Posted on March 11, 2014 by Tia Lalani

Alberta Construction Magazine featured the new Performing Arts Centre in their Spring 2014 issue.

By Tricia Radison, Alberta Construction Magazine

New performing arts centre gives the community of Camrose a green space for productions

camroseCamrose’s new 44,200-square-foot performing arts centre, slated for completion in the first half of this year, is a showcase for sustainability. The approximately 550-seat theatre complex includes some common environmentally friendly features such as high-efficiency boilers and chillers and increased insulation in the roof, but it is also pushing the envelope of what can be done to reduce the impact of buildings on the environment.

All three partners were interested in exploring what could be done to enhance energy management; as a result, Camrose will have one of the first theatres in North America with only LED stage lighting, and the largest building-integrated solar photovoltaic (PV) system in Canada.


Rather than installing solar modules on the roof, as is typical, the project team decided to use the modules as cladding on the exterior of the building’s 70-foot fly tower—the tall box on performing arts facilities that holds the rigging used to raise sets above the stage and fly the draperies, among other things.

“Fly towers present a challenge for the architect because they are a big box and there’s no easy way to deal with it. We initially planned to clad with cementitious panels, but decided to use solar PV modules for what looked like a curtain wall, giving a much higher-level finish for the tower,” explains Michael Madsen, senior project manager, University of Alberta.

The dark colour of the solar PV cladding will also diminish the overall visual impact of the tower, bringing the scale of the building down closer to the rest of the buildings on campus. But the aesthetic benefits are just the beginning.

Using solar PV will reduce the building’s use of electricity produced by less environment­ally friendly means and is expected to result in utility cost avoidance of about $10,000 per year. Because its performance will be closely monitored, it will also provide engineering data that will be used to improve the design process for building-integrated solar PV systems.

Plans are also in place to educate and create awareness about solar PV through multi­media within the facility, as well as via the web.


“What’s fascinating in these early days of solar photovoltaics is that there are so many firsts,” says Gordon Howell, managing principal, Howell-Mayhew Engineering, Inc.

projectHowell is an expert in the field of solar PV and participates in the International Electrotechnical Commission’s Technical Committee 82, which writes standards on solar PV energy systems. The Camrose Performing Arts Centre’s system is the largest he’s developed so far, and the project was, he says, hugely challenging.

“The largest operating solar electric system in Alberta right now is 60 kilowatts and has roughly 240 modules. This one is 122 kilowatts and has 488 modules. The biggest I’ve done is 89 modules, so this is six times larger; that alone was a challenge,” says Howell.

The fact that the solar PV modules were to be used as cladding added to the complexity. Dimensional details that aren’t normally a picky issue when designing a solar PV system for a roof or wall became extremely important. One example is the need to ensure that the system fit the exact dimensions of the building.

“We had an exact size to fit. Even though modules are 994 millimetres wide, they have a manufacturing tolerance of 1.3 millimetres. If the solar PV modules were 995 millimetres wide, which is perfectly within manufacturing tolerance, then as we put 24 together in a row, we’re now 24 millimetres longer. We didn’t have space for that,” says Howell.

To ensure that details were taken into account at the right stages, the team, which included design-build contractor Clark Builders and its contractors and subtrades, as well as Clark’s subconsultants, BR2 Architecture and Smith + Andersen, worked together throughout design and construction.

“We had to meet the technical requirements and look at the constructability to incorporate the PV modules into the building envelope,” says Bill Smith, project manager, Clark Builders. “It was a steep learning curve in some respects, but we had the right team in place.”


All of the stage lighting in the new performing arts centre will be LED, something that couldn’t have been done when the project partners decided to go with the energy-efficient technology.

“Going back a year or two, the technology was not mature enough that we would feel comfortable that performance at, for example, five years, would still be acceptable, especially for a theatre environment,” says Michael Versteege, energy management program manager of the university’s Energy Management and Sustainable Operations (EMSO).

Fortunately, the technology has matured to a point where the centre will have LED lighting throughout, including front of house and on the exterior around the top of the tower. Control systems will also be installed so lights can be programmed to minimize the amount of energy consumed. Depending on utility rates, using LED lighting is expected to reduce utility costs by $30,000–$35,000 per year.

Through EMSO’s Envision program, those savings will be used to pay for the costs of the leading-edge technologies used in the performing arts centre. Envision funds energy initiatives across campus by borrowing money from sources outside of the university and using the utility cost savings to pay back the loans.

“We help fund incremental changes above what is deemed standard building practice to help drive sustainability in new construction and major renovation projects,” explains Versteege.

Versteege anticipates that the sustainable features Envision has funded for this project—boilers, chillers, increased insulation, LED lighting and the solar PV system—will result in savings of at least $50,000 per year. The project is also expected to achieve Green Globes level four and may receive BOMA BESt certification.

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