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Nelson Civic Centre to receive $5 million in energy upgrades, renovations

The 86-year-old building currently accounts for 30% of GHG emissions from all municipal facilities
Environment minister George Heyman (third from right) is seen here with Nelson Mayor John Dooley, Nelson-Creston MLA Brittny Anderson and city councillors and staff outside the Civic Centre on Thursday. The building will receive an expansive energy retrofit beginning in 2023. Photo: Tyler Harper

A $5.2-million renovation to the Nelson Civic Centre will see the 86-year-old building receive extensive energy efficiency upgrades, a new concourse and a three-screen theatre.

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change announced Thursday it would provide $2.8 million for the project that will reduce the building’s greenhouse gas emissions by a targeted 80 per cent. The renovations will also receive $1 million in federal funding as well as $1.4 million from the City of Nelson.

Environment minister George Heyman, who along with city councillors was provided a tour of the building’s labyrinthine corridors, said the project will update the Civic Centre into a facility consistent with current energy standards.

“From the province’s perspective, not only do we want to help maintain heritage in cities around B.C. and put people to work but we also are interested in supporting any project that can be more energy efficient, that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and this project has both of those quite handily.”

The concrete exterior walls and roof are not currently insulated at the Civic Centre. That will change in the renovations, which will also upgrade windows, doors and mechanical systems while providing air ventilation throughout the facility. Work is expected to begin in 2023 and take two years to complete.

The changes will upgrade what is a relic of early 20th-century construction techniques — the building predates Canada’s national building code that was introduced in 1941 — into a building in line with contemporary standards.

Mayor John Dooley said he hopes the upgrades make life easier on the Civic Centre’s user groups. During Thursday’s tour the lack of ventilation was apparent, even on a relatively cool August day.

“That building can get piping hot in the summertime, parts of it, and extremely cold in the wintertime. It’s a massive chunk of concrete right in the centre of the city that’s totally uninsulated to the elements with very inefficient heating systems, and no cooling systems whatsoever.”

The Civic Centre also currently emits 30 per cent of all greenhouse gasses released by municipal-owned buildings. Nelson-Creston MLA Brittny Anderson said she once heard an architect describe heating the Civic Centre “like trying to heat a shopping cart with a blanket over it.”

The provincial and federal funding comes from the $240 million CleanBC Communities Fund, which the city applied for a grant from in 2020 as an attempt to stimulate the local economy during the pandemic with capital projects.

“We’re working across the province to do deep retrofits on buildings,” said Anderson. “Whether it’s municipal buildings or even residential buildings, trying to support people in renovating their own buildings so that we’re able to reduce our GHG emissions across the province as part of our CleanBC plan.”

L-R: Nelson Mayor John Dooley, Environment Minister George Heyman and Nelson-Creston MLA Brittny Anderson tour the antiquated furnace room of the Civic Centre. Work aimed at cutting down the building’s greenhouse gasses will begin in 2023. Photo: Tyler Harper
L-R: Nelson Mayor John Dooley, Environment Minister George Heyman and Nelson-Creston MLA Brittny Anderson tour the antiquated furnace room of the Civic Centre. Work aimed at cutting down the building’s greenhouse gasses will begin in 2023. Photo: Tyler Harper

The work will coincide with the addition of a new concourse that will improve accessibility to each of the building’s tenants, including Glacier Gymnastics, the ice rink and a space used for dance.

The Nelson Civic Theatre, which operates out of the building, will also expand from one screen to three during the renovations.

Eleanor Stacey, the theatre’s executive director, said $3.3 million in funding has been secured for the screen expansion. The entire project will cost an estimated $4.2 million, the balance of which is covered by a $1 million line of credit from the city. But Stacey said the theatre plans to try to pay off that balance instead through fundraising.

Planning for the addition of two extra screens has been ongoing since the Civic Theatre re-opened in 2013. The theatre board’s chair Marilyn Mint said the city needed to progress with its energy upgrades before the screens could be installed.

“Because the projects are just so integrated, there was no way that we could have proceeded,” said Mint. “We could have been putting in duct work for a new heating system that didn’t match what the city eventually put in. So as the architect said, it doesn’t make any sense to put all of the money into design right now when it could all change.”

The upgrades, however, do not include any changes to Civic Centre’s rink.

City public works director Colin Innes said the rink needs renovations, but that work was too extensive to be included in the funding announced Thursday. For now, he said, the focus needs to be on what will be the first major renovation to the building in nearly a century.

“This is going to be quite an integrated project,” said Innes. “I’m actually pretty excited about this. I know it’s going to be a lot of work, but it’s going to be really cool when we’re done.”


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Tyler Harper

About the Author: Tyler Harper

I’m editor-reporter at the Nelson Star, where I’ve worked since 2015.
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