The Building of Nelson Innovation Centre
By Karen Kornelsen
With the opening date of the KAST’s Nelson Innovation Centre (NiC) just around the corner, crews are working hard to put the finishing touches on a building rehabilitation that has continued to push the limits of innovative design and restoration in Nelson’s Railtown District.
NiC is a true community hub. It’s a place for people to get inspired and get connected. It’s a place for entrepreneurs and businesses to connect with one another and get the support they need through programming and referral services to take their businesses to a new level. It’s a place for people to get connected to capital and resources. It’s the place to get creative.
NiC features a state-of-the-art boardroom for the delivery of tech training and workshops, a custom soundproof private workbooth for video conferencing as well as rentable office space for tech and tech-enabled companies. Although NiC is not a coworking space, people can get some work done on their laptops, meet with clients, network and collaborate on projects. The lounge area functions as an event space with a high-tech projector, sound system and more.
The project is a culmination of years of hard work by Nelson’s business and tech community. NiC has come to life as a partnership with the City of Nelson, Community Futures Central Kootenay, local industry, and the Nelson & District Chamber of Commerce, under the management of KAST.
The completion of NiC also marks the closing of a 10-year-long construction chapter. Phase 1 of NiC was completed in September 2019 and features 750-square feet of office space for our anchor tenant, Mountain Culture Group, with high ceilings and exposed timber beams. Phase 2 of NiC, our 1,500 square foot community hub, is the last part of the heritage building to be restored.
Joern Wingender of the Traditional Timber Framing Company has organized a host of local trades and subcontractors to transform the west end of the historial CP Rail Station at 91 Baker Street into the first innovation centre of its kind in the Kootenay region. Wingender has been the contractor and architectural conservation consultant for the project since the beginning; he was recently awarded the City of Nelson’s 2019 Heritage Award in January for his dedicated work in the education, promotion and preservation of Nelson’s local history.
From window restoration and and preserving the original authentic wood cladding of the exterior to coming up with creative solutions for wall insulation, Wingender has brought the CP Rail Station into the 21st century while conserving its heritage.
Joern started the Traditional Timber Framing Company in 1999 and has offered timber framing and architectural conservation services in the Kootenays ever since.
Nelson Innovation Centre is built inside the last addition to the CP Rail Station, which was a warehouse addition built in the 1940s. A massive railway bridge girder spans the 30-foot north/south axis of the building.
“As you spend time in the space, you will discover all these unique details,” said Wingender. “Similar to the girder, the ceiling in the entry was a recycling exercise. This time it is old lath (wood slats from an old plaster finish) that was used to create a unique textured ceiling with integrated lighting. So again, it’s something that’s usually discarded in a construction project but we held onto it for years. And now it has become a prominent feature in the centre that reminds us we are in a really old building.”
The central hub and anchor of the NiC space is the boardroom. The drop ceiling with beautiful curves features a massive skylight in the centre so people can look up to the historic timber ceiling. Indirect lighting and general light exposure in the space make for a really user-friendly place for meetings.
“The materials I chose for NiC stay true to the building’s heritage,” said Wingender. “There’s a lot of raw wood in the space with limited processing. Seeing as the Nelson Innovation Centre is looking into the future, so is the design. But the conservator in me believes if you want to know where you’re going, you have to know where you came from and hold on to the tested and true.”
Wingender’s intention with the NiC space is to have people explore from the macro to the micro. One of the main features are the four different ceiling heights to break up the 1,500 square-foot space. Then he used stepped wall sections to further break up the heights of the walls to bring things down to a human scale in the large warehouse space. This leads you to the indirect lighting aspects which highlight certain wall sections which received special texture treatments.
There are long horizontal sections that are broken up by massive black timbers that were burned so they’re an authentic charcoal black. These beams serve to break up the height of the space and the different surfaces and textured shapes. Then sinking down to the smaller details, the same burned timber is incorporated in the closet and counter in the washroom and although it looks like a CNC carved piece, it was actually carved by bugs.
KAST’s MIDAS Lab in Trail developed custom pieces for NiC including laser cut panels for the custom private workbooth and front counter, the interior and exterior signage and other unique trim accents and features.
After spending so much time in the space, Wingender reflects on the project.
“One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about the NiC project is the synergy between all the players from KAST and the Nelson & District Chamber of Commerce to the various contractors,” said Wingender. “As the general contractor, designer and project manager, I had the trust and was allowed the freedom from the players involved to roll out my ideas. Also being able to tap into the knowledge and ideas of our carpenters, lighting consultants, plumber, electrician, painter, etc. — I had a lot of practical hands-on knowledge at my fingertips during the design and construction process, which made this project very unique.”
“I would like to be the fly on the wall just watching people experiencing the place for the first time,” said Wingender. “And see people go on an architectural scavenger hunt, or see them accidentally explore the features around them.”
KAST Executive Director Cam Whitehead, originally trained as a historian, appreciates the marriage of high-tech and heritage. “I think NiC is a microcosm of what we’re trying to accomplish across the region. We’re creating opportunities for people in the modern economy while honouring unique places and our history.”
“It’s kind of nice that my time here at the CP Rail Station is coming to an end this way,” continued Wingender. “It’s rewarding to finish it off with a project like this, rather than just leaving that end of the building empty. Building NiC was a really great project and is the icing on the cake for this building. I’m happy about that, and that the Chamber, Community Futures and KAST were able to pull it off and give me the freedom to work my craft.”
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