York University Sherman Health Research Sciences Centre

The Sherman Health Research Science Centre (HRSC) at York University was created by transforming a decommissioned hockey arena into a world-class research and academic facility. This state-of-the-art facility supports research in biomedicine, brain function, vision, robotics and virtual reality. The hockey arena that served as basis for the HRSC was constructed in 1968 and an extensive retrofit was necessary to accommodate the laboratories and functional spaces needed to support these unique research programs as well as to achieve the University’s sustainability objectives. One of the most problematic aspects of the retrofit was the need to remove the concrete pad that served as the base for the former ice surface. Demolishing the concrete slab would have resulted in more than 1000 tonnes of concrete being placed in a landfill and the emission of over 15,500 kg of CO2. Consequently, options were explored to integrate the demolished concrete into the design of the facility. Research undertaken by Schollen & Company Inc. determined that the chemical characteristics of the concrete slabs approximate those of natural limestone. This lead to the proposition to create a ‘Synthetic Alvar’ as a key element within the landscape of the facility.

Alvars are ecosystems that are founded on limestone strata and low nutrient soils. They are typically mesic environments and support a distinctive group of prairie adapted vegetation. Alvars are found only in Northern Europe and the Great Lakes region of North America, comprising a very small percentage of ecosystems on Earth by land area. Only 112 square kilometres of landscapes remaining in North America. Consequently the creation of ‘Synthetic Alvar’, utilizing waste concrete and limestone based soils, resulted in the replication of natural alvar with ecological, hydrological and educational benefits.

The natural characteristics of an alvar were conducive to positioning the ‘Synthetic Alvar’ as an overlay to a stormwater infiltration gallery. ‘Synthetic Alvar’ treats stormwater runoff from the site in order to enhance water quality and moderate discharge rates. The alvar was created by cutting the concrete ice pad into large pieces, removing the glycol tubes, shaping the edges and sandblasting the slabs to remove the existing finish and expose the concrete surface. The slabs were then overlaid on the granular infiltration gallery and a low nutrient soil mix was spread over the installation to support the predominantly native plant community.

The landscape plan for the Sherman HSRC successfully achieved multiple objectives related to sustainability, while supporting the important research goals of the HRSC. Other sustainability initiatives that were incorporated into the landscape included high efficiency lighting, permeable paving, high albedo paving material, enhanced biodiversity including rare and unique species, and bicycle racks.