As mentioned before, the most appealing thing about the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation ‘Beaver Barracks’ housing project is the use of geothermal heating and cooling – an energy-efficient way to deal with Ottawa’s extremes of temperature.
While the system is appealing, the buildings are in some sense prototypes and there have been some ongoing issues. There have been difficulties with having balanced heating or cooling throughout the buildings, and the thermostats installed are frustrating in that they can only be set to either ‘heat’ or ‘cool’ and not to do whichever as needed. The combined garbage and recycling rooms are rather smelly, in a way that sometimes permeates into the main floor of both 160 Argyle and 464 Metcalfe, and the recycling bins for cans, plastic, and glass are often crammed completely full. While there have been many promises, there is still no functioning laundry room in 160 Argyle, though residents can use the one in the nearby 464 Metcalfe building. People thinking about moving in should also be aware that there is quite a bit of ongoing construction noise, usually starting at 7:30am every weekday. The quantity of bicycle parking provided is inadequate, and the racks are of a type that damages bicycles easily. I worry about taking my bike out from the storage room, as there might not be anywhere to put it when I get back.
In my experience, the CCOC staff are also fairly unresponsive. There was a maintenance line that could be called, but it never led to me being called back. Dated posters about the various construction undertakings are up in elevators and lobby spaces.
All told, the ‘Barracks’ is definitely still a pleasant place to live. CCOC just needs to put a bit more effort into getting things set up on time, dealing with problems as they arise, and communicating with residents who raise issues.
[Update: 25 May 2011] My latest attempt to contact CCOC was very successful! I left a message on the maintenance line and got emailed back by Linda Camilleri (613-234-4065 x246, email@example.com). By the time I got home from work, the cooling system in my unit was working properly. The place is now the temperature specified on the thermostat.
[Update: 27 May 2011] Raymond Sullivan, the Executive Director of CCOC, was kind enough to email me some information about the state of the geothermal heating and cooling system. He agreed to let me share part of it here, for the benefit of residents and those interested in geothermal heating and cooling technology:
As you may know, there was a small construction fire in the geothermal control room last December. Although we were able to get the system up and running again within two days, the fire destroyed the automated controls for the system. These controls would keep the temperature in the circulating loop at an optimal temperature all year long. Instead, we have been operating on “manual” adjusting valves to balance the heating and cooling needs. The transition from heating to cooling was difficult this spring. The technology is actually fairly simple, but there are many variables to consider, and manual tuning is less than ideal. The heat issues were short-lived at 464 Metcalfe (which makes up the bulk of the system), and most severe on the upper floors of 160 Argyle, but we have now figured out how to better balance the two buildings separately and get optimal temperatures in both loops.
I understand that the automated controls have been replaced and are almost ready to be certified and brought online. Once that is the case, we shouldn’t experience these challenges anymore. For the time being, we will continue to cover 160 Argyle tenants’ geothermal charges, as we have done since the first tenant moved in.
A number of other issues were raised by your neighbours and we’re working on addressing these too. Of particular note is responsiveness and communication from our office and the contractor. It’s something that has caused some frustration for all parties and is a high priority to fix.
I’m happy to report that we have ordered the laundry equipment to be delivered on June 6 and the room will be operational the following week. To make up for the inconvenience, we will ensure that laundry is free of charge for the first week.
At the moment, at least, the recycling bins in the basement have plenty of spare capacity, and the construction noise recently has been quite manageable.
[Update: 2 July 2011] The laundry room has been up and running in 160 Argyle for a little while now. With the recent hot weather, the cooling system in my unit seems to be unable to cope. It is set at 23˚C now, but the temperature inside the unit is 28˚C – hotter in the rooms with south-facing windows.