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TRU’s world-beating approach to sustainable education

Thompson Rivers University Chappell Family Building for Nursing and Population Health

With campuses in Kamloops and Williams Lake, Thompson Rivers University (TRU) takes sustainability very seriously. In 2018, TRU was named as the highest-rated university in the world by the global Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS), achieving their prestigious Platinum rating.

Despite facing competition from bigger US universities such as Stanford and UC Irvine, TRU fully intends to maintain this position: “When we were awarded STARS, we had the highest score in the world and we’re hoping to continue that,” says Matt Milovick, TRU’s VP Administration and Finance.

So it’s no surprise that their new, 100% electric Chappell Family Building for Nursing and Population Health is a spectacular showcase of energy efficiency - as well as a key part of TRU’s sustainability plan for the future. 

The Chappell Family Building is a state-of-the-art 49,000 sq ft training facility with computerized mannequins waiting for treatment in simulated hospital wards. There’s also a research lab along with additional labs simulating a community clinic and an apartment so that students can train in immersive, life-like situations.

Partnering with BC Hydro

Ron Mastromonaco, BC Hydro’s Key Account Manager for the advanced education sector was there right at the beginning of the project: “BC Hydro’s engineering team are well-versed in the latest energy-saving technology and best practices. We worked alongside TRU, their engineering consultants and an energy modeler to review the base design and then looked for opportunities to improve on it,” says Ron. “This was TRU’s third big build since hiring their first Energy Manager 11 years ago. Reviewing projects through a conservation lens is embedded in their culture and processes.”

“We feel very fortunate to have BC Hydro as partners with us on our sustainability journey,” says Matt. “We talk all the time - it’s an important longstanding relationship.”

As a result of the modelling phase, the BC Hydro team were able to help TRU identify a further 270,000 kWh of savings every year. That’s the equivalent of about 25 homes.

Thompson Rivers University Nursing building


The Chappell Family Building incorporates many of the
features that have become popular in energy efficient construction, including:

  • High performance building envelope
  • Solar shading
  • Argon-filled windows with thermally broken frames and optimum heat loss resistance
  • Aggressive temperature reset strategy
  • Occupancy controlled LED lighting

But it’s the ventilation BKM heat recovery system that’s particularly impressive. “Our focus was on the ability to move energy around the building, harnessing the waste heat from meeting rooms, lecture rooms, IT rooms, and also from the significant amount of audio/visual equipment that we have,” says Matt.

This waste heat is repurposed to the building’s heating system by using specialized heat recovery chillers. These approach can reduce boiler usage by up to 3-4 times during certain periods.

Electric boilers were used instead of natural gas even though it actually increases energy costs, but the carbon benefit far outweighs the modest cost premium to TRU. “They are slightly more expensive to run,” says Matt, “But that’s the cost of not putting greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the air and we’re happy with that. We have a social responsibility to operate as efficiently as possible.”

Electrified sustainability is not just good for the environment. Matt knows it’s also good for business: “It’s a huge draw for our marketing. Students like sustainability. They’re attracted by what we’ve done and are impressed by our commitment. Plus, the recognition we’ve achieved gives us more credibility for attracting and enhancing our faculty, our research and our funding.”

Thompson Rivers University state of the art healthcare building

Electricity is the future

As impressive as the Chappell Family Building is, it’s just part of TRU’s bigger plan for the campus to become fully carbon neutral by 2030. “We started down the road of electrifying our buildings in 2018 with the Industrial Training and Technology Centre (ITTC) building. We’d originally planned a biomass boiler but a bylaw preventing woodburning meant we transitioned to electric,” says Matt. ”The ITTC was connected to the previous building and can actually run on either natural gas or electricity. But the Chappell Family Building is the first fully electric building, and for us, that’s a major milestone. We’re now exploring what an electrified district energy system connecting all the buildings on campus might look like. We view electricity as the future.”