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Green building planned for downtown Yellowknife

A rendering of what the Northern Centre for Sustainability could look like. Image courtesy of Ecology North.

Yellowknife could be home to Canada’s most sustainable building by 2020.

The Northern Centre for Sustainability, an initiative by Ecology North and the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN), has been in the works for about four years.

Artist Alison McCreesh's interpretation of the Northern Centre for Sustainability. Image courtesy of Ecology North.

The project started in 2015 with the passing of Ecology North's executive director Doug Ritchie, who did a lot of work with the YKDFN said William Gagnon, green buildings specialist at Ecology North.

“And so it was kind of natural that Ecology North would get in partnership with the
Yellowknives Dene to create this space,” he said.

It was important to Ritchie that Ecology North have a place to call home said Gagnon.

When Ritchie passed away his family donated a sum of money, which was put into a trust fund and a committee was formed to plan the project Gagnon explained.

“In 2017 the committee hired one full-time staff and that was me and then from there we kind of grew and accelerated our work and defined what the project would be,” he said.

Currently, the project is seeking funding from different government organizations and applying to have a mixed-use building at an undetermined location in downtown Yellowknife.

“We have a site and a building at the site already,” said Gagnon.

They’re hoping to move in by November 2020 if all goes well with funding.

“We recognize that it’s quite a tight timeline, however I don’t think it’s impossible,” he said.


The design

Gagnon said they’re aiming for the building to qualify in the Living Building Challenge, a green building certification standard similar to LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

A rendering of what the Northern Centre for Sustainability could look like. Image courtesy of Ecology North.

Ecology North wants the building to be a demonstration space for what green building technologies can do and what fighting climate change looks like in a building, he said.

“This building standard asks for a building to have a net positive impact in all spheres so energy, water, materials, but also for its impact on people,” Gagnon explained.

To qualify, the building must produce more energy than it consumes in a year, water leaving the site must be cleaner than what's on site and it must use local materials. Ecology North has partnered with NWT Habitat for Humanity and ReStore to help source local building materials.

“When we move into the designs for it we’re going to have identified some materials in the community that we want to reuse and we know there’s a few buildings that are due for demolition," said Gagnon.

"So we’d love to look at what materials are available in the community first and then prioritize these materials as part of the design."

They hope to have the designs for the building by August said Gagnon.


The economics

In April the project received $130,050 in funding towards planning work, and the 2020 timeline will depend on further funding said Gagnon.

Ecology North approached the YKDFN lands department to partner on the project because as an economic development body it has a lot of leverage.

“They said it’s an interesting project, it’s great, but at the moment we’re struggling with job creation, our community needs to have some more employment,” said Gagnon.

The project wants to help diversify the economy and create jobs based on retrofitting buildings with energy-efficient alternatives, including installing solar panels.

“That’s going to take a lot of people to do that – if we want to retrofit all the buildings in the Northwest Territories to be carbon-neutral before 2050, as mandated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” Gagnon explained.

The goal is for the building to be a demonstration space for green building technologies and demonstrate what fighting climate change looks like in a building, he said.

Gagnon hopes the project will also show fighting climate change is not political.

“It’s something that makes sense for job creation and for increasing quality of life,” he said.

The territory would actually save money if all buildings in the NWT were retrofitted he argued.

“There’s actually a payback on this investment, so it’s not a political argument it's good for the environment, it’s good for creating jobs, it’s good for people because it reduces air pollution,” said Gagnon.

Once the Northern Centre for Sustainability is established, Gagnon hopes others will see the possibilities and follow suit with energy-efficient retrofits.

Ecology North has a track record of starting initiatives and seeing them take off, including the recycling and composting program, he said.

“I think Ecology North just wants to inspire people really to do the same thing.”