The Bill Fisch Forest Stewardship & Education Centre – Up close

On May 28th/2016, the 1st building in Ontario targeting a Full LBC Certification – the Bill Fisch Forest Stewardship and Education Centre – opened its doors to the public. This open house was part of the Spring Forest Festival, which is held annually in the York Regional Forest.


When we arrived at the festival, the first excursion through the Education Centre had just finished and the next one had to start in an hour. We decided to take a quick hike through the forest. It was hot and sunny. Fresh smell of pines, wild plants and flowers reminded us of how much me missed being in the woods. Here and there along the trail, we could see the signs with information on ecological benefits of forests and specific tree species. What a neat idea!


When we came back, the conference room of Education Centre was already full. Dennis, one of the engineers who has worked on this building from the very first initial stages of design through its construction and completion, shared with us interesting facts about the building’s features as well as challenges that the whole team faced during the process.


Project: The Bill Fisch Forest Stewardship and Education Centre

Target: Full LBC Certification, ‘net zero’ energy, LEED Platinum certification

Status: opened and occupied, LBC certification in progress

Building size: 4000 sq ft, single storey

Cost: $3.036 Million

Completed: 2015


Site Overview

The Bill Fisch Forest Stewardship Education Centre was planned and built as a teaching tool and a living laboratory, where visitors can learn about the importance of natural resources and forest ecosystems. The building is located in the Hollidge Tract, one of the twenty-three tracts that form the York Regional Forest – the first public forest in Canada to be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

The centre is part of 90-year effort by Regional Municipality of York to regenerate the forest that was lost in 1800s, which happened due to the need to make more room for farming. However, after significant soil erosion and demand from citizens to restore the forgotten forest, the regional municipality has launched a project on regenerating the degraded landscape. It has become one of the most successful projects of its kind in North America!

The new Education Centre replaced an old facility used by York Region Forestry staff since 1940s.


Design Process and Challenges

The centre was designed and built by DIALOG in collaboration with an architect Jeff Schnurr, Forestry Stewardship & Interpretation and Municipality of York Region. Unique interdisciplinary team included architects, engineers, interior designers as well as forest educational experts, arborists and ecologists.

The team started working on the initial design concept in 2012, the actual construction started in April of 2014 and was finished by December 2015. Three years of hard work included the endless process of researching, learning and applying the principles of Living Building Challenge to this new masterpiece.

According to Dennis, one the biggest challenges of the project was working with the ‘Red List’, trying to get particular information from suppliers about the materials’ ingredients and find alternatives to the materials/products that were not permitted under LBC guidelines. Another challenge included systems integration or bringing together all the component subsystems of the building and ensuring that they function together as intended.



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Main Entrance – Admin Reception (Canadian Wood Council)

As we entered the building, we noticed right away how much cooler and nicer it felt there comparing to the hot temperature outside. As we learnt later, the east-west building orientation along with a heat-recovery ventilator used in the building is what made it possible. In fact, the conference room is the only place in the whole building that is equipped with air conditioning. Natural ventilation methods such as large ceiling fans (that worked almost silently!) and operable windows used throughout the building also help to keep the indoor air pretty fresh.


Building Tour in Progress

The interiors fully reflect the building’s connected-to-nature concept. Large floor-to-ceiling and clerestory windows, glass partitions and series of interior louvered screens let lots of natural light into the space and create a visual connection between interior spaces and with outdoors. Main construction and interior material used here is wood and its strong but very pleasant smell fills the whole space, making you to think that you are still out there in the forest. A beautiful wood-burning masonry fireplace located in the heart of the building adds a warm cottage-like feel to the interior. Fueled by locally collected deadfall, it works as an additional source of heat in the wintertime. A built-in bench at the base of the fireplace provides extra seating for visitors during gatherings.


Lobby/Reception – Wood-burning Fireplace


Simple and thoughtfully designed layout makes it very easy to navigate through the space.The heart of the building is comprised of tree main spaces, used for meetings and educational programs: Lobby/Reception, Classroom and Multi-Purpose (conference) Room. There is also a small open office area (Hotelling Station) for facility’s staff located right behind reception. The building service areas are placed in its eastern part and connected to the main spaces with a long corridor stretching along the south side of the building.




Structural and Exterior Materials

The structure of the building was built almost entirely of black spruce glulam and FSC certified CLT (cross-laminated timber). Cross-laminated timber is an extremely durable material that gives more strength, more sound resistance and more fire resistance than a traditionally built wall.

Exterior is clad with stone masonry and reclaimed Douglas fir that was salvaged from a factory in Toronto and re-purposed by a local company. The finished boards were left untreated to weather naturally within their forest environment. On the North side of the building a part of exterior features educational wood panels made from 12 York Regional Forest wood species.


Exterior – Main Entrance


North Side Exterior – Educational Wood Panels


Interior Finishes

The main interior finish is the exposed surfaces of the CLT wall and roof panels. The CLT and glulam columns are coated with a zero-VOC stain. Maple-veneered FSC plywood is featured on several interior panels that are located in the administrative areas of reception and open office (Hotelling Station).

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Cross Laminated Timber Wall



Maple-veneered FSC Plywood Panels & Glulam Column

The main entry reception desk is made of reclaimed ash salvaged from the area and stone veneer. Reclaimed ash works as an educational feature as it retains the tracks of the emerald ash borer insects that have devastated ash forests in Ontario (the ash was treated to prevent further infestation). The concrete floors feature a unique leaf pattern: leaves from local tree species were pressed into the wet concrete leaving beautiful imprints.


Reception Desk


Concrete Floors – Leaf Imprints


Building Orientation and Landscape

The east-west orientation of the centre was strategically chosen to make it more energy efficient. It allows the building envelope to capture free heat in winter and reject it in summer. Additionally, it enables the building to harvest more solar energy with photovoltaic power system installed on its roof.


When deciding on the building’s location, the design team had to evaluate the current landscape of the site and make some modifications accordingly: several of the trees located nearby had to be cut down as they were blocking the sun. However, no tree material was wasted. Logs from harvested trees were utilized in the building, while the base portions of their trunks were turned into beautiful totem-like wooden sculptures that tell the stories of forest wildlife with animals, birds, plants and insects carved on them. The vast open glade located on the south side of the building is currently covered with wild grass. According to Dennis, the York Region Forestry staff plans to populate it later with wild flower and stone gardens.


All the Water and Energy supplied to the building comes from nature. To learn on how it achieves ‘net-zero’ Water and ‘net-positive’ Energy performance, see the summary below.

The Education Centre’s Living features based on the LBC Petal System:


Built in the first public FSC forest in Canada, the Education Centre is uniquely rooted in place. Constructed of wood and accented with stone, it reflects the natural landscape that surrounds it. The building is designed to improve the wellbeing of the region and to be an integral part of the restored forest by supporting and nurturing its ecosystems.


Designed to have ‘net-zero’ water performance, the centre is fully responsible for generating its potable and non-potable water needs and treating all discharge waste. All the water supplied to the building comes from nature. Rainwater collected from the roof and then stored in the cistern provides water for toilets and urinals, and ground well located on site supplies water that undergoes UV filtration before it is used in sinks and showers. The water that leaves the building comes back to the nature as clean as it entered the building. Wastewater goes through a special treatment system based on aerobic and anaerobic bacteria and a bioswale to cleanse it of pollutants.


Designed to achieve ‘net positive’ energy performance, the Education Centre consumes less energy than it produces. Renewable energy is provided by solar panels installed on the roof. It is expected that the building will have an annual net positive energy balance of 8mWh. The Photovoltaic Power system used at the centre is grid-connected, which means that it is connected to the utility grid and any excess electricity produced is fed back into the grid. When there is not enough of solar resource, the building can use electricity from the grid, which eliminates the need to have battery storage on site. This outstanding Energy efficiency of the building was also made possible with the help of the following strategies:

  •  East-west orientation of the building, south-facing glazing and large overhangs that allow capturing maximum of solar heat in winter and rejecting it in summer.
  • The use of high-performance building envelop to reduce heating and cooling loads: insulated walls (R40) and roof (R60) combined with triple pane, argon-filled window glazing
  • Windows are positioned to maximize natural lighting
  • Energy reduction techniques that includes continuous dimming of lighting systems in suitable areas, heat recovery ventilation, LED lighting, and low-energy-use electrical equipment


The building is free of the ‘Red List’ materials. All materials used in construction and interior finishing hold sustainable nature and are safe for the occupants’ health. All materials come from within a 500km radius of the site. The main materials used in the building, the CLT and glulam, are fully renewable and their production creates only a fraction of the carbon required to produce more commonly used construction materials such as steel or concrete. Also, laminated timber can be used for long spans and heavier loads, which reduces the amount of raw material required by the project.


The building provides delight and wonder inside and out. Its clean-lined architecture with interiors full of fresh air, light and thoughtfully designed details sends anyone who visits it into an inspired mode and makes them feel like they are more connected to the natural world. (At least we felt exactly like that when we were inside and nearby the building!)


Designed and built to provide the best possible environment for its visitors, the centre truly stands by its promises. Everything starting from design layout of the space to its indoor air and water quality standards to cleanest materials used in the interior and exterior of the building ensures a wellbeing and happiness of its occupants as well as improved ecology of the forest that surrounds it.


The centre is planned to be accessible in every way. It is designed to foster a sense of community that is equitable regardless of an individuals’ physical abilities, background, age, class, race, gender or sexual orientation. The building is adjacent to one of the first nature trail loops constructed to meet the Built Environment Standard of Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005.



The Bill Fisch Forest Stewardship & Education Centre is an extremely ambitious example of sustainable design that aims to prove that Living Buildings can be a realistic future for Ontario. Visiting this building was a truly inspiring experience.

The project pushes the conventional boundaries of architecture by making us to think of how to look at the buildings in a context of nature – to understand the buildings as an integral part of larger local and regional ecosystems.

It is important to note that, the project, including the site, is projected to be not only carbon-neutral, but will be in fact carbon negative: over the next year along it will sequester more CO2 than required to build it!


Sources used: Site visit & Live interviews, DIALOGCanadian Wood Council


One thought on “The Bill Fisch Forest Stewardship & Education Centre – Up close

  1. Pingback: Audrey’s Local Living Centre | Living Building Challenge TO

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