Creating a new library and aquatic centre in St. Catharines, Ontario



$18 million project seeks LEED Silver certification, the first for the city.

Canadian Design and Construction Report special feature

St. Catharines in the Niagara peninsula has a new 48,000 sq. ft., $18.172 million Kiwanis Aquatics Centre and public library, which is in the process for LEED Silver certification

The project has been funded in part by $4.5 million from the Government of Ontario’s Municipal Infrastructure Investment Initiative.

The double pool design includes a 25-metre, eight-lane rectangular lap pool with ramp entry and built-in bleachers and an irregular-shape leisure pool with spray features and a small slide.  This pool, with warmer water, will accommodate children’s lessons, family swims and therapeutic efforts.

The building also houses a 7,460 sq. ft. public library,  community rooms and office and administrative spaces.

Harald Ensslen, a partner with Macdonald Zuberec Ensslen (MZE) Architects Inc., says his company handled the project’s construction administration. “Perkins + Will is the primary architect and has a specialty in this kind of project but both they and the client felt it was beneficial to have a local contact with easy access to the site and relationships with senior city staff and local trades to handle the day-to-day administration.”

MZE has been in the area for 52 years and, though a smaller firm, has the required  expertise and reputation. “We are 10 minutes away from the site and through our work in renovations and institutional projects, have great relationships with the city and within the community, all of which came together on this to create an outstanding team.”

Perkins +Will Canada principal Duff Balmer says his firm consulted extensively with the community, city council, stakeholders and staff.  “Lester B. Pearson Park, where the centre is located, is a beautiful and active park with a lot of programming going on,” he says. “We wanted to integrate the centre into the park in the least disruptive way.”

Balmer says the building has been designed and located to create a welcoming environment.  The main entrance is located off a park courtyard, where the open arms of the V-shaped design are intended to extend a welcoming gesture.  “The site is so compelling and after all of the options the design team considered, this one was most responsive to the site, maximized the street exposure and gave the building the meaning we wanted to convey,” he said.

Ensslen says the building design reflects its function. “The butterfly roof has one wing sloping up over the pool and the other roof over the library,” he said.  “It’s very dramatic and exuberant. The building is situated at an intersection that is a V-shape so the building sits similarly on the site with the library parallel to one street and the pool parallel to the other.”

Balmar says the design also integrates sustainability goals. “The roof really ties everything together and unifies the programs,” he says. “Visually it recalls traditional pavilions that are part of the history of the area but it also acts as a way to capture water which is then used in the building and for site irrigation and it provides shading and daylight control into some of the sensitive areas of the building like the pool.”

The building features exposed natural materials including brick, limestone and wood.  These help it to blend with the adjacent park setting and reinforce the project’s strong environmental sustainability mandate. The roof is constructed of glue-laminated douglas fir timber, which is left fully exposed throughout the building. Great care was taken in the detailing of this element through the various connections and integration of electrical and mechanical systems to ensure that the spaces retain a clean and elegant appearance.

Ensslen says he has been impressed with the craftsmanship and innovation of many of the trades, some of who were local and others who came from the GTA. “The carpenters were brilliant in using the excavated pool site to assemble the trusses,” he said. “The electrical contractor’s challenge was to install exposed conduits unobtrusively throughout the spaces successfully.”

Balmer says the building needed to accommodate two distinct environments for the pool and library. “The design features two dissimilar wings coming together in the lobby,” he said. “There are clear zones of use and great differences in terms of acoustical and environmental requirements. The use of wood was a natural for its acoustic benefits but also considerations of corrosion and humidity and the pool is pressurized negatively to avoid air migration into other spaces.”

The building opened in July.

Balmer says mixed-use facilities are becoming increasingly common, combining programming and creating a community-focused destination.

Project partners

Municipal representatives

Bill Phillips, City of St. Catharines councillor, city council representative

Doug Birchnall, project manager for the City of St. Catharines


Perkins and Will, architect of record; design and production team: D’Arcy Arthurs, Duff Balmer, Phil Fench, Aimee Drmic and Gregory Beck Rubin

Macdonald Zuberec Ensslen Architects; associated architects, construction administration, Harald Ensslen


Smith + Andersen, mechanical consultants, Brad Bull

Mulvey + Banani International, electrical consultants, Mike Prsa

Blackwell Bowick Structural Engineers, Ian Mountfort

Enermodal Engineering, LEED consultant, Alex Herceg

Denco Engineering, site services consultant, Jim Denham

BTY Group, cost consultants, Mark Ravelle.


Pino Antilope, Bondfield Construction Company Ltd., project manager

Doug Bateman, Bondfield Construction Company Ltd., site superintendent



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