, says Conrad. “We get to speak with other project leaders and learn from what they’re doing, and they get to learn from what we’re doing. When you talk these things through with other people and the CGBC, you get the confidence that yes, we can do this!”

Family business

Cora Group is very much a family business. Conrad says, “My mom and dad were the ones who started the sustainability thing. I can think back to when we were building the Accelerator building, then they took a trip to Freiburg, Germany, coming back and saying ‘Why aren’t we doing this here?’ I’m proud of what we’re doing, absolutely, but why should we be congratulated, for doing what we should be doing?”

Adrian Conrad has a message to other developers: “What my real vision here is to communicate, to the industry, that there is no reason not to be developing with a high level of sustainability. Do you need to go zero carbon? It would be great if you did, but you could go 80%... People seem to love the energy that goes along with saving energy. What we’re finding today is that a lot of companies are challenged with talent attraction. This millennial work force, they just don’t have to take a job anywhere, they can be selective, and they’re being selective, and I’m betting that the environment is important to them.”

When you’re a ground-breaker, it becomes expensive and time consuming.

“What my real vision here is to communicate, to the industry, that there is no reason not to be developing with a high level of sustainability.”

“There are many times along the way where you go, ‘how the heck are we going to do this?’ so we’ve been working closely with the CGBC. The process requires submission of the building’s modelling, working in consultation to figure out the R-values and EUI values, everything in the building, the energy performance, what we’re going to generate, and what we’re going to lose.”

Conrad adds, “I had to push a lot of people out of their comfort zone… You have to take that conventional thinking and make people uncomfortable: let’s find the solution. I think that’s the part that I value, and to do that I have to have a good working knowledge, and I have been hands on through the whole process, from being on-site during construction, from design team from working with tenants.

“I have passion for it. This is not a financial windfall, to build a building like this, it’s an expensive building, but what we’ve got is kind of a proprietary model now.” The heavy lifting is done and Cora Group now has a model that can be replicated. “So, I’m competitive, very competitive, we’re state-of-the-art.”
He adds, “We’re able to have some fun now. We’ve built some buildings we can be really proud of.”
One of the key take-aways from this project is that Evolv1, “is a commercially replicable business model.” Cora Group will build this model again, all at market rates.

Conrad makes the point: “Evolv1 is strictly funded by conventional means,” with no government grants.
What’s next for Adrian Conrad and the Cora Group team? “With Evolv2, [also planned for the David Johnston Park] we’re just at the stage where we are interviewing the design team and then we’ll be looking to submit a site plan application and then a building application. So it could be done as early as 2019 if there was a tenant that wanted it.”

Not a Subscriber?
Receive business profiles
on people engaged in life, like you.
Sent privately to your in box.

contact us

Publisher is Exchange Business Communication Inc.
No part of this article may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
Email Publisher

ISSN 0824-45
Copyright, 2018.