December 2016

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DECEMBER 2016 | 65 Vancouver Talmud Torah PHOTOGRAPHY BY ACTON OSTRY ARCHITECTS INC. + LARA SHECTER/COURTESY ACTON OSTRY ARCHITECTS INC. Vancouver Talmud Torah by ZUZANNA WODZYNSKA T he students and faculty of Vancouver, B.C.'s largest Jewish elementary school started the school year with full access to their newly expanded facilities. With preschool enrolment that has tripled in size since the early 2000's, an expansion of Vancouver Talmud Torah (VTT) was essential to meet the community's growing demands for Jewish education. "The expanded and revitalized VTT is designed to facilitate new modes and methods of teaching and learning," says Cathy Lowenstein, VTT's head of school. "It is designed to deliver improved educational experiences, as well as better academic, social and personal outcomes for our students." The school has ultimately had four different sections built at different times between 1948 and 1994. Construction of the two-storey addition began in June 2014 where the old gymnasium and playground had been located. "The ground level has learning commons and a dining hall overlooking the two lower gymnasia, as well as a climbing wall integrated into multi-purpose athletic facilities," explains Mark Ostry, principal in charge at Acton Ostry Architects Inc. "These spaces are very interconnected and open to a large natural outdoor space designed for unstructured play, exploration and discovery." The upper level holds two interconnected learning neighbourhoods for grades four and five, and six and seven respectively, with informal study, gallery display and resource areas connecting to adjoining classrooms. "B.C. has been implementing a new educational plan based on the principles of 21st-century education," notes Lowenstein. "VTT has been a leader in incorporating these principles, and the new campus and renovations of the existing school are designed to further support the flexible, personalized and high- quality teaching and learning that are the hallmark of our programming." To that end, a richer student experience was created with the addition of 12 modern classrooms with collaborative workspaces and an abundance of natural light. Existing, traditional classrooms have been transformed into interconnected neighbourhoods, and flexible learning environments were also made to support new programs for science, technology, engineering and math. In addition, new kosher kitchens were built to offer students delicious, healthy and nutritious lunches. These also have capacity for kosher catering services to support school and community endeavours. As an expansion project, VTT remained in full operation during construction. "Keeping the school open was a definite challenge but our families stood by us, committed and patient," reflects Lowenstein. There were a number of logistical challenges related to the daily activities of a functioning school and the varying requirements from all the trades in order to successfully complete their work. "Security and life safety systems needed to be tied in and integrated with the existing building," says Nick Maile, project manager at Westbourne Projects Limited. "Significant planning with the contractor and consultants was required to ensure this was properly co-ordinated and executed around the school's daily schedule." Maintaining power to the existing school while a new power service was being built for the entire complex was a challenge for the electrical team. "We managed to get temporary power from the adjacent Congregation Beth Israel site while decommissioning the existing high voltage service to the old school complex, which was in conflict with expansion scheme," explains Paul Chu from Integral Group. Perhaps one the project's biggest challenges, however, was the addition of a playing field the size of an NHL hockey rink to the rooftop with high- grade artificial turf and an 18-foot security fence. "It was an unanticipated feature necessitated by a tight site, but it's one that really promotes active play for young children," notes Ostry. Alex Percy, the project lead at Acton Ostry Architects Inc., elaborates on the challenge, saying that in order to achieve a single level roof plane for the playfield, the double-height gyms were dropped one storey below ground level and the classrooms were sandwiched between the rooftop field above and the gyms below. According to Percy, an additional consequence of the rooftop playfield was that it encouraged the architectural team to re-examine traditional approaches to HVAC design whereby the entire roof is considered a service space. "The ventilation system was integrated into the curtain wall glazing system on a classroom by classroom basis to minimize long duct runs and provide a more localized ventilation approach," adds Percy. As a result, the mechanical equipment had to be located away from the rooftop playground and centralized at both ends of the school roof. "Although it made the co-ordination challenging, this centralization actually facilitates system maintenance and offers the added benefit of reducing roofing penetrations that could be a risk for water ingress in the future," explains Jean-Sebastien Tessier, associate principal at Integral Group. These mechanical systems use a combination of radiant floor heating combined with very low power European perimeter ventilation units. "This strategy eliminated most of the ductwork, reduced ambient noise and allowed us to implement demand control ventilation," notes Tessier. Since classrooms are usually completely separate from gymnasiums and playfields, the configuration of these school additions is unique. In this case, with the classrooms sandwiched between the two unusual neighbours, it created substantial acoustic and servicing challenges. Tessier explains that these were minimized by careful analysis of all gymnasium ceiling penetrations in order to avoid noise transference. The placement of the classrooms above a gymnasium also required structural innovations. "To achieve the long, uninterrupted 75-foot span overtop of the gymnasium, we designed a series of single storey deep, Vierendeel trusses constructed out of structural steel," explains James Macauley, project engineer from Glotman Simpson Consulting Engineers. "We worked closely with Acton Ostry Architects Inc. to co-ordinate the layout of the vertical truss elements to coincide with the classroom walls and corridors." The result is a highly functional building in a small space with the supporting structure as well as the mechanical systems hidden from view and hearing. "This is a community investment that will repay itself exponentially as we increase our capacity to meet current demand, provide a superior educational experience to our children, expand our enrolment pipeline and increase accessibility through the introduction of a new licensed Early Years After Care program, and develop future generations of community leaders," says Lowenstein. A LOCATION 998 West 26th Ave, Vancouver, B.C. OWNER/DEVELOPER Vancouver Talmud Torah ARCHITECT Acton Ostry Architects Inc. OWNER'S REPRESENTATIVE Westbourne Projects Limited GENERAL CONTRACTOR Haebler Construction STRUCTURAL CONSULTANT Glotman Simpson Consulting Engineers MECHANICAL/ ELECTRICAL CONSULTANT Integral Group TOTAL SIZE 52,800 square feet (expansion) 100,300 square feet (total) TOTAL COST $23.5 million

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