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The Challenges of Transforming Space Originally Intended For Commercial Use

When Kingsway College School (KCS) decided to expand its curriculum to include grades 9-12, Architecture Counsel (ACi) was engaged to create an ambitious, phased master plan that would reflect the school’s unique vision and ambition. The first phase comprised the fit-out of 40,000 square feet to accommodate grades 9 and 10 and was completed in September 2022. The second phase is now underway.

KCS is the only independent high school in Toronto to occupy space within an existing high-rise building (in this case, a 66-storey residential tower). The 40,000 square feet on levels two and three (podium) of the building was originally intended for commercial use. To transform this raw commercial space into an innovative learning environment our design team faced many hurdles, typical of working with existing building systems, infrastructure, and within an occupied building. The mechanical and electrical systems were suitable for commercial use but not adequate for a school. We had to find the space to design and install a new air handling system and bring in fresh make-up air to ensure code compliance with this occupancy type.  Washrooms had to be placed closer to existing sanitary lines. We also had to pay careful consideration to how our interventions would affect adjacent commercial and residential units.

Access to the school is from the second floor, meaning that construction materials, over-sized equipment, structural steel members, etc., had to be brought in during working hours without the benefit of a loading dock, posing several logistical challenges. As an example, to install the large connecting staircase in the main reception, it was necessary to remove sections of the existing curtain wall. We worked with the base building structural engineer to open the floor to create the dramatic double-height lobby.

Program adjacencies were carefully assessed in relation to student safety, privacy, and acoustics. Flooring, insulation, ceiling treatments, and strategic partitions were installed with a view to ensuring that noise did not migrate to other spaces. In the second-floor fitness centre, it was important to mitigate percussive noise caused by gymnasium equipment.

Repurposing space within an occupied condominium also posed several challenges and it was necessary to work closely with both the Kingsway College School Board of Directors and the Condominium Board to ensure that residents remained undisturbed and the construction process was in compliance with the condominium’s rules and regulations; this entailed keeping construction noise to a minimum, seamless facilitation of the materials delivery/disposal processes, and maintaining connections to existing condominium services.

The new senior school has been widely embraced by the students, staff, and educators at KCS. Although the space was originally slated for use by a major grocery chain, through an innovative design and careful configuration of spaces, our design team was able to transform the space to appear and feel purpose-built.

Delivery of the feature staircase (photo courtesy of EeStairs)