Peter Fry leads a tour group through the renovated mill building that has been converted into the shipping container overhaul location. Photo by Lorene Keitch

Marrying tech to trades in Canal Flats

Open house at Columbia Lake Technology Centre

Brought out by curiosity, career opportunities, or to catch up, hundreds of visitors streamed into the Columbia Lake Technology Centre (CLTC) last Friday, August 24th for an open house.

The old Canfor mill site has been repurposed as a digital technology centre under the gaze of Brian Fehr, the tycoon who bought the land last year. Mr. Fehr was pleased with the open house and says the team is feeling much more confident knowing public support is in their favour, and the support Council has given to the project, such as working to rezone the lands.

The plan at CLTC is to build massive digital data storage units. Work has already begun, with the log sorter building transformed into a conveyor belt-style shipping container rebuild operation: containers come in one end as empty shells and come out the other end (in under a month) as fully functional server storage units. A 10-ton crane lifts the containers in; a 20 ton crane will lift them out due to the weight of technology installed in each shipping container. The containers will be stacked into megapod units, each drawing three megawatts of power to run. By comparison, according to site manager Mike Kruc, the entire mill ran on seven megawatts of power. To bring enough energy onsite for the 10 initial megapods, they bought a second transformer, installed on the grounds and bringing in collectively 30 megawatts of power. They anticipate the first two megapods to be operational some time in the fall, likely November.

“We’re really focusing on getting those two up and running perfectly,” says Lorri Fehr (Brian’s sister), the new Chief Executive Officer at the tech centre. “We want to set the standard for Canadian server farms and global server farms.”

While data farms are nothing new, the way the pods are put together and operated is innovative according to industry insiders.

“I think this is world-leading design,” says Brian Fry, co-founder of the technology centre.

Megapods put off a massive amount of heat. Instead of sending it into the air, the plan is to harness the heat by building greenhouses, and creating a district cooling and heating loop, with potential for heating facilities in the future such as the Canal Flats arena.

In the 10-15 year outlook, Mr. Fehr is proposing building outward from the centre: hotels, a microbrewery, pub and retail space, a future farmer’s market, retail and office space, and mixed residential units. The 80 acres could accommodate an estimated 400 to 550 units, leading to a population boon of 700 to 1,000 additional residents at full build-out.

“Brian (Fehr) doesn’t want to create a Whistler, where people that work in Canal Flats can’t live in Canal Flats,” explained planning consultant David Ford in his open house presentation showing a bird’s eye view of the property and the proposed uses for the space.

They also envision a technology training centre, ball diamond, and maybe even a couple man-made lakes with a canal running between the two for people-powered recreation like canoeing, kayaking, and Standup paddleboarding.

Already on site is a steel fabrication shop. There are approximately 20 employees creating components for BID Group-owned facilities, primarily in the southern United States. Manager Viorel Mazilescu praised his employees, who collectively ship about 65,000 pounds of fabricated steel out each week. He is optimistic they will have another 10 to 15 employees by next year at this time.

“They’ve done a really excellent job,” said Mr. Mazilescu. He added the limitation for the shop is in finding quality employees, not in the volume of work available.

Following the open house, Ms. Fehr says they heard positive reactions from attendees about the growth and development of the old mill site. She is excited to join the team, leaving her innovation and technology job in School District 8 at the end of August. Ms. Fehr is looking forward to helping make a bigger impact in rural B.C., and to make sure future generations have an opportunity to find work in rural B.C.

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