Olympic task

Alberta-based companies play huge role in getting B.C. ready for 2010 Games

Thanks to cross-country skier Chandra Crawford, freestyle skier Jennifer Heil, and others, Alberta captured more than its per-capita share of gold and podium placings at the Turin 2006 Winter Olympics. Don't be surprised by a repeat next year. However, as Vancouver-Whistler gets set for next year's Games, the Alberta connection isn't confined to athletic performance. It extends to Alberta-based engineering and construction firms contributing to designing and building several Olympic venues.

For instance, PCL Constructors Westcoast Inc., the B.C. region subsidiary of Edmonton-headquartered PCL Constructors Inc., has been preparing for the $625.9-million Vancouver Convention Centre expansion for the 2010 Olympics and Paralympics. The total cost entails a lump sum of $545.2 million combined with $80.7 million of work completed under a construction management agreement. This spectacular structure, PCL's largest-ever lump-sum project, has the Games as its immediate goal. But it will continue as a focus for visitors and a legacy on downtown Vancouver's northern waterfront long after the Olympic flame dims.

The one million sq ft. convention facility will house a media centre for some 10,000 journalists, broadcasters, and technicians. In that sense, the new and expanded facility, set to mesh with the city's existing convention centre, will form a focal point through which the world will hear and view Vancouver 2010.

The venue sets new Olympic standard. Appropriately geared to attain the gold standard under the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program, the structure-almost half of which is built over water and is supported by about 900 steel pilings-draws upon Vancouver's already spectacular natural setting and vistas. Key features include:

  • A 5.5-acre green roof-seeded with B.C. native grasses-the largest of its kind in Canada.

  • Heat pumps that use the constant temperature of seawater for heating and cooling.

  • An $8.2-million artificial reef or marine habitat apron.

  • A floor-to-ceiling, structural glass curtain wall, which offers an unobstructed view across the harbour to the mountains.

  • Integration of the centre's walkways and plazas into Vancouver's already extensive bike and pedway systems.

There were tight constraints on space and access at a site surrounded by water on three sides. With a peak workforce of 850, it called for careful construction choreography and logistics planning. Explains PCL's project director Robert Smith: "Construction teams had to deal with tides that varied up and down by 15 ft, forcing workers to work at varying times throughout the day and night to catch the water at a low enough elevation to allow tasks to be completed."

Despite the challenges during piling and densification, the project has met its targeted spring completion date.

Another company with Alberta origins, Stantec Consulting, has or is working on just about every Olympic venue and associated infrastructure project. Stantec provided mechanical engineering on the speed-skating oval and mechanical and electrical engineering on the Olympic curling facility. The Edmonton-based firm also led project management and mechanical engineering at the convention centre.

Stantec's engineering and architectural team assumed another Olympic challenge in designing the Sliding Centre at Whistler, where bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton events will be held. It's literally a case of fast-tracking. A year before the Olympics, the world's top sliders were giving the 1,450 m track a thumbs-up and setting speed records with Latvia's four-man bobsled team zooming down at 152.68 km/hr. Built into Blackcomb Mountain at a cost of $104.9 million, the track and related structures along with other components required 350 tonnes of concrete and included some 90,000 m of steel refrigeration piping.

With construction started in 2005 and the track ready for trial runs during the 2007-08 sliding season, the builders had no room for backsliding.

Negotiating the curves and dips of design required some deft engineering and special considerations. According to Stantec regional manager Michael Kennedy: "Working on a project as unique as the Sliding Centre was as challenging as it was rewarding. You can imagine that it's very different than most other venues as there are only a handful of tracks in the world and on top of that it was designed with a heavy focus on minimizing environmental impacts on a fast-track schedule."

Meanwhile, at Hillcrest Park in Vancouver's Riley Park neighbourhood, another Alberta tie-in has involved Stuart Olson Construction. The subsidiary of Edmonton's Churchill Corp. was the contractor for the Vancouver Olympic /Vancouver Paralympic Centre. The $87.9-million venue hosts curling (in 108.000 sq ft.) during the Games and recently was the site for the world wheelchair and junior championships. A 66,500 sq ft. aquatic and 174,500 sq ft. recreational facility will form part of the new complex.

Less visible but still important Alberta links are the Whistler Olympic/Paralympic Park's water and waste water facilities completed last November. The park contains stadiums for biathlon, cross-country skiing, and Nordic-combined and ski-jumping competitions. Epcor Utilities Inc. of Edmonton led the water facilities' design and construction team.

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