Innovation Transforms Historic Landmark Hotel

Winnipeg’s iconic Fort Garry reaps the rewards of advanced building automation
Friday, September 8, 2017

Built in 1913, the iconic Fort Garry Hotel is one of Winnipeg’s most recognizable architectural landmarks and a National Historic Site of Canada. The 240-room, 11-storey hotel, spa and conference centre is widely considered the city’s finest example of the chateau style of architecture first seen in the magnificent railway hotels erected throughout Canada in the early 1900s.

But despite the timeless aesthetics and classic appeal of the building’s exterior, dated equipment and mechanical systems began to take their toll. Owners Richard Bel and Ida Albo were faced with pressures from rising energy costs, increased regulation and the need to improve operational efficiency, and the only way to overcome these pressures was through extensive renovations.

They embarked on that project soon after, with the installation of room controllers, variable frequency drives and field devices in the guest rooms — a challenge that required contractors to work with several mechanical rooms on different floors, each containing a repository of outdated equipment.

Since then, Bel reports a 20 per cent drop in energy consumption, a 25 per cent saving in maintenance staff time and guest complaints that have all but vanished.


Getting there wasn’t easy. There were countless challenges involving the building’s complex layout and antiquated infrastructure from the days of steam heat and no central air conditioning. Prior to renovations, the hotel was very energy- and labour-intensive. A dated two-pipe system to heat and cool the guest room meant that adjustments to temperature, airflow, and steam in ballrooms, common areas, and the spa, were all done manually and typically as a reaction to complaints. There was no centralized view or control of the various mechanical systems in the building.


“Upgrading the Building Management System in a world class facility like the Fort Garry Hotel without disrupting their operations and services posed unique problems in itself,” said Bob Donnelly, President and Owner, BARCOL Controls, one of the contractors for the project. “Add the fact that it was a century-old historical facility and it kicked the number of problems up dramatically.”


Upgrades occurred in multiple stages, beginning with the introduction of building management controls to the air handling systems for the lobby and some of the ballrooms. Occupant comfort was the primary goal, as was establishing consistent controls through which alarms could be sent to maintenance staff.

Next, project managers turned to Ten Spa, considered the premier spa in Winnipeg and one of the top spas in Canada. The owners opted to install 35 SE8000 Room Controllers throughout the spa, as well as a SmartStruxure Automation Server to control and monitor the spa’s mechanical systems. This included a small steam plant, a chiller, and controls for the steam rooms.

“Before the upgrades, the spa was very difficult to operate, with lots of complaints about too much or not enough steam,” said Bel. “Schneider Electric and BARCOL completely automated the spa controls so that today there are zero complaints. If there ever is an issue, it’s solved with the touch of a button.”

Building management controls were installed to regulate baseboard heat on the 7th floor, where the hotel’s two largest ballrooms are located. As a pilot program, SE8000 room controllers were installed in some of the guest rooms, providing temperature and occupancy sensors that automatically trigger switchover to hydronic heat, hydronic cool or electric heat. Temperatures can now be adjusted via occupancy-based controls to save energy while guests are elsewhere, but they have full control of heating and cooling when they are in their rooms. Integration with the guest room control systems also allows the operations team to view room conditions and troubleshoot problems if they arise.

Finally, the majority of the hotel support services HVAC systems, like: sub-basement ventilation; laundry ventilation; dryer exhaust systems; kitchen ventilation system; kosher kitchen ventilation system; proofing room; bakery ventilation system; cooling plant; heating plant; domestic water controls, etc. were automated via building controls. Today’s maintenance staff have complete visibility and control of systems from anywhere at any time, greatly improving situational awareness and response times. Staff can even troubleshoot and fix issues remotely when no one is on site.


The overall solution provided by Schneider Electric was capable of seamlessly integrating with the hotel’s existing equipment and systems, eliminating the need to rip out and replace mechanical infrastructure. The various incremental upgrades have transformed the hotel’s building systems’ performance, delivering an estimated 20 per cent reduction in energy consumption. Today’s maintenance staff have complete visibility and control of systems from anywhere at any time, greatly improving situational awareness and response times. Staff can even troubleshoot and fix issues remotely when no one is on site.

“I have worked with a number of building control companies over the years and without a doubt, BARCOL and the Schneider Electric system are far and ahead of the other companies I’ve used,” Bel said. “We now have a modern hotel in a historic building; an old system with new brains.”

Building Automation WEBINAR: October 3rd, 2017, at 1 PM

Tune in for an in-depth look at how the century-old Fort Garry ushered in a new era of comfort and efficiency without sacrificing its local history and charm, and learn how you can apply these findings to your own facility.


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