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Bridging Design & Code

GBA code consultants meet fire and life safety requirements while offering freedom and flexibility to clients and architects

Architectural vision is what makes buildings—and, by extension, cities—aesthetically pleasing. Adherence to building and other codes is what makes them safe.

Frequently, there can be a discrepancy between a creative design vision and the likelihood of it meeting the safety requirements stipulated by various levels of government. The rules and regulations are so voluminous, ever-changing and open to interpretation that it takes a specialist firm to communicate the standards.

That’s where the team at Gage-Babcock & Associates Ltd. (GBA) can make a difference. For architects and government policy makers alike, this consultancy has the acumen to bridge the gap between vision and compliance, without compromising either value.

For 40 years, GBA has dedicated its building code, life safety and fire protection engineering expertise to clients across Canada. Its services include building code consulting; Alternative Solution development; Certified Professional (CP) services; fire alarm/sprinkler systems design; and security consulting and design.

What makes GBA unique is its seamless integration of the life safety, fire protection and crime prevention disciplines. “Even though we have in-house specialists with specific expertise, we’re not segregated into different departments,” says president Randall Kovacs. “When clients retain our services they gain access to our entire team, and their collective knowledge helps deliver successful projects.”

A quick glance at GBA’s thick portfolio reveals projects that range from utilitarian to iconic, such as Department of National Defence facilities to special hazard industrial sites and sports complexes.

There’s no secret to the GBA team’s proficiency: it boils down to hard work, the use of cutting-edge smoke modelling and egress software and a commitment to perpetual learning. “When adding new members to our team, we start by looking for people who have an inherent talent for problem solving, as well as good communicators,” says principal Kevin Lau.

Kovacs adds, “It’s not easy finding these diamonds in the rough, and I’m not being critical. I graduated university as a chemical engineer in 1983 and didn’t know what a building code was at the time. It takes considerable effort for a person desiring to become a code professional to become fully competent—and no matter how long someone’s been with us, the improvement of skills is constant. Currently, we have several staff members working towards their master’s in fire protection engineering from the University of Waterloo.”

In an ideal world, GBA would be brought in during the inception of a project—and indeed, GBA’s long-standing clients do so routinely. Kovacs says: “We may be contacted when the client thinks they’re going to have an issue-free granting of a building permit. However, they may be faced with an unforeseen code complication that we are called upon to resolve. Typical scenarios would be a major renovation or addition or a change of occupancy classification in an existing building.”

An example of a large project that recently required GBA’s skills is the LEED Gold-certified Jim Pattison Outpatient Care & Surgery Centre in Surrey, which combines day surgery, diagnostic services and specialized health clinics. As the CP and code consultant for this public-private partnership (P3), GBA helped deliver the facility on schedule with services including the development of Alternative Solutions to allow for the incorporation of wood elements; protection of glazing at parking level vestibules and corridors.
At library Square in Vancouver, GBA acted as the code consultant and supported the architect’s design by providing fire and life safety engineering services, including an Alternative Solution to make the library’s intricate and welcoming multi-storey atrium possible.

GBA was also the code consultant for the BCIT Aerospace Technology Campus and developed three Alternative Solutions for that project, including an occupant egress and smoke management model for the interconnected floor space. GBA recently provided full code services for the Lions Gate Hospital HOpe Centre for Mental Health & Addictions. “We enjoy challenges such as big facilities with large atria that require fire protection,” says Kovacs. “We’re also becoming more heavily involved in door hardware, since the proliferation of smart buildings has made this a complicated specialty.”

In all cases, the GBA team strives to simplify the mechanical components of a building and minimize maintenance costs for clients. “After all, the owner has to live with the facility,” explains Kovacs. “Smart buildings have made it easier for us to offer Alternative Solutions, but we still have to determine if the same outcomes can be met with simpler alternative methods instead of, for example, the developer spending thousands of dollars on smoke removal fans.”

The growing use of wood in commercial and institutional facilities presents another opportunity for the GBA team. “In the next version of the building code, architects will be allowed to design six-storey wood buildings for the commercial sector, so we anticipate a lot of work ahead of us,” says Lau.

GBA was launched in 1974 as Compyromatic, a company that designed sprinkler systems for elementary schools and quickly evolved to incorporate code compliance. The name change to Gage-Babcock occurred in 1985, and since then Kovacs and his colleagues have become renowned for making designs safe while embracing architectural vision.

“It’s definitely a balancing act, but at the end of the day we satisfy all parties,” says Kovacs. “The objective is always the same, but the details are always different. I can’t think of anything more fulfilling than making properties safe and providing value to clients and architects. We are thankful that the design community continues to place trust in our abilities.”