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Morguard plans deep retrofit at Ottawa's JET buildings

Downtown Jean Edmonds Towers complex comprises two towers, 550,000 sq. ft. of space

IMAGE: The JET Building in Ottawa
The Jean Edmonds Towers buildings in Ottawa. (Courtesy Morguard Corporation)

Canadian real estate company Morguard Corporation has initiated a deep energy retrofit of its 550,000-square-foot Jean Edmonds Towers office complex in Ottawa.

Morguard (MRC-T) is preparing to submit its front-end engineering design (FEED) study to Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) for approval. That study forecasts the retrofit will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 75 per cent and utility consumption by over 50 per cent in the 20-storey towers.

“This is one of the buildings where . . . a lot of the building components were getting towards the end of the usable life cycle,” said Michael Swan, Morguard’s assistant vice president of property management and leasing, office and industrial, Ottawa.

“We already had a plan to invest in infrastructure of this facility. We thought it would be great to do it holistically, look at all the components together, see what improvements we could make to (it) for consumption of utilities and reduced greenhouse gases with making the biggest impacts.

“This is one of the buildings, as I said, (where) equipment has been well maintained, but because it's been well maintained, it's quite old.”

Modern Niagara Group Inc. and J.L. Richards & Associates Limited did consulting work on the FEED study.

The building is occupied primarily by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

At this stage, there is no estimated time of completion for the retrofit. Swan estimates the costs will be between $30 to $40 million.

The JET buildings

Morguard has extensive retail, office, industrial, multi–suite residential, and hotel holdings owned directly, or through its investment in Morguard REIT (MRT-UN-T), Morguard North American Residential REIT (MRG-UN-T) and Temple Hotels Inc. 

Headquartered in Mississauga, it also provides real estate management services to institutional and other investors. The company has $19.5 billion in assets owned and under management.

Also known as the JET Building, the complex is located at 300 Slater St. and 365 Laurier Ave. It was purchased by Morguard in October 2018 from Brookfield Properties for $186 million, not including taxes and other costs.

Morguard and its partner, Industrial Alliance, own the complex on a 49.9 to 50.1 per cent basis, respectively, with Morguard providing property management services.

Morguard and Industrial Alliance first began work on the project at the end of 2021, with the FEED study costing around $274,298. NRCan covered $135,274 under its Green Infrastructure – Energy Efficient Buildings Program.

The $48.4 million program is aimed at supporting Canada’s Green Building Strategy, which come into effect in 2030, seeking to reduce building emissions by 37 per cent from 2005 levels as a pathway to a net-zero buildings sector by 2050. 

Modern Niagara and J.L. Richards became involved as the companies do some work in the JET buildings. Morguard began discussing the deep energy retrofit program with them, and the trio decided the JET buildings would be their best bet.

Swan also highlighted their “strong sustainability departments.”

Buildings and homes contribute approximately 18 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Retrofit plans

“We've looked at everything from the lightbulbs we use to the pumps to the boilers, the chillers, to recapturing heat from different operations that the government (does) in the building,” Swan said. “It's been a very educational experience, going through this with all the consultants and learning about the new technologies of what we can do.”

Replacing the boilers with heat pumps will have the biggest impact, but Swan also mentioned something as simple as replacing the elevators as having an impact in reductions.

He said Morguard underwent a full analysis of every piece of equipment in the building and the related energy usage using data from 2018 and 2019, as the building was minimally occupied during the pandemic. Typically, there are around 4,000 people working for Citizenship and Immigration in the building.

While there is still a decision to be made on the exact process of construction – such as whether to retrofit both towers simultaneously or one at a time – Swan hopes that by Q1 2023, Morguard will have a plan to move forward.

The aim is to have the JET building retrofit serve as a blueprint for Morguard’s future deep energy retrofits, however long that may take.

“In Ottawa, we have five-million-square-feet. I thought this was the best candidate and so did our consultants, but I got a whole check list. My plan is to find a net-zero carbon solution for every single one of our buildings,” Swan said.

“I do a 10-year plan for every building for every component. We look at all these things. So every year I'm doing a new 10-year plan. I'm putting in how much it costs, what we're doing and trying to track how it's going to reduce greenhouse gases and utility.”

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