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General Dynamics Green

July 29, 2009  By Tom Peters

General Dynamics calls it the flagship building. It’s bright. It’s attractive and it’s “green.” The four-storey structure purposely built for General Dynamics Canada at a cost of about $11 million is the company’s new facility in Cole Harbour, N.S., home of National Hockey League’s whiz kid Sidney Crosby.

General Dynamics calls it the flagship building. It’s bright. It’s attractive and it’s “green.” The four-storey structure purposely built for General Dynamics Canada at a cost of about $11 million is the company’s new facility in Cole Harbour, N.S., home of National Hockey League’s whiz kid Sidney Crosby.

John Cody, general manager of the engineering facility, stands by the 25-foot-high natural stone wall; not just for esthetics, the waterfall controls the facility’s humidity level.

The 48,000-square-foot structure, described by John Cody, general manager of the engineering facility, as one of the most secure buildings in the country, is the anchor site in support of the Canadian military’s new helicopter program. The CH-148 Cyclone helicopter will replace the aging Sea Kings; a total of 28 helicopters will be supplied to the military, 18 of which will be based at CFB Shearwater (which is within view of the new building) and 10 are destined for the West Coast, says Cody. General Dynamics has a 20-year contract worth about half of the overall $5 billion helicopter program. The first helicopter is scheduled to arrive in November 2010. 

“We will do all the software support and upgrades for the new weapons system out of this building,” says Cody. “The contract calls for technology insertions every five years, which means new software to be written.”


But it isn’t just the sophistication of the work being done in the facility that has the company puffing out its chest. The structure, which was actually built and is owned by Millbrook First Nations and leased to General Dynamics, was designed with many environmental features that make it clean, efficient and employee-friendly. The building is located on a 27-acre parcel of land owned by Millbrook First Nations and is within 15 minutes, door-to-door, of Shearwater.

Says Cody, “The contract called for us to come to some accommodation on aboriginal business arrangements so we put the two together. Millbrook was anxious to do business with us and we were able to work out a business deal with them that made sense.”

Foster MacKenzie of Harvey & MacKenzie Architects of Halifax, the building’s architects, says, “The principles we implemented here (in the building’s design) were good commonsense practical aspects of design that we think are sound initiatives in the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) direction.” He pointed out the building is not LEED certified nor was it ever the intent to have it certified “but it was an opportunity to demonstrate to the architectural world that you can implement practical aspects of energy efficiency and LEED principles without having to go through certification costs,” he said.

As you enter the building the first thing that touches your senses is the soft sound of water sliding down a 25-foot-high natural stone wall. It immediately catches your eye as you walk into the main foyer. But it is not just for esthetics. The waterfall controls the facility’s
humidity level.

The 48,000-square-foot structure is General Dynamics’ anchor site in support of the Canadian military’s new helicopter program.

“There is a whole evaporation process with water moving over that surface,” says MacKenzie. The water drops into a pool at the bottom of the wall and is recycled back over the wall. “They (employees) find working conditions, especially in winter (when the air tends to be drier), very comfortable. It tends to keep the humidity over the 30 per cent level. So you don’t have to put a humidification system in the building,” he adds. The structure is heated and cooled by a geothermal system that eliminates the use of any fossil fuels and requires very little electricity.

The system consists of 32 wells, each 450 feet deep and all linked together with about 7,000 feet of piping. A fluid or medium is pumped through the enclosed system. It takes heat out of the ground and by the time it reaches the surface it comes into the building at a temperature of approximately 55 F. The liquid is further heated to a temperature of about 75 to 80 F by heat pumps.

A series of 40 heat pumps, which produce about three to four times more energy than takes to operate them, are used in the process. After passing through the heat pumps the liquid is distributed through coils that are part of the building’s air system. The air passes over the heated coils, is warmed and then dispersed throughout the building. In the summer, the process is reversed. The liquid is cooled as it goes into the ground and when it returns to the surface it is not heated and the air system has cooler air going throughout the building.

“There is not a drop of oil on that site,” says Mackenzie. The only electricity used is what is required to run the heat pumps. The geothermal system cost about $800,000 but, according to Cody, when General Dynamics did the math, it was calculated that at $38 for a barrel of oil, the company would recoup its cost in about 12 years. “But didn’t we look smart when oil went to $150 as barrel!” says Cody. And cost recovery time is now expected to be much lower than anticipated.

The building has other features that reflect an environmental sensitivity, such as automatic, hands-free water taps, ultra low flush toilets and paper dispensers that are activated by motion sensors. The lighting system throughout the building is also activated both on and off through motion detection; it’s a graduated lighting system that is controlled by sensors. All lights have sensors so they can sense how much natural light is present and adjust each fixture to maintain the proper light level. During the day, lights closer to the windows use less energy than lights closer to an inside wall, reducing the amount wattage being used, says MacKenzie.

The large glass windows are also part of the overall environmental package. Windows have been treated with a glazing that reduces the amount of sunlight and heat entering the structure. They also protect against heat loss on cooler days. There are also specially designed window blinds that block out summer heat and retain interior heat in the winter. A “white noise” system has been installed, which is very “people-friendly,” says Cody. A low-volume hum is transmitted throughout the working environment, which reduces the amount of noise created by employees that might be transferred from one cubicle to another.

Even the paint on the walls was especially selected to present soft tones and a more warming environment. “The colours here are very mellow and eye pleasing. It’s not the battleship grey you might get in some government buildings,” says Cody.

The building reflects the company’s environmental thought process. “Part of our company’s philosophy is to be as Earth-friendly as we can and we gave those directions to Millbrook and this what we got,” says Cody.

General Dynamics Canada moved into its new Maritime In-Service Support Centre of Excellence in December 2007. There are approximately 40 people working out of the building currently. Commencing in the fall of 2010 they will start a gradual staff build-up which will see them grow to approximately 110 people in the facility over the course of the next few years.

“It’s about a three- to –four-year program to ramp it up. It takes time. This is an unusual kind of system that we have,” Cody says. “This is a very complex system and I think what we will wind up doing is transitioning a piece at a time down here,” he adds.

Some of the staff-friendly features of the building include a small fitness centre and a cafeteria with a catered food service that will provide a healthy menu. Employees will be able to work their own hours, says Cody. There will not be regimented hours of work – as long as the job gets done. Happy employees work better, he adds.

Since its opening, the facility has been getting some outside attention. “Engineers from the city (Halifax) have seen it and they were gobsmacked. They didn’t realize it was here and it really impressed them,” says Cody. The building has also caught the eye of some Egyptian engineering students who have been attending school in Halifax. They had scheduled a tour to see all the ins and outs of the centre. Because of the sensitivity of the work within the complex, General Dynamics has instituted a very tight security program. In addition to working with the RCMP and other federal agencies, there are cameras and other systems monitoring the building 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

One lab in particular has received special attention. Dubbed the “million dollar room” because of its cost to construct, it will be the space used to “test fixes, do upgrades and all the checks,” says Cody. The room, vacuum-sealed by a doorway system that resembles a huge walk-in steel safe, is totally radio frequency, interference free. “Nothing can get out because some of the stuff we deal with will not be routine,” he says.


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