By Colleen Isherwood, Editor
HALIFAX — Many of the $20 million in renovations underway at the historic Westin Nova Scotian aren’t simply cosmetic. Some of the most important changes serve a dual purpose, like the green wall between the bar and the front desks. Others are designed to improve the efficiency of the 92-year-old property, including the new heating and cooling system, modern well-insulated windows, and lighting that looks historic but is really new and efficient.
The hotel is owned and managed by New Castle Hotels & Resorts, which literally saved this venerable 310-room railway property from the wrecking ball in 1996. “The RFP for demolition had already been issued,” said Glenn Bowie, who is area director sales and marketing, a position he has held for 24 years.
Back in 1996, the neighbourhood was marginal, but over the past quarter century, the city and attractions have grown up around it. Today, there’s Cornwallis Park with its natural amphitheatre across the street; Nova Scotia Power offices next door; a Discovery Centre attraction; the Seaport with all its shops and restaurants; the Halifax Farmers Market behind the hotel; and the Canadian Museum of Immigration at nearby Pier 21.
“We’ve had every prime minister stay here except Kim Campbell,” Bowie added, “plus Gene Simmonds from KISS, Cher and all the people who stayed during the Juno Awards in 2006, including Michael Bublé, Bryan Adams, The Black-Eyed Peas and Arcade Fire.”
Darrin Strangward, engineering manager, has been with the Westin Nova Scotian since the 90s. He outlined the renovations, both cosmetic and efficient, over a coffee with Canadian Lodging News at the hotel earlier this month.
“We installed new windows in both towers,” Strangward said, adding that the former window insulation consisted of braided horsehair and seaweed. “The new windows are CSA-approved low E and argon gas windows from an Atlantic company, and that makes a huge difference in the rooms.”
At one point, the hotel used steam generation from Nova Scotia Power for its heating and cooling. Now they have their own steam plant, which is more energy efficient. They also installed new air handling units, heat recovery chillers that are used to heat and cool their water. There’s a new heating and cooling system in the north tower, which is more energy efficient. “Before there was a wide range of [temperatures]; now there is more control.” There are also occupancy sensors in the guest rooms.
A couple of years ago, the hotel installed a natural gas generator which is used for load shedding. “We used to burn oil — there’s a cost savings and [natural gas] is greener.” When there’s a peak, they turn off the power for 15 minutes in areas such as office space and common areas, and then turn it back on.
All the lights in the whole building have been changed to LED, even the ornate chandeliers in the meeting rooms. “They look like they’re old-style, but they’re really crystal-cut LED lights,” Strangward said.
The changes extend to the laundry room as well. Five years ago, they installed front-loading machines that use less water. They also have a press that presses, dries and folds the sheets — a great feature considering the Westin Heavenly Beds have seven layers of sheeting!
This year, the hotel installed AquaRecycle to recycle their laundry water. They now catch, filter and clean the water onsite, using less chemicals and water. There’s less energy required to reheat the water since it is about 80 F (27 C) rather than 55 F (13 C). “We can perfectly condition the water to a certain pH so that we need less chemicals,” Strangward said. He added that water costs the hotel $9,000 to $14,000 per month, making the savings worthwhile.
They rebuilt the back operations of the elevators, and all the rooms have been redone as part of the renovations that started three years ago, said Bowie. There are new carpets, new silvery-gold wallpaper, new chesterfields and chairs, new windows and window coverings, and stone installed on the top of the hard goods. They have finished upgrading their life safety systems that include sprinklers — an important asset for American meeting planners for insurance reasons.
The conference rooms, above the lobby all have updates carpet, wall-covering and paint. As mentioned previously, the chandeliers are both beautiful and energy efficient. One meeting room features art by Joseph Purcell, who won the Governor General’s Award back in the 1940s, and throughout the conference area there are brushed aluminum table tops with a coating.
Still-to-come are renovations to the lobby and ground-floor restaurants. “We’re still activating our lobby space to make it much more alive,” said John Wilson, who was recently named vice-president, hotel performance, for New Castle. When completed, the lobby will include a 15-foot-long, seven-foot-wide lighting feature. There will be more natural light and all new furniture. “It’s exciting to see the whole place transformed,” he added.
In the lobby, the front desk has already been changed from one long one to three smaller ones, enabling staff to come around and interact with guests.
Roy’s Bar, named after Roy Clorey, a bartender who recently retired after working at the hotel for more than 50 years, will be replaced with a yet-to-be-named, more open restaurant. Elements on Hollis restaurant will become meeting space. For now, elements, which won the 2019 Wine Spectator Award, is still open. Offering lighter fare and local craft beer, the lobby lounge is has been moved to the front of the lobby.