It’s often said that those who don’t study the past are doomed to repeat it. If that’s true, then the Preservation Storage Facility in Quebec is doing vital work for the generations to come. However, it’s also supporting these future generations by breaking new ground in sustainability and protecting the environment. 

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is a federal institution mandated to preserve Canada’s documentary heritage and make the past accessible to the future. Its newest building, the Preservation Storage Facility (PSF), addresses this mission in two ways.

First, it provides LAC with ample space to store documents. The building offers more than 21,000 cubic metres of storage capacity, equivalent to eight and half Olympic swimming pools, with temperature and humidity controls precise enough to preserve conventional paper documents for 500 years. Accessing the millions of documents the new facility stores is also efficient, thanks to its sophisticated automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS).

Second, the new building breaks new ground in sustainability — preserving the future of the environment, too.

PCL served as design-builder for the PSF, which was completed in 2022. This is how the building team and client worked together to craft this remarkable facility. 

LAC’s indicative design for the new building called for it to achieve LEED Silver designation. LEED, or “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,” is a leading standard for green building certification. Projects aiming for LEED certification are awarded points for incorporating different sustainable design elements and implementing sustainable processes in the construction process. The total number of points determines the certification level.

“The project initially called for LEED Silver,” says PCL’s Patrick Perras, who served as project manager for the PSF. “We were able to achieve LEED Gold. That was a collaborative effort between LAC and PCL.”

The PSF had something of a head start in its LEED ambitions due to the golden rule of real estate: location, location, location. Located in Gatineau, Quebec, the PSF could draw almost all its power from the province’s carbon-neutral hydroelectric grid.

“The only use of fossil fuels within the building systems is for emergency back-up systems — the backup boiler and generators,” Perras says. “Otherwise, the whole building uses clean energy.”

That pushed the project toward its LEED Silver certification. The PSF is also a net-zero carbon building — the first net-zero archival building in the Americas. Collaboration between the project partners and the client carried it past this initial goal.

“The facility achieved the LEED Gold standard through implementation of sustainable design enhancements across almost every part of the finished building, including efficient mechanical systems, use of LED lighting, installation of electric car charging stations, and landscaping with plants that are indigenous to the area to avoid dependency on irrigation,” Perras says.

These sustainable design changes touched almost every part of the finished building, from the plumbing fixtures in the bathroom to the electrical car charging stations in parking lot and the building’s high-performing building envelope, which greatly contributes to the reduced energy requirements.

The team’s focus on sustainability also changed the construction process.  

The PSF has interesting neighbours. One is the iconic LAC building called the Preservation Centre, which contains thousands of linear metres of archival storage space as well as labs and offices. The Preservation Centre was built 25 years ago, also by PCL.

Another is a community of Pseudacris triseriata, more commonly known as the Western Chorus Frog, an at-risk species of frog indigenous to the area. Perras and the rest of the building team took special care not to disturb these frogs during and after construction.

“We had a detailed program in place to separate us from them,” Perras says. “We had exclusion fences made for the frogs, and silt fences around the site. We had biologists involved throughout, doing regular reviews and reports to verify the construction wasn’t affecting their population.

“They were basically our neighbours during construction. We didn’t see them, but we could hear them — they have a very high-pitched sound. You’d hear them sing, especially in afternoons in the spring and early summer.”

Although construction on the new facility finished last year, that milestone marked many new beginnings.

The documents at the PSF are now stored in conditions carefully designed to preserve them for 500 years. This includes the temperature and humidity (10 degrees Celsius and 40%, respectively, for the paper documents in the building, and six degrees and 30% for one of the vaults). It also, as Perras explains, extends to the materials used in the design of the building itself.

“There was a long list of materials we couldn’t use,” he says, “including drywall and wood – any materials that could create dust or mold, and materials that could off-gas and affect the archives. It added an extra step to materials selection that led us to use a lot of concrete, to masonry materials, to steel, to aluminum.”

For LAC, the PSF marks a new era in its ability to efficiently store, preserve and access large numbers of documents. Planning for the PSF began back in 2011 in response to growing storage needs and widely distributed facilities.

And for PCL, the building stands as another testament to its ability to work closely with clients and partners to drive success and sustainability.

“We’ve got a long list of projects with very strict requirements,” says Perras. “This is another one to be proud of and put on top of that list.”