The Conexus Building Communities Project
Construction of Conexus Credit Union’s new headquarters in Regina is now complete, and open to the public.
In 2016, the University of Regina (University) issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) looking for a development partner to help with its renewal project of College Avenue Campus (CAC) and Darke Hall. Conexus was already well into a search for a new location to consolidate its corporate employees into one location, and when the RFP was issued, they saw an opportunity. Though Conexus had already investigated 17 sites for its new corporate headquarters, none of the locations did what a partnership with the University could do – solve the operational business needs of Conexus while also supporting the community which it operates in and helping solve a community need to save CAC. Conexus knew a partnership with the University was the right thing to do, though the journey would be different and pose challenges.
“When the University’s RFP came out, we thought, we could actually save College Avenue and at the same time solve a business problem we have. And we can do it in a way that protects College Avenue by being a partner with the University that really appreciates and understands the special nature of Wascana Centre to our city and community,” says Eric Dillon, CEO of Conexus. “We also knew that by doing this that there would be challenges along the way. We knew there would be intense public scrutiny about the project and there would be a lot of opinions about the appropriateness of Conexus being in the park.”
The easy decision, said Dillon, would have been to sit back, select a different location and avoid doing something that could be viewed as negative by some, even if it meant losing a part of Regina’s history. But being a credit union, Conexus realized that taking the easy way was not who they were nor demonstrated their values in supporting their community.
“We took the view that if we don’t do something today to help support CAC, in a couple of years these historical buildings may be lost forever, and some may question why a community-focused organization such as Conexus didn’t step up to help when it had the chance,” says Dillon. “I am proud that our Board had the courage to step up when our University asked for help, and did it in a way that not only constructed the most environmentally, sustainable building in our city, and perhaps in our province, but also in a way that creates some really cool opportunities for our community that haven’t existed in Regina.”
In June 2016, the University selected Conexus as its partner, which included Conexus donating to the University $8.25 million to support their plans to save the historic campus. Since then, Conexus and the University together worked on plans to restore the campus, Darke Hall and the development of the Conexus Building Communities project.
The 80,000 square-foot space is adjacent to the University’s CAC, connecting to Darke Hall with an atrium link. By building adjacent to Darke Hall, Conexus helped save the University an additional $10 million on infrastructure, maintenance and utilities such as the shared heating/cooling infrastructure and the construction of a shared atrium link. These improvements help to save Darke Hall, while making it accessible and bringing its systems and structures up to today’s standards.
Additionally, more than 20 per cent of the new Conexus building is shared public space, with visitors being able to access the main floor consisting of seating areas, public washrooms, water fountains and on-site Slice Café, owned and operated by local chef and entrepreneur Aimee Schulhauser.
Support for Saskatchewan’s entrepreneurial eco-system
As to one of the cool opportunities Dillon alluded to earlier, the building also provides a space and resourcing to Saskatchewan entrepreneurs, helping them launch, grow and scale their startups right here in Saskatchewan.
“When you looked at Saskatchewan’s entrepreneurial landscape just a few years ago, there wasn’t a lot of space, resources or funding to help local startups start, grow and scale their businesses. Because of this, many founders were leaving our province to grow their companies elsewhere,” says Dillon. “There is a lot of talent in Saskatchewan, and we wanted to ensure they had access and the tools to be successful and encourage them to grow their companies right here at home.”
In 2019, Conexus launched Cultivator, Canada’s first credit union led tech business incubator. Cultivator uses more than 15,000 square feet of the building space which includes a pitch space within the shared atrium with Darke Hall. With this space, Cultivator is able to expand in size, allowing for the addition of more teams and the growth of its programs, helping to grow strong companies within our province and having a positive impact on our provincial economy.
Respecting heritage and nature
In its goal to honour the University’s vision for CAC and the Wascana Centre, Conexus worked with P3Architecture Partnership (P3A) and Donald Luxton, a heritage consultant, for the design of its building. Together, they created a look that harmonizes Darke Hall, the campus, and Wascana Centre, while creating an environmentally and sustainable building.
The driving concept of the building is ‘the pavilion in the park, and a park in the pavilion”, seamlessly blending the inside and outside to form an accessible and innovative addition to the evolution and revitalization of Regina’s CAC. The building exterior draws inspiration from the original structures of the historic campus, expressing strong vertical lines of aluminum color matched to the historic masonry. The highly transparent exterior building design utilizes a modern, consistent approach and material for all building facades.
Seeking a bird-friendly design, Conexus consulted with Friends of Wascana Marsh early in the design process. Windows have coloured bands (frit) baked into a portion of the glass to bring more colour to the exterior and reduces reflection on the windows. Being eco-friendly was also an important component of the design. The building is fully equipped for solar panels, with a plan to have the panels installed on the rooftop once the Darke Hall restoration is completed, anticipated in 2021. The building also features a 264 square foot living wall, which spans three stories in the main public space.
“College Avenue is a really important part of our community, and of Wascana Centre,” says Dillon. “Our partnership with the University is an example of what’s possible when the community comes together to collaborate and solve problems. Through this partnership, we’ve not only saving College Avenue Campus and restoring Darke Hall back to a world-class performing arts centre, but have also created a new public space for our community to enjoy for many more years to come.”
To learn more about Conexus Building Communities project, visit www.conexusbuildingcommunities.ca or visit the space in person at 2375 College Avenue, Regina.