Exterior view of Walkerton Clean Water Centre’s building, a low one storey contemporary building with a large windows situated in front of a stormwater retention pond and young vegetation

Image : Exterior view of the Walkerton Clean Water Centre. Photo courtesy of the Walkerton Clean Water Centre

Walkerton Clean Water Centre

Location: Walkerton
Date of Completion:2009
Architect: AECOM Canada Architects Ltd.
Nominated by: Hon. Lisa Thompson, MPP (Huron—Bruce)

Born from tragedy, the Walkerton Clean Water Centre plays an integral role in improving drinking water systems across Ontario, training drinking water operators and owners while highlighting the immeasurable value of this limited resource.

The Walkerton Inquiry 

In the spring of 2000, the town of Walkerton was the site of one of the most significant public health crises in Ontario’s recent history. As many as 2,000 citizens became ill after drinking water contaminated with E. coli, with seven people losing their lives. 

An inquiry was launched in the years following the Walkerton tragedy, with a final report delivered by Justice Dennis O'Connor in 2002. This report identified a number of systemic and catastrophic failures, as well as key recommendations to ensure a tragedy like this would never again be repeated in Ontario.

Preventing future tragedies

As a direct result of Justice O’Connor’s report, the Walkerton Clean Water Centre opened in 2009 as a training and demonstration centre geared to drinking water operators and owners across the province. The state-of-the-art, LEED Gold-certified building that the centre calls home, designed by AECOM Canada Architects, is emblematic of the organization’s values of sustainability and educational excellence—a pedagogical structure meant to facilitate hands-on learning while displaying sustainable practices.

The facility provides unique, practical training and shared resources for water professionals, featuring some of the latest conventional and advanced water treatment technologies. It is an invaluable learning centre for operators of small and large systems alike. Special focus has been placed on providing learning opportunities for operators in Indigenous communities, many of which still struggle to get access to safe and clean drinking water. The Walkerton Clean Water Centre regularly publishes reports and fact sheets related to best practices for clean water in Ontario.

Left: The Walkerton Clean Water Centre features many large meeting rooms and classrooms. Right: A bird’s-eye view of the site. Note the stormwater management pond on the bottom-right. Photos courtesy of the Walkerton Clean Water Centre

Sustainability at its core

Part of Walkerton’s new Eastridge Business Park, the building that houses the water centre was designed to be a model for sustainable architecture. The structure and its surrounding landscape (designed by Wendy Shearer Landscape Architect) were created to exemplify ways in which a building and, more specifically, a demonstration facility for water management, can work efficiently while causing less environmental harm. Among the long list of green features, the complex employs a ground loop—a network of underground pipes that use the earth’s warmth to heat the building in the winter and its coolness to keep occupants comfortable in the summer. Along with this, a series of heat pumps help transfer heat in the building making use of the sun’s changing position to capture its energy and redistribute it accordingly. Sustainable water practices are, of course, a priority at the centre, which uses cisterns to store rainwater collected from its roof. This rainwater is then used in the facility’s testing hydrants, as well as for irrigation when needed. In addition to this, there was a conscious effort to create indoor spaces that would be brightly lit through daylighting techniques, with glazing found on much of the building’s exterior and a skylight in the demonstration facility. Many windows are operable to make the space more comfortable and allow for passive ventilation.

Left: A large skylight provides ample natural light in the water management demonstration facility. Right: Exterior of the Walkerton Clean Water Centre. Photos courtesy of the Walkerton Clean Water Centre

Firmly settled in the town’s landscape, the Walkerton Clean Water Centre is a beacon of remembrance and an investment in our future, helping to preserve an indispensable resource and remind us of our duty to protect it for the health of future generations.

The OAA would like to thank Walkerton Clean Water Centre for their contributions to making this article possible.

This post forms part of our World Architecture Day Queen’s Park Picks 2020 series in which we asked Ontario’s Members of Provincial Parliament to nominate a prominent building, past or present, in their riding for a chance to learn more about it. Check out the rest of the series to learn more about great buildings across the province!

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