NSGEU building for the future

Ken Partridge
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The story NSGEU over the past decade has been one of growth

NSGEU President Joan Jessome, Past President Greg Blanchard and project manager Darren MacPhee turn the sod on the NSGEU's Burnside headquarters.

The story of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) over the past decade has been one of growth. During that period, the Union has seen its membership almost double. That has made the question of space at its Burnside headquarters go from a concern to almost a crisis.

"Between 90 and 95 per cent of our current building is office space," says Secretary/Treasurer Darren McPhee. "That leaves little in the way of member space. Members meet here in the evenings and on weekends and right now we can't accommodate more than one local at a time. So we need more member space."

The Union originally thought it could address this need by renovating its existing structure at 100 Eileen Stubbs Ave. However, a needs assessment by the Union's architect and the evolution of building codes over the 20 years since the building was first constructed quickly made it clear that what was really needed was a new building.

Work is now underway clearing a new 5.6-acre site at the corner of Wright and John Savage Avenues for the construction of a new headquarters and members' conference centre that McPhee says is designed to meet the Union's projected needs for the next 20 years.

However, finding that site ­– especially within Burnside – wasn't such as easy task.

"We thought we had exactly what we needed just over on Commodore near the sports fields, but part way through the negotiations we were told the land was no longer available because it might be needed for the proposed stadium," McPhee says. "Suddenly we were back at square one and behind in our schedule."

McPhee says it was difficult to find a lot that had all the elements the Union was looking for: it had to be on a bus route, have excellent visibility from its surroundings and had to be easily accessible not only from all of HRM, but also from all over the province.

"The lot we have now is a little bigger than what we wanted, but it has the visibility and accessibility we needed," McPhee says.

It also allows the Union to move ahead with the project at a faster rate than originally planned. The project was initially conceived in two phases, the first being the headquarters component and the second the conference centre. However, the larger lot size and the projected increased costs of waiting till a future date convinced the NSGEU to move ahead with both phases simultaneously.

"So the project is now a lot larger – 58,700 square feet – and more costly than originally planned, but its developed into a full conference centre and most of the building's first floor will be dedicated to member use," McPhee says.

It also allows for the incorporation of several green technologies, although McPhee is careful to point out the Union isn't seeking a LEED certification. However, the project will incorporate in-floor radiant heating, light and water use sensors, natural gas, back-up power systems, energy efficient appliances and an indoor "winter garden" on the ground floor.

On the transportation side, a transit user pedestrian access route is being provided, there will be dedicated parking for smaller vehicles and conduit is being installed for the eventual creation of electrical vehicle charging stations.

The new construction schedule has the project being completed by the end of next June, although McPhee says they are trying to speed things up a bit and hope to have it ready to move in prior to that deadline.

"This building will usher in a new era for the NSGEU in terms of facilitating members needs," McPhee says. "Right now this building [the current headquarters] is seen more as head office because there's not a lot of member space. We hope to change that perception with the new building."

Organizations: NSGEU, Nova Scotia Government, General Employees Union

Geographic location: Burnside

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