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Hydro unveils new building

Leaders praise energy-efficient downtown HQ

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The collective thud emanating from downtown Winnipeg's newest crown jewel Thursday morning was the sound of hundreds of jaws hitting the floor.

The official unveiling of Manitoba Hydro's new state-of-the-art headquarters was a glitzy affair attended by a Manitoba's who's who and featuring performances from a drumming group, violin-playing students and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

Mayor Sam Katz may have most accurately summed up the sentiments of the more than 300 people gathered for the opening ceremony in the $278-million building's atrium.

"I only have one word: 'Wow!'" Katz said.

Premier Gary Doer praised the state-of-the-art, energy efficient building as a shining symbol of the future of downtown Winnipeg.

"This is a great addition to the skyline of Winnipeg, isn't it?" he said to the crowd, some of whom looked on from the second and third floors.

Doer said he couldn't have been more pleased that original plans to locate Hydro's head office in the suburbs were overturned years ago.

"Generations to come will appreciate the decision (to build downtown.) The building is a lot more than I expected. This is the most energy-efficient corporate building in Canada. I've been told it's one of the healthiest buildings to work in. (Employees) actually feel the difference going home," he said.

Encompassing an entire city block -- bordered by Portage Avenue, Carlton Street, Graham Avenue and Edmonton Street -- "Manitoba Hydro Place" is home to 1,650 Hydro workers with another couple hundred or so to come before the end of the year.

Upon completion of the formal program, dozens of people embarked on guided tours of the building to see its bright, open floor spaces, high ceilings and modern workstations up close.

Tom Gouldsborough, project manager of the nearly 700,000-square-foot edifice, said many of its features were designed to take advantage of the fact Winnipeg gets more sunlight than any other city in the northern hemisphere with a population greater than 500,000.

Floor-to-ceiling windows made of low-iron glass enable the building to be lit by natural light the majority of the time, he said.

"What impacts staff productivity more than anything is access to daylight," he said.

Perhaps the biggest smile of the day belonged to Bob Brennan, Hydro's long-time president. He said he knew it was going to be a great building but it turned out "way better" than he had hoped.

He said the building's ventilation systems, which bring in 100 per cent pure air on a continuous basis, will make for improved health and lower absenteeism of employees. Workers can also open windows throughout the building to get an extra blast at their work stations. "It's just like being at the lake. It feels good, it energizes you," he said.

Brennan said one of his favourite features of the building is its indoor public walkway between Graham and Portage.

"I think the public being able to walk through your office is a really neat thing. Ninety-five per cent of downtown bus routes stop out front or out back," he said.

Also on hand was Albert Cohen, chief executive officer of Gendis Inc., the real estate management company that sold Hydro the property nearly six years ago.

"I always felt this was the best place to locate the Hydro building but I never dreamed we'd have a building like this," he said.

Cohen said the impact on the surrounding area is already being felt as the value of properties such as Portage Place Shopping Centre and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet headquarters have increased.

Brennan said he is confident his employees will provide a much-needed economic boost to downtown Winnipeg, too. Part of the company plans involves mini-kitchens on each floor but no central cafeteria.

Employees are encouraged to patronize the more than 50 restaurants located within a few minutes walk in all directions.

Shining a light

Manitoba Hydro's headquarters has already been recognized for its energy efficiency and design, honoured by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat as the 2009 Best Tall Building for the Americas. Here are a few facts about the building that could be named the best in the world when the CTBUH's top award is handed out next month:

Total cost: $278 million, including construction, modernizing information technology and security systems, pedestrian bridge linkage, insurance, design work and capital interest.

A 400-foot-deep geothermal field underneath the building stores energy in the summer and releases it in the winter to heat its 22 storeys.

Three six-storey "lungs" bring in fresh air from outside, humidify or dehumidify it depending on the season and funnel it throughout the building. Employees' body heat then causes the air to rise -- a process called "displacement ventilation" -- pushing stale air to the ceiling, where it is "exhausted" out of the building.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 30, 2009 B1

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