Lowe’s Canada Distribution Centre: Fast-tracking an Efficient Building with Distinction

Lowe’s Canada Distribution Centre in Milton, Ontario, is not a typical industrial building. Featuring two-storey glass concourse entry cubes that punctuate a wave pattern of precast panels, the structure’s transparency visually connects the undulating landscape of the site to the surrounding escarpment of UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

The property is situated on 46.5 acres in the Escarpment Business Community (EBC), and is jointly owned by Kylin Developments Inc. and CREIT Management L.P. The site was originally intended as a speculative multitenant warehouse and distribution facility; however, as the project progressed in the early phases of development, it was chosen as the new home for Lowe’s Canada’s Distribution Centre.

The new centre will employ more than 500 people between full-time and part-time positions. The centre is helping Lowe’s expand business, and is located centrally between several major distribution routes. The project is part of an economic boom in Milton, which has been recognized in census statistics for residential and industrial growth.

The centre will be the largest facility in EBC when completed, and will house massive warehouse and processing space, as well as a two-storey office complex. The new facility is a state-of-the-art development project with a total leasable area of 625,000 square feet in the first of two phases; the second phase will bring the total to 879,560 square feet. From the project’s outset, a priority was given to create a gateway building to the future park’s expansion areas. The project is also one of the first endeavors in its community falling under new legislation in Ontario that applies more strict guidelines for sustainable building practices.

Project Team

The development partners engaged Belrock Design Build Incorporated to provide overall project management services due to the company’s proven record of ensuring the delivery date, as a project of its size and complexity would normally be expected to take between 14 and 16 months to complete. With the design process beginning in early spring 2012, the building is targeted to give warehouse access in December and occupancy March 1, 2013.

The design and construction team behind the new industrial development was led by James Hettinger, principal architect of jh.architecture in Burlington, Ontario, as well as Brian Kelso, a senior project manager of Belrock Design Build Inc., which is headquartered in Toronto. The two collaborators were previously employed by the Minneapolis-based OPUS Group of Companies through its local affiliate O.R.E. Architects Inc. and O.R.E. Development Corporation. “Hettinger was on the architectural side and I was on the development side,” details Kelso. “We’ve maintained a strong working partnership for many years, which definitely was a strength. Having a familiarity with each other facilitated many aspects of the development.”

Early contact with the local municipality and Halton Region Conservation helped secure the support of authorities and minimized delays. “The town of Milton’s planning and building departments had been without exception very cooperative with approvals and permits,” says Kelso. “The warm early summer assisted greatly, in expediting the initial site work and building foundation work.” Site clearing was completed in mid-May 2012, and Kelso says physical construction began in July 2012.

Hettinger praised Martin Bacci, the construction site superintendent, for keeping the massive job on schedule and sighting all problems with valuable experience and solutions. “All the project and construction team members understand the developer’s and the tenant’s degree of quality that we wanted to deliver on the project,” details Hettinger.

Sustainable Design

A structured approach to decision making was implemented, both within the development, construction and design team, as well as with user groups. For example, after an initial workshop session with the user group, a liaison person with Lowe’s Canada was appointed to coordinate further data gathering and the input of that group and communicate it to the design team through the design architect. This led to efficient, timely and reliable decision making that helped keep the project on schedule.

“We worked with the precast supplier, Armtec, from the very beginning because we needed precast panels with a higher insulating value and an unusual aesthetic,” says Hettinger. The two companies collaborated in the early stages, utilizing building information modeling (BIM) as a design tool that would allow the architect to create working plans that could be shared and collaboratively revised through the process, not just used as a presentation tool.

Hettinger says his team followed a similar process for the curtainwall windows and structural components. “Our goal is to take something that is very complex from the designer’s perspective and make those plans as easy to utilize as we can for the construction team, the owner and the future tenant,” Hettinger explains.

Collaboration on the project has been integral to its success. Utilizing BIM technology, jh.architecture provided a forum for the entire development team on the project. Project managers, suppliers and subcontractors assessed detailed plans that had been through several incarnations to arrive at an efficient, feasible design with a schedule everyone adhered to, guaranteeing a high-quality end-product that met a new, greener sustainable design standard in Ontario.

The Lowe’s Canada Distribution Centre was created to be cohesive with new guidelines for sustainability, exceeding ASHRAE 90.1 - 2010 standards. In comparison with similar industrial projects, the centre will be significantly more energy efficient, an estimated 43.6-percent more energy efficient when compared with a similar type facility under the National Energy Code for Buildings (MNECB).

Much of this can be attributed to the incorporation of high-performance materials and methods aimed at reducing waste on-site. “Aside from its obvious aesthetic function, we wanted this project to truly model sustainable design values in response to the current building code requirements in an extremely expedited construction schedule,” says Hettinger.

Continuing with the theme of sustainable design, the various systems consultants have incorporated features, which include: redirecting gray water from the real loading area to bio-swales situated along adjacent conservation lands; providing outside air ventilation with Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV); utilizing 24-foot (w) low-speed fans to de-stratify the air in the warehouse; as well as integrating high-efficiency water heaters, efficient T-5 lighting with motion detectors and other building systems.

The new center has garnered great local support, as well. Kylin Developments Inc. and CREIT Management L.P. received one of the industry’s most prestigious awards: the 2013 Rex Award for Industrial Lease of the Year. Instituted by the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP) Greater Toronto Chapter, the award honours and recognizes real estate excellence across the industry.

The final structure has been designed to the smallest detail to serve Lowe’s Canada’s Distribution Centre’s purposes. The next phase will allow the company to expand its geographic capabilities and offer more efficient delivery to retail customers. In addition, the centre’s location will allow for increasingly forward-thinking infrastructure and the quality of life for future employees. Working together, the town of Milton, Kylin Developments Inc., CREIT Management L.P., jh.architecture and Belrock Design-Build Inc., as well as all the associated design consultants, have successfully provided Lowe’s Canada Distribution Centre, which will continue to serve the economy and the community for years to come.