WHERE: 1100 Admirals Rd.
WHO: Chang Holovksy Architects Inc.

When you see the Songhees Wellness Centre, you see a dream that took 30 years to realize. The dream was to amalgamate administration, create services for youth and elders, and improve health, but also to create better opportunities.

“In the words of my uncle Chief Robert Sam,” says Chief Ron Sam, “we’re laying the foundation for the future social, cultural, and economic well-being of our people.”

And the foundation dazzles, clad in corrugated metal panels, stained cedar, and stone. Situated on a gentle hillside, the centre’s western facade of convex glass overlooks the reserve and the expansive Esquimalt Harbour. The 55,0000-square-foot building fuses modern architecture with Songhees culture

Visitors approach from the rear, off Admirals Road, and are greeted by five house posts. The first is carved in a contemporary style and depicts a Giving Box.

“They say that when someone teaches or shares something with you, then it is your responsibility to pass it on,” says Nathan Rice, a public relations representative. “So you always want your Giving Box open because they’re sharing with you because they want to, not because they have to.”

Inside the vaulted two-story lobby, two additional house posts stand in front of the gabled glass wall of the boardroom.

“What we’ve done is make the boardroom the big house,” says Mark Salter, the tourism and marketing manager. “So it has the house posts in front, the gabled ceiling where the smoke would go up, and an overhang at the back to cover the woodpile.”

Off the lobby are the gift gallery, elder’s centre, and a primary health clinic. Funded by the First Nations Health Authority, the clinic delivers pre- and post-natal care, vaccinations, and oral health. It also houses a social worker and youth program coordinator, as well as a facilitated fitness and recreation program.

On the floor below, the centre hosts summer camps and a daycare, pre-school, and homework club called Kwum Kwum Lelum during the school year. For these students, the first floor also has a youth room and a computer lab, which they share with others in the community.

The Wellness Centre not only contributes to the social fabric of the Songhees people, but also to the environment through its LEED silver certified building practices.

Outside, the sloping property was used to create swales—gardens that absorb and filter rainwater away from sewers. The southwest-facing windows, which provide sweeping views of the Olympic Mountains and the harbour, keep the building warm in the winter when the sun sits low on the horizon. In the summer, an overhanging roof shades the windows from the high sun and helps to keep the building cool.

To further reduce energy costs, the building uses a geothermal heat pump to control the temperature. During the winter, a series of large pipes circulates a liquid deep beneath the earth to absorb heat. The returning water warms the building through a radiant system built into the floor. In the summer, heat from the building gets pumped back into the earth, which acts as a heat sink.

The geothermal system is supplemented by an aerothermal one, which functions on a similar principle, but instead uses the atmosphere to heat and cool. Finally, an array of rooftop solar panels translates the sun’s energy into hot water for the building.

The Songhees Wellness Centre is a dream realized and a chance for more. It will let the make their own healthcare decisions, help their children succeed in school, and celebrate their culture. “We are doing this so our members have opportunities,” says director of operations Christina Clarke.

— Robert Morris

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