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Stephane Millette, the town's recreation director, stands in the mechanical room of the aquatic centre. Improvements in the heating and ventilation systems at the pool were completed in 2019 and 2020.
Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

Although it has been exceedingly cold for parts of this winter, the aquatic centre at the Hay River Community Centre is better able to handle it.

That’s because of a two-phased improvement to the pool’s heating and ventilation systems in 2019 and 2020.

“What was happening was that the air handlers in the aquatic centre were basically freezing up,” said Stephane Millette, the director of recreation with the Town of Hay River.

“So in 2019 we converted the boilers in the aquatic centre to variable flow boilers, and that brought energy efficiency, but also brought some upgrades to the air handler system,” he said. “And that helped, but it didn’t quite get us away from those air handlers freezing up.”

Variable flow means the boilers adjust to conditions and do not run at 100 per cent at all times.

The town got about $250,000 from Arctic Energy Alliance to help convert the boilers.

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“So that was the first major phase of the repairs,” said Millette. “And then that allowed us to do some more repairs on the air handlers themselves.”

That involved such things as adding a snow hood to the intake of the main air handler and switching the fans to variable flow so that they adjust to conditions.

The second phase, which was supported with $220,000 from Arctic Energy Alliance, was completed in the late winter of 2020.

Arctic Energy Alliance covered 50 per cent of the cost of the two phases, with the rest of the funding coming from the town and various other sources.

Millette said the changes will eventually pay for themselves in better energy efficiency.

The heating and ventilation issues in the aquatic centre had been causing problems in some other areas of the community centre.

For example, sensors throughout the community centre were detecting negative air pressure in the swimming pool area, meaning that outdoor colder air was being drawn into the curling rink and affecting its ice.

“The curling rink was noticing issues and that was because there was a small negative pressure on that side also, which meant that air was being drawn under the doors and that was causing sublimation of their ice,” Millette said. “They were having a hard time building ice in large part because of negative pressure in that building.”

The problems were being seen at about -25 C and below.

“But right now in this cold, it’s just been daily monitoring and maintenance, which is what you want,” said Millette. “The system is operating pretty much independently at this point.”

With the heating and ventilation problems, the recreation director said the temperature and humidity in the pool building were being affected.

“If the exhaust was freezing up, then that humid air from the pool couldn’t get out. So it ended up being humid in there,” he said. “You would have a chlorine smell in the lobby area. And the windows would fog up and get wet.”

When the problem was at its worst in early 2019, it could also get colder on the pool deck and in the lobby because of negative pressure in the building.

“We were adding additional heaters, just little space heaters, in that area and putting weather stripping around the doors as a temporary fix to try to reduce the cold air that was being drawn right in there,” said Millette. “It was way too cold in that lobby initially and people were commenting, and staff also at the start. It was affecting the experience, for sure.”

This winter, no news is good news, he said. “We’re not getting complaints on temperatures being cold and whatnot.”

One other benefit for pool users is fewer closures of the facility.

Plus, there is now more consistency in the experience at the pool because the automated systems will perform better and they’ll adapt to the outside temperatures, Millette said.

“So most users won’t notice a difference, other than the fact that there’ll be less closures and the experience will be more consistent and more comfortable.”

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