Bulging pipes at the Jasper Fitness and Aquatic Centre is typically a feature, not a bug.
However, on December 23, the main sprinkler line in the facility’s ceiling burst after temperatures in Jasper dipped to minus-40 degrees Celsius over the course of several days.
Frozen water caused the pipe to break above the lobby, just before staff were starting their day, said Community Development Director, Christopher Read.
“It had maybe been running for half-an-hour,” explained Read. “But it’s a four inch pipe, that’s a lot of water.”
Shutting off the water supply, maintenance staff were able to mitigate a total catastrophe, but significant damage had already been done, Read said. Drywall and insulation was soaked through—damage which was largely covered by insurance—but the event revealed that the facility has building and envelope issues that made it more vulnerable to freeze-ups.
“As we do this repair from the main leak, we’re going to fix the main envelope…so we can guarantee this doesn’t happen again,” Read said.
Those uninsured fixes will run in the neighbourhood of $100,000 to $150,000.
The building, which is a patchwork of former foundations and more recent upgrades, has interfaces which join the old and the new, Read said.
“Part of that building is 70-years-old, part of it is 40-years-old, part of it is 12-years-old. In the ‘olden days’ we didn’t build as well as we should have for extended spells of minus-45.”
The Fitness and Aquatic Centre was closed for several days to clean up the mess. The lobby is still being repaired; in the meantime, users are being rerouted through the building’s emergency exits.
“We know it’s restricting entry numbers,” Read said.
During that same December cold snap, across the schoolyard from the Aquatic Centre, more water damage to public facilities occurred when pipes froze, then burst, at the Jasper Elementary School. Classrooms cabinets, lockers, carpets and walls were affected by large amounts of water coming through the ceiling lines, but the bulk of the damage was done to the gymnasium floor. It will need total replacement, said Nikki Gilks, special projects manager for Grande Yellowhead Public School Division.
“Our facilities team worked diligently to ensure the repairs were completed so that classrooms and all affected areas were ready to go for the start of school in January,” she said.
More water damage due to frozen pipes occurred at the Jasper Fire Hall that same day, causing significant headaches for staff whose offices were rained down on with cold water, but it wasn’t just water lines that were affected by the plunging temperatures. In the alley behind the Jasper Municipal Library, a plunging frost line caused ATCO’s natural gas line to spring a leak. Subsequently, gas collected in the library’s basement and the building had to be evacuated. Staff were faced with the dual challenge of airing out the building by opening roof vents and hatches, while ensuring the library’s water lines didn’t freeze. They couldn’t use portable heat sources because of the explosion hazard.
“Everything had to be spark-free,” Read said.
Thanks to fast-responding staff and contractors, those problems are largely behind MOJ and GYPSD staff. Unfortunately, over on Patricia Street, the owners of One Sushi are still grappling with the damage that burst pipes wrought on their business. They don’t expect to open for another three months, said restaurant manager Michael Lee.
The December 22 deep freeze was record breaking. According to a weather summary from Environment and Climate Change Canada, all across Alberta, communities—including Jasper, where the mercury dipped to -41.4°C—recorded new coldest daytime highs.
Jasper’s previous record was -31.6°C set in 2008. Records in the area have been kept since 1916.
Read’s discussions with industry professionals suggest that as weather patterns are increasingly affected by climate change, municipalities should be on guard for more infrastructure-damaging temperature swings.
“More of these deep freezes and thaws will be a threat to our infrastructure,” he said.
Bob Covey // firstname.lastname@example.org