Despite asbestos issues, larger-than-anticipated demolition scope and “rats’ nests” of wiring” to untangle, renovation is still more cost effective than total rebuild, project managers say
A facility tour of Jasper’s under-construction recreation facilities has opened local officials’ eyes as to the magnitude of the renovation’s challenges.
On Monday, December 11 Jasper municipal councillors, along with local media members, were invited behind the curtain of the ongoing $20.4 million modernization. It was a chance for construction managers to demonstrate how unanticipated site conditions—unearthed in the partial demolition of the Jasper Activity Centre, Arena and Aquatic Centre—have contributed to the recently-announced extended closure of the facilities.
“It was a great opportunity to understand the [project’s] magnitude and complexity and how things can go sideways,” said Councillor Ralph Melnyk, who was alongside fellow councillors Wendy Hall, Kathleen Waxer and Helen Kelleher-Empey—as well as municipal staff and contractors—for the hour-long tour.
Riches of river rocks and abundant asbestos
The visit began in the upper curling lounge, where the room has been stripped to the studs in part to make way for an elevator—a feature of the project which has…pushed contractors’ buttons. When the project was planned, site managers figured on a five-to-seven-day job to remove the 5-inch concrete slabs from the area where, eventually, an open lobby will welcome users to the building’s basement floor. The surprise discovery of a 12-inch concrete slab, coupled with a ceaseless amount of river rock, served as a metaphor for the entire project, Melnyk suggested.
“It certainly reinforced the notion that the entire town of Jasper is built on river rock,” he said.
Overhead, rats-nests of wiring hinted at major untangling puzzles electricians have been burdened with. Underfoot, uneven aggregate and partially-plumbed utility lines proved tricky for the tour group to navigate.
However those challenges were nothing compared to having to remove asbestos-contaminated vermiculite insulation at seemingly every turn, said Carlson Construction’s project manager Anthony Papaianni. Workers found asbestos in the walls, the ceilings and the facilities’ mechanical shafts. While it’s non-hazardous if it’s behind walls and floorboards, once asbestos is disturbed, it can pose significant health risks to those exposed to it. Thus, every time contractors knocked down a wall or opened up a ceiling which contained the fibres, an abatement crew would have to come in, seal off the workspace, and remove it safely, Papaianni said.
“You can’t just keep hiding asbestos,” he said.
Apparently that is a recent philosophy. The MOJ’s Director of Community Development, Christopher Read, said 2023 crews have discovered that instead of doing the abatement work to remove the hazardous material, past renovators would just cover up the asbestos-lined walls with…another asbestos-lined wall.
“Like nesting dolls, the trouble is pretty soon you run out of space,” Read said.
Throwing cold water on misinformation
The Jasper Arena will benefit from much more space, particularly where hockey players put their equipment on. The tour took a precarious amble into the area where the rink’s four former dressing rooms once stood. There will be six fully-accessible change rooms and two smaller flexible-use spaces in the new build. Councillor Hall said she won’t miss repeatedly bashing her hand against the faucet handles of the the notoriously-unreliable showers.
“They were either freezing cold or scalding hot,” she laughed.
In that way, the arena’s water supply was not unlike the comments section on the Municipality of Jasper’s Facebook page. Harvesting some of Jasperites’ spicier takes on the renovation project and putting them to the construction managers, Hall asked if there was any merit to the idea that flattening the entire recreation centre and erecting a brand-new facility would be more cost-effective than renovating the old one. The response from Project Superintendent Chuck King was a flat-out no.
The following day, during his report to council, Christopher Read reiterated that notion. Five years ago, he said, the Town of Edson projected the cost of a similarly-all-encompassing facility in the neighbourhood of $90 million. Read said a conservative estimate in today’s inflated economy would prorate that to $150 million, and even if Jasper had that kind of money to spend (and a parcel of land to put it on), it would require a complete shut-down of recreation facilities for up to five years while it was built.
“If we look at the cost-benefit, the return on investment or the service to our community, I think we’ve made the right decision,” Read said.
Hall said she was happy to have the reassurance.
“The tour gave me a lot of comfort,” she said.
A quarter past January
In his report to council, Read noted the newly extended estimated project completion date. The overall project is anticipated to wrap up in the third financial quarter (between July and September) of 2024, and the Aquatic Centre will no longer open in January. Instead, a target of Q2 (April-June) is projected.
“As we remediate the unknowns, finish the demolition stage, less and less things will be surprises,” he said.
King agreed. He said he was incredulous at the amount of material that had to be removed, one wheelbarrow at a time, from the Aquatic Centre.
“But now we’re going forward,” he said. “Now we’re starting to see progress.”
Read added that the project remains on-budget‚ noting the $1 million of planned contingency has not yet been dipped into, but project leaders “expect to draw that down as we go.”
Bob Covey // firstname.lastname@example.org