North

Super green building could take root in Yellowknife

Ecology North and the Yellowknives Dene First Nation plan to build a Centre for Sustainability in the N.W.T. that they say would be the first carbon negative building in Canada.

4-storey building slated for downtown, says Ecology North and Yellowknives Dene First Nation

This is one architectural rendering (edited to remove a logo) of what the Northern Centre for Sustainability being planned for downtown Yellowknife could look like. (Ecology North)

Yellowknife could soon have the greenest building in the country.

That's according to Ecology North and the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. The groups are planning a four-storey building in the city's downtown that they say would be the first carbon negative building in Canada.

The Northern Centre for Sustainability would incorporate integrated solar panels, water recycling and make use of wood and local materials as much as possible.

The main floor of the building, which could be open for tenants as early as November 2020, is slated to hold a coffee shop and public space; the second floor will house an innovation hub for climate action and the third floor will be offices for Ecology North and the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.

Residential units are planned for the fourth storey, along with a rooftop greenhouse.

The building will showcase and promote the latest low-carbon technologies to demonstrate that more energy efficient construction is an effective way to reduce greenhouse gases and create jobs, says Will Gagnon, Ecology North's green building specialist.

'Doug was keen in the latter years to move Ecology North from renting space to actually owning a building,' says France Benoit of her late husband, Doug Ritchie. (Radio-Canada/Mario De Ciccio)

"We're aiming at building an innovation hub co-working space based on the United Nations sustainable development goals that would become a place where emerging young entrepreneurs can work on anything that's related to climate action, maybe it's life on land, life on water, or health and happiness," said Gagnon.

The building began as a vision by late Yellowknife environmentalist Doug Ritchie. He was the head of Ecology North, and a Yellowknives Dene First Nation employee. He'd strived to find a sustainable, permanent home for the non-profit.

When Ritchie died in January 2015, his family donated $100,000 and a committee was formed to investigate how best to bring his vision forward.

Doug was keen in the latter years to move Ecology North from renting space to actually owning a building.- France Benoit, Doug Ritchie's wife

"The committee looked at different options in terms of owning a building and the last rendition has been a building to be built under the Living Building challenge process, which is the most sustainable and environmental building that can ever be," said his wife France Benoit.

"Doug was keen in the latter years to move Ecology North from renting space to actually owning a building, this would of course help stabilize finances for Ecology North so they could spend more financial and human resources doing programming for the environment for the NWT."

Doug Ritchie, who died in 2015, was the head of Ecology North and had long strived to find a sustainable, permanent home for the non-profit. (CBC)

Needs millions

To become carbon negative, the building could use technologies already proving successful in Scandinavia, such as biomass boilers — the large pellet heating systems the City of Yellowknife has installed for example — then capturing their carbon emissions and returning them to the land.

"So it feeds the soil with carbon and kind of heals the people and heals the planet at the same time, and with carbon pricing it's been made financially viable in Finland," said Gagnon.

He says a prominent downtown location has been promised for the project once its funding is in place. He is reluctant to divulge exactly where, for fears the property owners could be offered large sums for the site if people know it is for sale.

An artist's rendering of the facility. (Submitted by Ecology North)

A new report from Ecology North says an energy retrofit program to upgrade existing N.W.T. buildings, including insulation, weatherproofing, installing energy-efficient doors, windows, heaters, appliances and solar panels, could create 87 jobs and $11.8 million in GDP gain each year the program operates.

It could also reduce costs for building owners, who now pay almost twice as much for energy as in southern Canada.

The Northern Centre for Sustainability has the support of all levels of governments, five universities, Tides Canada and private donors. But it still needs a multi-million-dollar funding boost to meet its target of completing the design phase this year, in order to be ready for tenants in November 2020.

Gagnon says Ecology North has applied to Northern Resources Canada for $6 million under the department's Clean Energy for Rural & Remote Communities Demonstration Project and Green Construction Through Wood programs. A decision is expected by this summer.

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