UBC wants to build a hydrogen fuel centre. Community members say not on the basketball court.

UBC’s proposal to build a hydrogen refuelling centre in what’s currently a basketball court on Thunderbird Blvd. is drawing community concern.

Some community members are concerned that the project will eliminate a community space, including Dr. Cary Wu, a UBC alumnus and York University assistant professor.

Wu said that while he completed his PhD at UBC, he and his friends would play ball at the court several times a week, or even daily during the summer. As an international student, he found community at the court — something he said neighbourhood residents found too.

“UBC campus for international students is quite isolated. So you go play, exercise or distract yourself from work,” he said. “So I met a lot of friends through playing basketball on that Thunderbird court. I am still in contact with a lot of people, friends, that I know and met at UBC for years.”

In an email sent to residents, the University Neighbourhoods Association also expressed concern about UBC’s planned removal of the court.

A proposal of UBC’s Clean Energy Research Centre (CERC), the refuelling station will use hydrogen science to power vehicles with electric motors. The technology is a growing field of renewable energy research, and hydrogen fuel cells leave behind only water.

The proposed project will replace the basketball court next to the UBC Skatepark adjacent to Thunderbird Parkade.

Wu said the Thunderbird court would ideally stay around forever, but he was concerned that UBC hadn’t yet outlined the plan for a replacement court.

Grant Miller, director of planning and development services at UBC, said that the university has heard the concern.

“We will be ensuring that construction of the hydrogen station will not commence until a relocation court is in place,” he said. “And we are committing that there will be no disruption to access of the courts.”

Miller said the location was chosen because the project needs an easily visible site that can support the installation of a large array of solar panels. The panels will be built on the rooftop of Thunderbird Parkade.

“It is specifically designed with space for pedestrians to linger, or gather and look at elements of the hydrogen refuelling process,” said Miller. The building has an open-concept design which UBC said will promote public interaction. Miller added that graphics will be part of the display for passersby to learn more.

Cost is a major concern with hydrogen refueling because it is not nearly as cheap as traditional fossil fuels. Professor of mechanical engineering Dr. Walter Mérida, head of CERC, said that is only because the costs of environmental impacts aren’t factored in.

“Beyond the research activities, the testbed will link a few narratives —technology, the built environment, people, etc.,” said Mérida in an emailed statement. “It will provide a space to gather, engage and think deeply about the way we want to live.”

According to Mérida, the project is being funded by government grants such as the Canadian Fund for Innovation, with no internal UBC funding. Miller did not provide the project’s total cost, but the cost of rebuilding the basketball court will be part of the project.

Wu said he supports the refuelling centre but that community spaces can’t come second.

“I have confidence about new energies and all that. But for me it is more about the basketball court, exercise and memories. And these feelings are shared with a large community on campus.”