I remember guiding Natural Habitat Churchill Summer travelers through the Churchill Northern Study Center to give them a little idea of what various research happens in the north. The old metal building was a left-over from the old rocket launching facility still standing , though barely,  at the terminus of launch road about 20 kilometers from the town limits. It seemed to fit in quite nicely with the other decaying buildings on site. Two archaic rocket launch towers loom overhead and other collapsing buildings surrounding the compound have been dormant since 1990. Originally opened in 1954, the launch site was used by  the Canadian army, Canadian government and the United States military over many years for research of effects of auroras on communications and later solid fuel propellant for rockets such as the Black Brandt. Once the cold war ended, another war on “cold” began…hence the new, incredibly energy efficient 27,000 sq ft facility.

Churchill Northern Studies Center

Churchill Northern Studies Center -Photo CSNC

The new structure was dubbed the “upside -down ark” by many locals though the ensuing “meat on the bones” of the unique structure has gained more widespread acclaim as an incredibly “green” endeavor. On track to obtain Manitoba’s northernmost LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification, the CNSC reduces both the high cost of operating in the North and reliance on outside services and utilities. The ongoing “cold war” in the north is a constant battle to keep the cold outside of any building and utilize energy most efficiently. With temperatures reaching -55 C in the heart of Winter, any new design or idea to combat frigid weather can save money year after year. In the Northern Studies Center case, savings can go toward increasing research funding and the ability to offer additional programs to the public.

Highlights of the new efficient building focus on conserving the all-vital energy produced in the north. Ninety per cent of the structure’s interior is exposed to natural light and artificial lighting is designed to compliment the outside source. Insulation values of R-40 are maximized with triple-pane windows and a south facing solar wall that preheats interior ventilation air. Unique concepts in heat exchange provide an incredible 80% recovery rate of energy used to heat air. Plumbing comes into play as well. heat recovered from shower grey water is used to heat cold water traveling to the water heater itself. That grey water will also be used for the flush toilets, thereby conserving even more.

Upside-Down Ark Churchill, Manitoba

Glue-laminated wood columns and supports shape the “Upside-Down Ark.” (Photo Credit: Penn-Co)

The old building will be renovated and utilized to house many of the mechanical systems needed to operate the new facility at a safe distance from the areas required for research and instruction there. “It will house many of the service functions (maintenance and contract research) of the CNSC. These areas will require less energy in some cases and will allow for many of the mechanical systems to be located away from the residential and teaching functions of the new building.”  Executive Director Michael Goodyear stated.

CNSC bio-filtration system

The Centre’s bio-filtration system uses bacteria to break down waste water for release into an underground filtration bed. (Photo Credit: CNS

Despite the cold in Winter, Churchill is abundant in its’ biodiversity. The iconic polar bear, flora of the tundra and boreal forest, bird life and of course the majestic beluga whales of Spring and Summer make this place a prime destination for researchers and travelers. The Churchill Northern Studies Center can now support  a greater number of people with interests in the region. Dormitories have rooms for 88 people now and 12,000 square feet of space for laboratories ease the strain on researchers and grad students working here. The new cafeteria seats 100 so everyone can eat together and share information and stories. In short the new facility is amazing!


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