It isn't easy being green. or cheap 

Conference centre renovations focus on sustainability

Many Whistlerites got their first peek at the plans for the renovated Whistler Conference Centre at the monthly AWARE meeting on June 6. Janet J. Lutz, the architect for the project, came equipped with floor plans, artist renderings and a scale model of the facility, which Tourism Whistler hopes to develop into one of the top facilities of its kind in the world.

Despite the $22 million price tag, the audience was impressed by the look and the environmental approach to the renovations. The decision to go green, using environmentally-friendly materials and technologies, will cost more in the short-term, but according to Lutz it will pay off in the long run.

"The concept itself, of renovating instead of building from scratch, is already saving money, as is the whole concept of reduce, reuse and recycle," said Lutz.

The problems with the old building include a reception area that’s unusable, dark conference areas that require lighting at any time of day, and an overall appearance that isn’t consistent with the centre’s prominence in town or the resorts image as a world class place for conferences.

"This facility was originally designed as a hockey arena, although it’s never been used as such. It holds a prominent place in town, it’s one of the first buildings you see when you’re driving into the village," Lutz said.

"Our challenge is to take the design, and make it work as a conference centre, to advance the design with a level of sustainability.

"Right now there’s nothing about it that really shouts ‘I’m here.’ People can be standing right next to the thing and asking directions to the conference centre."

Lutz has a good idea of what kinds of designs work in Whistler, having been involved with the design of both the Roundhouse and Glacier Creek lodges.

The first priority for the conference centre is to create a usable atrium by filling in sections and creating a floor that is level with the conference ballrooms. The atrium will be extended into the new reception area to let the natural light in and provide guests with a view of the mountains. There will be a wood-burning fireplace in the area that will help to heat the building while providing atmosphere to visitors.

To accommodate several conferences at once, the new atrium can be divided into three sections, each of which has access to the fireplace and the conference facilities above and below.

While it may seem like filling the lower floor in would make the area smaller, it would actually increase the space by 88 per cent. The ballroom would increase in size by 125 per cent, and can be divided into two large spaces.

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