When we first met with the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 91 in Langford, they told us about the challenges they faced maintaining membership levels in a space that needed some love. A cornerstone of the community, the community hub supports a multitude of programs and charity initiatives from the Mustard Seed food bank to the Poppy program for Remembrance Day; all working to lift Langford up and bring its people together.
Western Design+Build was brought into the project by Project Manager Justin de Goesbriand, VP of Sawyer Construction, after the project was well underway. Having served five years in the Navy, Ann Squires Ferguson, CEO & Senior Interior Designer at Western Design+Build, approached the Legion as a veteran, “I wanted to give them as much as I could because I know what the Legion means to so many military members, present and past.”
Designing for the future
Justin shared that the big focus was to increase revenue for this important facility. “The building needed to be functional to bring in more people, to pay for the renovations, but more importantly to generate profit so that they could care for all the veterans in our community.”
While every project starts with a wish list, as realities set in, the expectations shift and needs are reprioritized. Thus, the definition of ‘perfection’ must be allowed to evolve. This fluidity can be an emotional ride, and the Legion was no exception.
“There were some structural concerns, but until we started getting into the building, we didn’t know how deep they went. And they went quite deep,” says Justin. The ancient mechanics, broken heat pump and leaky roof were barely the tip of the iceberg. No-one could anticipate the number of repairs that would be required.
“There were some significant near misses while we were in construction where the actual building had been kind of falling in on itself,” explains Justin. “Because it was so old and had gone through so many renovations over the years, nobody realized what was buried behind the walls. Some areas had up to seven or eight layers of asbestos and flooring stacked on top of itself.”
It became clear that the wish list would need to wait. “Whether it’s a legion or a billionaire client,” says Justin, “It will always be a balancing act between what the client wants and what they can afford. We want the best for every client, so we need hone the cost benefit ratio.”
The construction community steps up to solve budgetary constraints
In this case, the first priority was to make the building functional again. “We already knew we were going to go over budget, and so we just went into a bit of a triage mode.” And that’s when the community rallied around the Langford Legion, giving it the TLC it deserves.
“Whether it was the glazer, the flooring contractor, the drywall trade, the mechanical or electrical contractors, or framers – every single person from every trade really banded together in order to give them as much as we possibly could within the budget,” says Justin.
“When the needs are so significant,it can be disheartening from an aesthetic perspective,” says Ann. “The building envelope and seismic upgrades are non-negotiable. So the bucket we get to work with as an interior designer can become quite reduced.”
While interior design is often seen as a luxury service, Ann counters that perception. “The things that we select – the flooring, wall finishes, ceiling materials, light fixtures, cabinetry, switches, handles and hardware – those are the things people actually see, experience and touch. These define the interior experience for the users.”
As the Langford Legion required new flooring and ceiling treatments, the renovation provided a wonderful opportunity for the team to put their focus on making those specifications perform functionally and aesthetically, serving multiple purposes.
In some cases, working within limitations can inspire some of the most creative solutions. After the suspended ceiling was taken down, the structural beams were left exposed. Never meant to be on display, the beams looked like standard construction lumber.
“The Legion is a large space,” says Justin. “After it was opened up, it would’ve required a fair amount of financial investment to drywall and tape the entire ceiling, mount lights, paint everything, and treat the acoustics – only to end up with a plain ceiling.”
Instead, everyone embraced the rustic nature of the beams and boards. The team partnered with Ocean Pacific Abrasive Blasting who generously cut their price in half and sandblasted the entire original ceiling, enhancing the ruggedness of the wood. “It ended up turning out better than anybody expected,” shares Justin. “Significantly better. It was a giant win!”
“This renovation was not only needed, but it would have been impossible without everybody’s help. It was a real Island effort. It was inspiring.”
With an expansive new commercial kitchen, fully renovated member’s lounge and games room, and an upgraded event auditorium, there was so much to celebrate at the grand reopening; that none of the general public was aware of any items that didn’t quite make the cut.
Ready for tomorrow, celebrated today
Instead, the Langford Legion hosted an overflowing open house, as hot chocolate flowed, speeches were made, and the room was filled with the music of First Nations drumming and a middle school band.
“Projects like this only work with incredibly engaged contractors,” says Ann.
Justin agrees that when boundaries are tested, having established relationships with good partners makes all the difference. The key to managing this renovation’s success was a result of “partnering with subcontractors, designers, and consultants who are really experienced, especially in civic markets, and then working cohesively as a team.”
While the project was incredibly challenging, the end product makes it more than worthwhile. “The most satisfying result is hearing people’s reviews of the space and just seeing how busy it is now,” says Justin. “It is packed in there. You can’t find a seat on a Friday night. You just can’t. Their membership rates are significantly higher. And that’s fantastic too.”
Of course, a big thank you goes out to the Legion, both to its members and executive team. “Like a lot of the Legion, executives are volunteers,” Justin explains. “These are people that are giving their time without payment to try and do something for veterans, firefighters, police officers, and even the general population. Taking on that amount of stress is no easy feat. But they do it for free.”
When the final product is a result of a community pulling together for the greater good – what could be more perfect than that?