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District of North Vancouver sees an old building from a fresh perspective

Swimming pool at the Karen Magnussen Community Centre in North Vancouver
The Karen Magnusson Community Centre used to consume 10% of the District of North Van's total energy use. All that changed with upgrades to the pool and other areas of the centre.

Operating costs prompt 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. "Something needed to be done," says Samuda. "There's a general 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 North America 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."

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.

Knowledge and flexibility of Alliance members is vital

Members of the BC Hydro Alliance of Energy Professionals, including Quantum Lighting, played a prominent role in lighting upgrades. Quantum helped steer the District toward LEDs over T8 fluorescents.

"Initially we thought we would install T8 fluorescent lamps," said Samuda. "But when we compared costs, LEDs were only slightly more expensive than T8s, so we asked our lighting designers [Quantum] to do a test to help us determine the right route to go."

Lamps were replaced in the pool, arena, and gym, so that today, Karen Magnussen has 98% LED lighting, including emergency lighting and exit signs.

The upgrades were done with minimal impact to the rec centre's operations. Mountain Pacific Electrical, which handled the installations, was able to replace arena lighting between scheduled uses of the in-line skating dry floor.

A low e-missive ceiling was also installed in the arena. Designed by Hi-Pro Sports of Vernon, the aluminum foil panels that encase two layers of polyurethane bubble wrap are used to interrupt 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. The installation was timed to take advantage of a two-week window when the arena was switching from in-line skating to ice.

"There was no downtime," marvels Samuda. "Upgrades were virtually invisible, and the entire retrofit came off with no disruption to programs or services at the centre."

With the emphasis on keeping the community centre operating, Alliance members had to dismiss the idea of a 9-to-5 approach. They embraced that challenge, often working late at night and on weekends. And according to Samuda, the various consultants and engineering firms working on the project were able to coordinate efforts while leaning on flexibility and creative thinking.

She recalls one day in summer when a storm forced a summer camp to take the kids indoors during a key time for construction. The ceiling contractor adjusted the schedule on the fly, moving work from one end of the facility to the other in the morning, then back to the other end in the afternoon.

Direct digital controls turn up the savings

Fundamental to the depth of energy savings on the retrofit was an upgrade to the control system.

"Without state-of-the-art direct digital controls (DDC) we would not have been able to control the facility's temperatures and humidity so carefully," says Samuda. "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."

As a result of the effort, the facility's greenhouse gas emissions are expected to drop by 50% and the District anticipates saving $120,000 annually on utilities and related maintenance at the community centre. And the benefits go beyond cost and conservation. "Everybody likes it – the lighting is more even 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," she says. "My job is to help make that happen using as little energy as possible."