Rendering of the RRU Learning & Innovation Centre by Jenson Chernoff Thompson Architects


Once you turn onto the campus of Royal Roads University and pass under its statuesque Garry Oaks, the bustle of Sooke Road suddenly feels miles away. Near the bottom of the entrance lane that runs along Colwood Creek loom the crenellated towers of Hatley Castle. The castle was once the estate of Lieutenant Governor James Dunsmuir; for half a century it served as the home to Royal Military College. The stone manor is best known as the set for Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in the X-Men films. Surrounded by gardens, restored Camas mounds, and with a seaside lagoon and the odd peacock in the background, the whole campus is an inviting mix of West Coast wild and British school charm.

Paradise comes with a price, though. Royal Roads University faces the extra challenge of meeting government-mandated emission targets by 2030 as its administrators integrate sustainable design into infrastructure upgrades and new buildings.

The Learning and Innovation Centre (LIC), completed in 2011, marked a big step toward that goal. The LIC is Royal Roads’ first purpose-built building and meets LEED gold standards. University leaders worked on the design with Jenson Chernoff Thompson Architects, a Vancouver/Victoria firm that specializes in sustainable structures. New buildings on a national historic site must be on previously disturbed land, so the team moved the road and covered two parking lots, without replacing either. “It proves to me you can do this,” says Nancy Wilkin, Royal Roads’ office of sustainability director. “Taking parking lots out of commission, you can do it. We didn’t die the next day. We didn’t have any protests.”

Head maintenance worker Fred Havekotte oversees the building’s function from the computer screen in his high-tech boiler room office. The four high-efficiency condensing boilers have variable speed drives on the pumps that save energy by controlling motor speed. Low-voltage lights are motion-activated, and those closest to windows have photo sensors that respond to natural light. Large windows brighten the moods of students and staff. “The faculty really like to teach in this building,” says Wilkin, “and the students like to have their classes in it.”

Students learning over a railing inside the building.

Taking in 100 per cent fresh air, the LIC relies on a thermal wheel for heating. The large wheel revolves between outflow and intake vents, and uses a heat-absorbing material that traps the exhaust airflow’s warmth and transfers it to the fresh air. The building’s design complements the already effective—and free—system with a vertical tunnel from the main to the fourth floor to create a chimney effect. By contrast, the neighbouring Grant Building is the same size but requires three times the energy to heat. The digital system allows Havekotte to track energy use and identify waste. “I love the building,” says Havekotte. “It’s a treat. It’s a lot of fun.”

When it rains, the grey water system springs into action. Rainwater from the roof supplies the bathrooms’ low-flow fixtures, saving 1,672,140 litres of water a year—half the use of a conventional building. Solar panels provide hot water, and each floor has a galley kitchen with a composting centre—the containers are three times the size of garbage bins. Fifty per cent of money earned from refundable containers adds to a student bursary. On the fourth floor, the Centre for Dialogue looks out toward the Pacific. In the conference room and boardroom, users can live-stream talks, host speakers remotely, and chair board meetings with stakeholders around the world, reducing the carbon footprint of excessive business travel.

The LIC is just one part of a larger plan that Wilkin and her team at Royal Roads have been implementing. In 2014, bus pass for students, a new bus turnaround, and additional bus route plus evening and weekend service for the first time all reduced the need to drive to the Colwood campus. Royal Roads also launched a bike rental program and expanded its cycling infrastructure to complement the LIC’s existing showers. The university has a completely green cleaning program and its waste diversion is up to 64 per cent, while retrofits on other buildings mean emissions reductions will soon be close to 29 per cent. “We increased our square footage with the LIC, but we didn’t increase our emissions,” says Wilkin. “You can build new buildings, as long as it’s done right and designed right.”

— Quinn MacDonald

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