Liveability and Sustainably at a Leading Ontario University

University of Guelph – Physical Resources


The University of Guelph’s Physical Resources group provides support services to the University through five specialized departments. These are Sustainable Transportation and Parking; Environmental Services; Maintenance and Energy Services; Design, Engineering and Construction; and Finance and Administration. Each division plays a critical role in the university’s ability to operate effectively and sustainably.
Recently, the University of Guelph’s Physical Resources group’s Maintenance and Energy Services division worked with an energy service provider called MCW to build a thermal energy storage system using a chilled water storage tank. Rather than using an expensive electrical central cooling system during peak times, this system takes advantage of off-peak energy rates. In Ontario, the price of electricity is lower during off-peak hours. The University’s chilled water storage tank uses electrically driven centrifugal chillers to cool the water at night when the cost is low and the percentage of low carbon energy sources is higher; then, during the day, the stored water is used to cool the campus. This effort saves the university on energy costs and represents a sustainable solution, minimizing energy expenditures and environmental impacts. While this type of cooling system is growing in popularity, it is still relatively uncommon in Canada. The tank holds 22 million litres and lowers the peak summertime electricity load by 6 MW.

Certainly, many universities have been looking toward cogeneration as a way to reduce their peak energy costs in recent years. Cogeneration is a technology that uses one piece of gas fired equipment that generates both heat and electricity, rather than using electricity from the provincial grid and a separate gas fired boiler. This can reduce costs, but there are a number of complications. Ontario has a carbon tax and so the natural gas that fuels the cogeneration engines would be taxed, increasing the overall operating costs. The University of Guelph’s chilled water storage tank is a lower cost solution to the same problem, providing higher energy efficiency and better all-around performance with reduced maintenance costs compared to cogeneration. This is the kind of innovation to which the Physical Resources team is committed.

The Sustainable Transportation and Parking Services division is also working on innovative solutions to difficult problems. The university campus is essentially a small city within a city, having a population of approximately 30,000, 56 km of sidewalk and 22 km of road that the University maintains. The University recently built a bus terminal on campus and just last year it served 2.3 million people, eliminating the need for a multi-storey parkade. There are 54 parking lots with 5400 parking spaces between them. An operation of this size comes with many challenges related to transportation and parking and the University is working diligently to address them in the most cost effective and sustainable way.

Prior to the construction of an on-campus bus terminal, bus service was sporadic and parking capacity too low to accommodate the rapidly increasing population. Now, the bus terminal sees anywhere from 800 to 1000 Guelph Transit buses a day during the week. All students have a discounted rate “UPass”, the cost of which is negotiated every few years. The University also worked with the city to negotiate a 15 percent reduced rate pass for employees. GO Transit and Greyhound have also increased the number of buses they send to the University as a result of the new station.

Many students come to the University from the Greater Toronto Area. In an effort to determine the demand for daily transportation by students from this area, The University’s Registrar was asked to provide the Transportation Division with a list containing the first three characters of postal codes for registered students. It provided that information to Metrolinks, the organization responsible for managing various forms of public transportation in the Greater Toronto Area. Together Metrolinks and the University’s Transportation Division determined that the northwest region of the GTA contained the largest number of students travelling to the University of Guelph. As a result of this research, GO transit has increased the number of buses on these routes. Previously, it would send around six buses a week to the campus; now it sends roughly 150 buses a week.

The University has also installed three separate charging stations for electric vehicles. It also promotes carpooling, and has a car-share program. There is parking for 2500 bikes on campus, and there are two dozen covered bike shelters and four fix-it-yourself bicycle repair stations where tools are supplied. A way-finding program is under development that is expected to reduce the amount of travel around campus, to make it easier for people to find their way once they’re on the campus. The University is replacing sidewalks and adding roughly 50 LED walkway lighting fixtures a year to make walking a more appealing option for on-campus travel. Through all of these efforts, the Sustainable Transportation and Parking Division is making immense strides toward economic and environmental sustainability for the University.

Roughly nine years ago, the University transitioned from using pickup trucks for traversing around campus to using electric vehicles. This improved the University’s overall carbon foot-print, but it also improved congestion on campus roadways. For maintenance, custodial work, deliveries, and any other relevant on-campus travel purposes, the team has a fleet of 25 electric utility vehicles in service.

The City of Guelph has begun charging the University an administration fee for storm water runoff. When rain falls onto impervious surfaces such as pavement, where it cannot be absorbed, it creates runoff which can cause erosion and a number of other environmental hazards. The University has been installing storm water retention systems since 2004 and has reduced the runoff and the administration fees by a considerable amount. The fees will continue annually, but the work the school has already completed is expected to save it more than $20 million over fifty years at a cost of roughly $2 million.

The Environmental Services division looks after the recycling on campus. One of its larger endeavours is related to the wet waste generated mostly by the kitchen facilities. Traditionally this waste was sent to the landfill which was both expensive and contrary to the goal of reducing waste through recycling efforts. In order to solve this problem, the Environmental Services division acquired a composting system that will enable it to process the kitchen waste on campus with the compost generated being used in the planting areas on campus. This has eliminated the cost of shipping this waste to the landfill as well as the cost of fertilizer for grounds projects.

The University puts a high priority on its campus and the role it plays in attracting and retaining students, faculty and staff. It has twice won the Professional Grounds Management Society’s prestigious Green Star Grand Award for Urban university landscapes. For the Canada 150 celebration this year, The Grounds division expanded its Conservatory Gardens. Two giant Canadian flags made from thousands of flowers were built, spawning thousands of patriotic photographs.

Indeed, the University of Guelph’s grounds are among the most beautifully kept university grounds in North America. Beyond the roughly 400 acres of land making up the main campus, there is another 400 acres of arboretum, providing access to a varied collection of plant and tree species and a stunning space for walking and recreation. Beyond the many accolades given to the grounds team, there are many old buildings on campus as well, some having stood for more than one hundred years, giving the campus a charming, scholarly aesthetic.

The University tends to complete about $50 million a year in capital work. This cost is the aggregate of many research projects, equipment upgrades across different faculties, and various other projects. For the last few years, the University has more than doubled this average expenditure and at present there is over $350 million in capital work in progress. Part of that is a result of the federal government’s Strategic Infrastructure Fund. The federal government announced last year that it would implement a strategic infrastructure fund across Canada. Targeted to colleges and universities, the program would fund 50 percent of the expenses for eligible projects, which fell into one of two categories: expanding the environmental sustainability programs related to research and innovation. The University has leveraged this program into $30 million worth of funding toward six infrastructure projects, the total cost of which is $66 million. The side benefits or these capital projects are the improvements to campus energy efficiency.

The Physical Resources Department plays a key role in the operation of the University. Robert Carter, the Associative Vice-President, Physical Resources, keeps this passage bookmarked in a book titled College: the Undergraduate Experience in America: “Little wonder that when we asked students what influences them most during their visit to a campus… it was the buildings, the trees, the walk-ways, the well-kept lawns, that overwhelmingly won out.” Accordingly, and to the benefit of all, Carter and the Physical Resources team at U of G see their mission as one of the key support functions necessary to generate positive outcomes for students, faculty, researchers, and staff.

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July 22, 2018, 10:52 AM EDT