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Builders of the Royal Bank of Canada’s historic Old Montreal headquarters probably never envisaged ceiling to floor glass enclosing its Roman-inspired grand banking hall. But after RBC departs next year, the heavy pink drapes will come down from the original arched windows, sending daylight through the glass cubicles and wall to be put up in the opulent hall.

 

The transformation of the now dimly-lit banking area for a new unidentified office tenant will follow a two-year, and estimated $3-million project to obtain a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification for the 83-year-old office building, The Gazette has learned.

 

Several of the original teller stations will remain.

 

“We’re going to contrast the old and the modern,” said Georges Coulombe, whose Old Montreal real estate company co-owns the building with New York City-based Time Equities Inc.

 

A certification in LEED commercial interior is also being sought for the grand banking hall, hence the need for improved access to daylight, which studies have shown to improve worker productivity.

 

“From the human standpoint, the returns on productivity are gargantuan,” said Drew Nagy, a real estate broker and partner in 3R Energies, an engineering firm that specializes in LEED accreditation, among other areas.

 

“Right now the way the majority of people think about real estate is bricks and mortars. But we’re evolving.”

 

The 22-storey building – once the tallest skyscraper in the British Empire – could receive LEED certification as early as this fall, said Richard Recny, director of asset management at the privately held Time Equities, which owns 16 million square feet of property in the U.S. and four Canadian provinces.

 

It would become one of a small number of buildings located in a historic district – or designated as a heritage property – to receive LEED certification in Canada. Nationally, 118 of these buildings – including the Evergreen Brick Works and Artscape Wychwood Barns in Toronto – are now registered to receive LEED certification, said the Green Building Council of Canada.

 

No building of this type has yet received certification in Quebec.

 

While it’s generally more difficult and costly to transform existing buildings than new ones to meet the requirements set by LEED – a system for certifying green buildings through third-party oversight – the niche is growing in Canada.

 

Following the Council’s August 2009 introduction of LEED certification for existing real estate, buildings accounting for nearly 130 million square feet in areas like downtown Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal are in the process of being converted, largely because of demand from tenants and competition from new LEED construction, Hutchinson said.

 

“We saw a very good pickup last year,” said Mark Hutchinson, director of green building programs at the Council. “The number of certified projects will be going up dramatically in the coming year.

 

“The projects, on average, are very, very large.”

 

Out of 22 existing buildings in Canada that have been converted to obtain LEED certification, seven are located in Quebec, he said.

 

Like the St. Jacques building, which has 375,000 square feet of gross leasable space, all seven sought to obtain their LEED certification through the U.S. Green Building Council, which has been running the program for years. Demand by more and more large corporate and government tenants, including Public Works Canada and the U.S. General Services Administration, has motivated Time Equities to seek LEED certification for up to eight of its existing buildings – including three in Montreal and one in Toronto, Recny said.

 

A Time building in New York City has already received that designation.

 

“The trend, we believe, is that they (tenants) will ultimately ask for LEED,” Recny said. “It (conversions) are being done with greater frequency. But it’s still not perceived as being as important as I think it should be to the real estate industry.”

 

To apply for certification at the RBC building, new fixtures were installed in the bathrooms to reduce water flow, and energy efficient lights replaced conventional ones. The building’s cooling system is only used when needed, and a new automated system has been set up to regulate air flow and temperature – ensuring that the south side, which has more access to sunlight, isn’t too hot and the north side doesn’t get too cold.

 

Despite the initial capital expenditure, building owners – and tenants who pay part of the operating costs – have already saved money because of the conversion, Coulombe said.

 

Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/entertainment/Heritage+building+revamped+LEED+certification/5397141/story.html#ixzz1XsiSv9iG

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