Customer service is key
Thank you Rick Crosby for the insightful feature story on Switzerland's challenged winter resorts ("Survival of the fittest," Pique, Feb. 9).
You thoughtfully reflected on key "watch-outs" for Whistler, and I agree that customer-relationship management will be critical to their future success.
That said, there are a number positive things we can take away from Switzerland's longstanding success in tourism. Two things stand out for me:
1. Seamless transportation: It's refreshingly easy to travel to and within a resort. You can make it from the airport to the mountain peak with a single card. Punctual, reliable and stress-free; even connecting times are carefully considered.
2 High-quality product: The Swiss pride themselves on quality, and as a result their products can be consistently relied on. This goes far beyond watches and pocketknives. Even two-star apartment rentals can be expected to be clinically clean and attentively serviced. At the end of our stay, I asked for our host's recipe for success. He responded in true Swiss manner and to the point: "If the guest is happy, we are happy."
Here is my two cents.
Let me start by stating that (the municipality's District Energy System [DES]) study is not even worth looking at, but I will criticize it nonetheless in non-technical terms. I found the conflict of interest to say the least, baffling.
The townhouses chosen for the study had to be in working order. Why? This does not reflect the real situation some are experiencing, and six units out of 174? Not a great sample.
DEC Engineering was the firm in charge of designing the whole system.
DEC Engineering was in charge of the study — will they criticize the efficiency of their own design? Am I the only person seeing a problem with this? Why would they possibly admit that their design does not work as promised? That would lead the company to shut down.
The DEC representative didn't seem to know what the Domestic Hot Water (DHW) set point is for hot water safety, according to Canadian safety standards. It is around 60 degrees Celsius. On some of the heat pump units, a sticker was place by WTS (Western Technical Services, the chosen company for the warranty work) to not exceed 48 degrees C, which actually falls in the danger zone of bacteria building in DHW tanks.
Why? Because those heat pumps (HP) cannot bring water to that high temperature without red screening. Red screens are the equivalent of the blue screen of death on computers.
First off, in the study why was townhouse #1's DHW turned off? Probably because the heat pumps will red screen if the DHW is turned on. Most of the red screens are caused by the heat exchanger being clogged up, therefore not being efficient and incapable of raising the temperature of the hot water over 48 to 50 degrees C.
The study should have included some tests as well for cost comparison:
• Scenario 1: Both heat and DHW set to District Energy System;
• Scenario 2: Heat set to DES and DHW on electric with a 120-gallon tank. Nobody needs 120 gallons for domestic use;
• Scenario 3: Heat set to DES and DHW on electric with a 40- to 60-gallon tank.
This would have been a more realistic comparison.
The study was done January to June. Why? It was a mild winter as well. It would have been better to have done it November to April, and during a cold winter like this year. This would have given more accurate data of the real performance. When the temperature is -10 C to -15 C and DHW and heating is on, the heat pump doesn't really stop during peak hours.
A system with electric baseboards and an electric DHW tank is a comparison between the thermal comfort of radiant floor heating and electric baseboard. To be honest, I personally don't really see a big difference in comfort; if my house is hot when it needs to be, then I am OK. But one thing is for sure though: the added comfort as they mentioned is way offset by the burden and anxiety this green system is creating in our households.
The cost operation chart in the study is full of flaws. (It states): "Average annual savings of $428." My DES fees just ate up $712 for my house.
What are the costs of the "routine maintenance," and "equipment replacement?"
The heat pump presently used is worth $18,000, without labour included, and on top of that it is a discontinued model. Apparently DEC said there is a heat pump worth $2,000 that can heat DHW and provide heating. I find that hard to believe, and if it is true, why was that not used in the systems instead?
What were the numbers DEC used to measure the cost? The study claims to include the cost of routine maintenance, DES utility fees, and the cost of equipment replacement at the end of its normal service life. Why were the dollar amounts and quotes for the entire above not provided, and the brand of an appropriate heat pump for replacement not specified?
The study also failed to mention the cost for business as usual #1 and #2 scenarios. According to the quotes obtained, the costs were between $400 and $600 for maintenance a year. The flushes were between $600 and $1,300 per flush.
This does not include any necessary parts, and does not include the cost of repairs (encountered by some owners), which have been up to $10,000 over the past six years. One neighbour received a quote for replacing a hot-water tank of $5,900 (there are two tanks to be replaced). This alone will offset the cost of operating the hot-water tank on electric. Comparing to baseboards: if a baseboard fails, you go to the store, buy one and replace it yourself. If you have a red screen, you call a tech and you pay $150 minimum for the tech to tell you that there is nothing wrong with your system. Some of those red screens are sometimes caused by the supply source.
The study also forgot to mention how the temperature of the supply source (hot water from the municipality) can affect the efficiency of the heat pump. The lower temperature supplied saves costs for the municipality, but adds cost, wear and tear on the heat pump.
Are these guys serious? If you are going to do a study, you have to do it right and objectively, and include all possible costs and compare them.
Here is my simple study for comparison with other simple systems (electric baseboard):
• WHA Fitzsimmon's Walk: 1,250 sq. ft., two adults, Hydro was $302 for the last two months (most expensive ever, so far).
• WHA Fitzsimmon's Walk: 1,200 sq. ft., two adults, one kid, Hydro was $410 for the last two months (usually $110./month).
• WHA Rainbow: 1,100 sq. ft., two adults, three kids, Hydro was $106 per month, equal billing.
• WHA Rainbow: 1,500 sq. ft., two adults, two kids, Hydro was $600 for the last two months, usually $150 a month.
• WHA 19 mile: 1,350 sq. ft., two adults, one kid, Hydro was $90 a month, equal billing.
In Cheakamus Crossing, with the DES system, the costs below do not include the yearly maintenance, flushes and repairs mentioned above:
• WHA Whitewater: 1,800 sq. ft., two adults, Hydro was $438 for the last two months, DES tax was $71 a month.
• WHA The Terrace: 1,600 sq. ft., two adults, one kid, Hydro was $345 for the last two months, DES tax was $59/month.
To 'A' or not to 'B'
Kudos to Clare Oglivie and reporter Lynn Mitges for highlighting the grade-less report card project currently underway in SD48 (Pique, Feb 2 and 9). And a high five to the school district for moving in that direction.
I have in front of me, a no-name can of beans. A clear title of the contents, ingredients from most to least; weight in metric and imperial; nutrition facts; serving and cooking suggestions and a 1-888 telephone number for further information plus the name and address of the producer — all in both languages.
There is more information on the label than students receive in the ABC method of evaluation.
Why assess and evaluate? Simple, to improve student learning. Historically, in a simpler world, the ability to memorize and retain knowledge and then write it down on a test was the practice. Percentages were common. A per cent is a precise statement and teachers soon realized that there was less quibbling about a 75 per cent or a 74 per cent if the vague ABC was used.
Today, learning is a complex web of knowledge, skills and attitude development. Education and learning have moved far from simple memory and regurgitation. How do you evaluate knowledge when it is constantly moving? The answer seems to be in assessing the learning rather than the knowledge memorized.
The ABC system is no longer up to the standard needed to improve student learning. Clear criterion-referenced assessment statements will direct students to improve their learning. Helping students to build confidence and autonomy in their learning is the key. The student, as a self-directed learner, can build capacity in goal setting, monitoring their progress, defining the next steps and bringing critical thinking to their learning. How do you measure such behaviours with ABC?
In a teacher-centred assessment system, the slow-learning student may never receive the A or a B. The superior student may never sense failure. If the bell curve worked, then a class of 25 would have a balanced grade of ABCDE. This does not happen.
Today, we hear a great deal about false news and the ABC system may well be included as a false valuation of learning. Unless teachers have a common reference point, the letter grade of one teacher will not be the same as the next teacher. Comments such as "Mr. Smith marks harder than Ms. Jones" will be history as teachers focus on student-centred criteria-assessment processes.
Summative (percentage and ABC) assessment will give way to more enlightened formative assessment, which uses portfolios, student conferences, group projects, self-assessments, quizzes and tests that enable students to learn how to learn.
Ontario has pioneered a quality approach to Formative assessment: www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/growSuccess.pdf.
It is ironic that a humble can of beans offers more information and direction than a letter-grade assessment.
After 42 years as an educator, I am firmly convinced that the ABC system is no longer adequate. Working my way through the schooling system from class teacher to principal to university professor to international school educator, I became very familiar with the assessment-evaluation-reporting cycle.
The weak area is the evaluation statement. Teachers have moved from lecture/instruct methods to providing a wide variety of learning and assessment techniques but are too often forced to squeeze the wonderful amount of learning information from the assessment into a letter grade.
This has little significance to the student except to get praise or reprimand for the allotted letter on the report card. What happened to the rich and useful information informing how the student learned the skills and knowledge from the assignments and projects?
Medical doctors may have upwards of 40 patients a day and prescribe for each one as an individual. Why can't teachers with 25 students for 10 months take quality time to engage in directing students to understand and act upon their strengths, weaknesses and the next steps that will continue to improve their learning?
Ah, then there is the dilemma of the university acceptance and the need to have the magic ABC. In a sense, that is their problem and they need to wrap their heads around better ways to assess students. UBC still uses this simple system — www.calendar.ubc.ca. I was unable to get a clear picture defining what the "A or B" actually meant.
Parents of students in school districts that are moving to the more enlightened assessment and evaluation systems will benefit from every opportunity to learn features of the better methods. School districts have a deep obligation to include parents in this move from old to new.
PM's current ideas not the answer
Sometimes I wonder about Max ("Maxed Out," Pique, Feb. 9). Changing our electoral system to allow more of the divisions in our society that destroy us to be represented in Parliament is a dumb idea.
A smart idea is to discard the belief systems that divide us, so we need neither elections nor Parliament.
That said, I can't say (Prime Minister) Justin (Trudeau) is smart. It seems every day he reminds us the purpose of his government is to "strengthen the middle class and support those trying to join it," the dumb idea of maintaining the continuum of economic divisions that began destroying humanity the day we started constructing our vertical economy.
Justin also doesn't tire of reminding us that diversity is our strength, which is another dumb notion.
Natural genetic diversity is indeed the strength of humanity, but our unnatural memetic diversity he refers to is our fatal weakness that will destroy us.