New Sherman Centre is a powerplay of research excellence

Originally the site of some of York’s most memorable hockey moments and reputed to have the best arena ice in the province, the former York University Ice Arena, known as the Ice Palace, is now home to a new kind of dream team.

The Keele campus building’s transformation from a hockey rink into an innovative new health science research centre was made possible by a $5-million leadership gift from York University Foundation board member Honey Sherman and her husband Dr. Barry Sherman, the chairman and CEO of Apotex Inc., the largest pharmaceutical company in Canada.

“We are extremely thankful to Honey and Barry Sherman for their generosity,” said Mamdouh Shoukri, president & vice-chancellor of York University. “This unique new facility will strengthen our university’s research capacity, and enhance collaboration between researchers in the health, science and engineering fields.”

Conceived as a hub of vision and neuroscience excellence, the new Sherman Health Science Research Centre, which officially opened last night, brings together researchers in York University’s top-ranked Centre for Vision Research (CVR) with those in kinesiology and psychology.

Above: The new Sherman Health Science Research Centre at York

“The Sherman family gift is strategically important. It provides state-of-the-art infrastructure to keep our vision science and health science researchers at the top of their game,” says Stan Shapson, vice-president research & innovation (VPRI) at York. “We will break new ground at York as we increase the intensity of research being carried out in the new facilities, recruit top faculty and graduate students, and undertake research that will lead to new discoveries that impact areas such as health diagnoses and treatments, and safety in space travel.”

To change the hockey arena, which was built in 1968, into a highly sophisticated research centre, staff in York’s Campus Services & Business Operations incorporated green building design and construction elements and worked closely with researchers and professional staff in the Office of the VPRI, Faculty of Health, Faculty of Science & Engineering, and the Toronto-based NXL Architects.

The building was gutted and the external shell retained. Salvaged materials from the internal demolition were reused throughout the structure to add design interest.

Right: The interior of the Sherman Health Science Research Centre

Anchoring the new facility is a functional magnetic resonance imager (fMRI), notes Professor Hugh Wilson, director of CVR. “The new fMRI provides researchers with a critical infrastructure for neuroscience for neuroscience research. It provides the opportunity to see, in real time and in-depth, how the brain functions when undertaking various tasks in both normal and clinical recovery states. The addition of the new fMRI to the facility positions the University as a centre for health sciences as our research partners will also be able to access the facilities while collaborating with York researchers.”

Housed in the former arena’s locker-rooms, the fMRI resides in a specially reconstructed and reinforced facility. The equipment’s powerful magnet requires that the room be shielded to protect individuals with pacemakers and other sensitive electronic equipment. The floors in the fMRI room are reinforced with rebar and specialized construction techniques to ensure that vibration and noise are kept to a minimum. Change rooms were reconfigured to be fully wheelchair accessible.

The centre’s first floor houses research rooms containing specialized laboratories and equipment used by CVR researchers. As well, researchers from the School of Kinesiology & Health Science can now work in expanded movement analysis laboratories that feature raised floors with moveable steel reinforced plates and rigging. Robotic cameras move around test subjects in the space allowing researchers to obtain an unprecedented view of how the body moves.

Green features and repurposed material

The concrete ice pad was removed, broken up and used around the perimeter of the building to create a man-made alvar to assist with drainage and storm water management, and to add landscape interest. The alvar is used for testing robots designed in the Canadian Centre for Field Robotics on the first floor, and as part of the recreational patio.

Hardwood from the arena’s ceiling was refinished and used in the internal staircases leading from the first floor to a newly created second floor suite of offices and research laboratories. The arena’s dark, cavernous space was converted into a light and airy place for researchers through the addition of large windows and skylights. The windows illuminate the building’s indoor street of offices and allow natural light to flood into the second floor. This in turn reduces the need for 24/7 artificial lighting and the sunlight helps heat the space during the winter months. Additional energy-efficient light fixtures were added to the area to light it for evening use.

Left: The spiral stairs lead to a catwalk to facilitate the movement of important research equipment

Radiant heating incorporated into the low maintenance, polished concrete flooring offers an energy-efficient way to maintain the building’s internal temperature in the winter and cools the space during the summer months.

Other sustainable features include the use of internal paints that are low in volatile organic compounds, which limits off-gassing of fumes and preserves the building’s internal air quality. Carpet tiles, manufactured using processes that require very little water, make use of recycled materials and, in the case of damage or spills, only the affected tiles are removed, which again preserves the internal air quality.

“The Sherman building is a great example of when vision and programming fuse to create a unique working environment,” says Patrick Saavedra, manager of planning & architectural design. “In this case the adaptive reuse of the facility is an exemplary way to be sustainable by not constructing a new building while at the same time re-energizing and giving new life to an older building; not to mention our carbon foot print got smaller as a result”.

A collaborative effort, the extraordinary design and function of the Sherman Health Science Research Centre is the result of extensive consultations with the scientists and researchers in vision research, kinesiology and psychology.