Kingston East Community Centre, Kingston, Ontario

+VG Architects worked closely with the City of Kingston, Ont., and its participating community groups to design the Kingston East Community Centre (KECC).

Photo credit: David Whittaker. Kingston East Community Centre’s space-saving design eliminates the wasteful corridors needed to connect the siloed activity areas in typical sports complexes while increasing visual connections inside and out. From the sidewalk, visitors can see into the gym floor.


Opened in July 2022, the 22,000-square-foot project sits at the centre of 14-acre Grenadier Park on Kingston’s east side, adjacent to existing recreational assets. The facility is the city’s newest recreational centre, and marks Kington’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

To align with municipal and federal goals of creating non-greenhouse-gas-emitting facilities, KECC was designed to be fully electric. Its renewable energy infrastructure includes a ground-source heat-exchange system and two solar-array systems.

The project also includes a full-size gymnasium, walking track, fitness centre, community kitchen, multipurpose rooms, meeting rooms, splash pad, a post-disaster emergency facility and an outdoor hockey rink.

As Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson said at the official opening, KECC is “a state-of-the-art facility not only in the spaces that we can offer our community but in energy efficiency. This building is really setting the mark and the standard for what city facilities will be in the future. It also sets the standard for our community as a whole.”

A federal-government grant of $460,000 for additional green infrastructure supported the installation of 256 rooftop panels and 204 panels atop solar carports in the building’s parking lot. According to its developers, the new system will generate 176 kilowatts of AC and 220.8 kW of DC power, bringing KECC to nearly net-zero emissions, with energy use expected to be lower than that of a typical family home.  

“The is the first +VG Architects project with such a significant solar component. It’s certainly the most sustainable building the company has ever done,” says Project Architect Dan Wojcik, a Principal at the firm and head of its Ottawa office. 

Full-height windows with capillary glass, a material that incorporates miniature fibre-optic tubes to absorb light and disperse it evenly, wrap three sides of the second storey to bring daylight, free of shadows and glare, into the gymnasium while eliminating heat gain. Lighting, LED throughout, rarely needs to be switched on during the day. 

Photo credit: David Whittaker. Daylight streaming through the clerestory windows on three sides makes it unnecessary to turn on the lights during most days. The windows’ capillary glass, sandwiching fibre-optic strands between two panes, ensures even, glare- and shadow-free illumination on the gym floor. Moveable screen-like curtains suspended from the ceiling partition the floor into various court configurations while keeping stray balls off the walking track.


Efficient use of space was another challenge for Mr. Wojcik, who sought to fit more program into a smaller footprint than that of a typical community centre. “The prototypical community-centre design features a circuitous corridor system that connects the building spaces together,”he says. “Navigating this type of building can be difficult. Important community spaces are often buried behind several layers of corridor or other under-utilized space. There is usually a gymnasium unto itself that lacks a strong visual connection with the rest of the program. Such a building’s circulation adds 10 or 15 percent to the surface area.” 

The KECC design team eliminated as much of that interstitial circulation space as possible, reducing the area of the building and transferring those savings back into other elements of the project. Another benefit of this approach is that gym activities are clearly visible while approaching the building. The resultant design is universally accessible and was recently recognized as a Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certified Gold Facility.

Photo credit: David Whittaker. Inside the building, the reception desk and bulkhead above repeat the thematic curved radius. A sliding glass wall with passage doors allows the area to operate as a separate, though visually transparent, room.


Aesthetically, KECC reads as a balanced composition with a unified family of forms and colours. Lines inside and out refer to thematic radius corners in the design such as the curving reception desk and ceiling bulkhead overhead, entries to the bathrooms, and the track. As for the exterior, “We thought about the expression of the building,” Mr. Wojcik says. “The bases made of glazed black masonry, which plug into the building, have radius corners.”  

The exterior’s glazed charcoal masonry wraps single-storey volumes that contain the building’s secondary programmatic elements. At the double-height core of the building, the main circulation runs parallel to the walking track, with the gymnasium’s colourful play surface at the heart of the floor plan.

Photo credit: David Whittaker. The thematic curved radius recurs in the entrance to the washrooms, where it adds privacy. Wall tile colours were pulled from the gym floor markings.
Photo credit: David Whittaker. In lieu of incongruous decals, vertical lines were sandblasted into the glass separating the walking track from the rooms arrayed along its perimeter. The stripes act as an aid to the visually impaired while adding a measure of privacy.


The white-painted interior structure and mechanical systems, jacketed in white PVC, contrast against the solid colours of the program rooms visible through the rooms’ glass screens. This colour contrast acts as a simple navigation tool for the building’s users and creates aesthetic interest for track users. 

Wall-paint colours in the community rooms, and the bright hues of the bathroom wall tiles, derive from the colour-coded linework demarcating playing courts on the gym floor: red, half-court basketball; orange, full-court basketball; black, volleyball; blue and green, pickleball. 

Photo credit: David Whittaker. Mondrianesque colour-coded markings painted onto the gym’s grey rubber floor delineate courts for basketball, pickeball and volleyball.

The brightly coloured sports floor of the gymnasium with its line markings stands in stark contrast to the whitewashed walls and ceiling. The layered linework demonstrates the utility designed into this reconfigurable space.

Motorized room dividers can separate the sports courts from the running track and further subdivide the gym into smaller half-court spaces. The perforated mesh dividers maintain transparency through the main gym space and allow for users to complete laps around the track while viewing games on the playing courts.  

The multipurpose room is equipped with a roof-mounted exhaust system for smudging ceremonies such as the one that took place during the opening event, when Chief R. Donald Maracle of Tyendinaga showed his appreciation of the room’s paint colour. Orange, it happens, stands for reconciliation and, as he explained, “the healing that our people need to have from the effects of colonialism.”   

Partnerships with local community groups will ensure the program spaces are well used. The YMCA sponsored and manages the fitness studio. The space is outfitted with a full complement of workout equipment including cardio machines, free weights and a cross-fit rig. The community kitchen was designed in consultation with a local nonprofit group advocating improved access to healthy affordable food.  The teaching kitchen features a universally accessible commercial kitchen. 

As its oversize columns suggest, KECC meets the heightened seismic and structural requirements of a post-disaster facility, enabling it to act as a haven for the community. As well as being flood-, tornado- and earthquake-proof, the building is also “future-proof.” An elevator pit concealed under one of the bathrooms will serve a new second storey, should the city decide to expand the facility.

Photo credit: David Whittaker. The weight room provides a much-needed facility for the nearby existing high school.