What was once a lush lawn sprawling out before Oxbridge-inspired University College – U of T’s founding campus building, erected in the late 1850s – had been torn up and transformed into a massive, muddy construction site littered with trailers, shipping containers, heavy machinery, skids of building materials, temporary fencing, mounds of dirt, hard-hatted workers and lots of concrete.
But this was no case of paving paradise to put up a parking lot. In fact, cars have been banished from King’s College Circle, the road that rings the grounds, while the university completes an ambitious $23-million plan to sink more than 370 pipes 250 metres underground, forming what’s being touted as Canada’s largest known urban ground-source heat pump system. The “geoexchange” is expected to be operational this fall, at which point it will draw heat from campus buildings – many more than a century old – during the warmer months, store it and release it back into the buildings throughout the winter. A subterranean classroom is being integrated as part of a “living lab” and the grounds will feature granite-paved walkways and green space. Parking will be cut by a third of its previous capacity and moved from surface level to an underground lot directly above the network of vertical pipes.
Some projects are splashy: geothermal loops and geoexchanges, zero-carbon buildings, integrated solar panels and solar parks, electrified vehicle fleets and microgrids. Others are under-the-radar workhorses that aren’t likely to be launched with a cheery press release: deep retrofits of aging heating and cooling systems, updated windows and new building-monitoring equipment.