Stories & Features

District of North Vancouver upgrades old building, expects to save $100,000 a year

Image of the swimming pool at the Karen Magnussen Community Centre in North Vancouver
A switch to LED lighting at the Karen Magnussen Community Centre were part of upgrades that will save the District of North Vancouver an estimated $100,000 a year.

Operating costs spur district to invest in aging Lynn Valley community centre

Long before Monica Samuda became the District of North Vancouver's energy manager, Lynn Valley's Karen Magnussen Community Centre was identified as a site for innovative energy usage.

Built in the 1990s as an addition to a 1974 arena, the facility was the district's highest energy user. Even though it was well run, it alone consumed 10% of the district's total energy use.

"Karen Magnussen Community Centre had been on the district's radar for years. Retrofit or rebuild. That was the discussion when I joined the district in 2014," says Samuda. "There's this belief that the new thing will be better than the old thing, so we hold-off investing in and improving older buildings because we think that starting from scratch is better, even though it's much more expensive.

"It's a common thought and one that doesn't just apply to municipalities. The truth is, 80% of the buildings in our district today will still be here in 20 years. Taking care of existing buildings, even if it's just upgrading the lighting or making better use of controls can make a really big difference and cut operating costs dramatically. So that's exactly what we did, and then some."

BC Hydro & FortisBC helped with plan

With guidance from BC Hydro and FortisBC, Samuda pitched a project plan to district colleagues, one that would substantially lower the facility's annual operating costs as well as its greenhouse gas emissions with little impact to facility operations. Approval came quick.

"As energy managers, we rely heavily, sometimes entirely, on cooperation and open communication with operating staff," said Samuda. "What we energy managers see as opportunities to save energy need to also help operators. Karen Magnussen Community Centre was doing its primary job very well; it had lots of happy visitors and was making the community healthier overall. It's a well-maintained facility, so it wasn't obvious to visitors that it was using more energy than any other facility in our portfolio, but we knew there that there was potential for improvement."

Over the next few months, with support from BC Hydro, the district replaced the lighting throughout the community centre, including the lamps in the pool, arena, gym and front lobby, which were all upgraded to LED.

"Initially we thought we would install T8 fluorescent lamps," she says. "But when we compared costs, LEDs were only slightly more expensive than T8s, so we asked our lighting designers to do a test to help us determine the right route to go," which, according to Samuda quickly became clear. Today Karen Magnussen has 98% LED lighting, including the emergency lighting and exit signs.

The district also installed a low-emissivity ceiling above the ice rink. The ceiling, which is made of aluminum foil panels that encase two layers of polyurethane bubble wrap, interrupts the flow of radiant energy to the ice, trapping the cold in the arena and improving the overall quality and durability of the ice's surface.

An innovative heat recovery project, plus improvements to the HVAC system and building envelope were also done as part of the widespread retrofit.

"Fundamental to the depth of the savings was upgrading the control system," adds Samuda. "Without direct digital controls (DDC) we would not have been able to control the facility's temperatures and humidity so carefully. It's easy to overlook the importance of the 'invisible brain' to electricity savings. Second only to the heat recovery, the controls generated the greatest savings."

Big savings expected, and a 50% cut to carbon emissions

As a result of the effort, the facility's greenhouse gas emissions are expected to drop by 50% and the district anticipates saving $100,000 annually on utilities at the community center, plus an additional $3,000 a year in maintenance costs. And the benefits go beyond cost and conservation. "Everybody likes it – the lighting is brighter and more natural and it's much easier for operators to adjust the temperature and humidity in the pool and arena areas," she says.

With the Karen Magnussen project complete, Samuda and her team have turned their attention to Blueridge's Ron Andrews Community Centre. Samuda knows that a handful of efficiency upgrades could give new life to the aging building: "For the District of North Van, investing in these older buildings and in the communities they serve is absolutely the right move in the long run. My job is to help make that happen using as little energy as possible."