Students build tiny house to support environmental research

Students and officials of Okanagan College with members of the Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance and Canadian Wildlife Service in front of the mobile bird banding station built by students in the SCMT program.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED

A unique tiny house built by students in Okanagan College’s Sustainable Construction Management Technology (SCMT) program will soon provide a secure environment at the Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory for bird banding.

“We’ve had the opportunity to work on a number of incredible projects throughout the program, but this one is definitely a highlight for me,” says Mark Eyjolfson, one of the College’s first SCMT graduates. “It’s a great feeling knowing that something you’ve built is going out into the real world to be used by Environment and Climate Change Canada.”

Bird banding involves marking birds with a band around the leg before releasing them, and provides valuable data on population, migration and behaviour. Students were tasked with producing a space where bird banders could do their work in a secure environment. That meant creating a portable space that would discourage theft and vandalism, allow as much natural light as possible into the space and be environmentally friendly.

The observatory at Vaseux Lake is a project of the Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance (OSCA). Since 2005, 17,000 birds and 109 different bird species have been recorded at the observatory. In the late summer and early fall, the station will be placed at the observatory. When not in use, it will be under the care of Environment and Climate Change Canada.

“This station will be invaluable,” says Owain McKibbin of Environment and Climate Change Canada. “It was great to have students involved in planning and building it, and the product speaks to how beneficial it is to have this type of training in green building available to students in the Okanagan.”

In addition to OSCA and Environment and Climate Change Canada, the building of the bird banding station was supported by Penticton-based company Structurlam, which is quickly gaining an international reputation for its innovative wood structures. Among the company’s employees is Mark Eyjolfson, who will be among the first cohort to graduate from the SCMT program this year.

With nearly a decade of experience in residential construction, Eyjolfson was looking for a way to climb the ladder in the field. Specializing in sustainability offered that potential – and it’s paid off. Even before graduation, he was offered employment with Structurlam.

“I have a young family, so gaining employment and advancing my career before graduation was really important to me,” explains Eyjolfson.

He approached Structurlam to request a donation of materials for the banding station and the company agreed.

The end result is a secure tiny house purpose-built for this unique work. It is a solid timber panel structure cladded in metal siding, with minimal glazing to reduce environmental impact. It is also well-lit with natural light as artificial light can hinder the ability of a bird bander to study the pigment of a bird’s eyes.

The SCMT program is a two-year diploma program that trains construction managers and technologists in sustainable development and green building principles, to minimize the impact of projects on the environment and maximize energy efficiency.

The program launched in the fall of 2014 as a three-year pilot program. On the success of the pilot the program has been revised and will continue as a two-year diploma program with an intake being offered in September in Penticton. Twelve are graduating this year.

“We couldn’t be prouder of this first group of graduating students,” says Dr. Amy Vaillancourt, a renowned sustainability expert who instructs and chairs the program.

“They have built their knowledge and skills exponentially over the course of the program and along the way have had a chance to work with industry to advance green building in the Okanagan. It has been wonderful to watch their growth and development along the way, and we can’t wait to welcome the next cohort in September.”

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