Fort McMurray’s new Islamic Centre will be a place of worship and learning for the city’s growing Muslim community of 12,000. Image: Studio Senbel, Architecture + Design

Fort McMurray’s new Islamic Centre forges on despite economic slowdown

A construction coup for Fort McMurray, the city’s new Islamic Centre will emerge as a symbol of regional diversity and Canada’s thriving mosaic when it reaches completion within the next four years.

The almost $60-million project will be home to a mosque, a multi-purpose hall and an Islamic school. Located on Abraham’s Land in the middle of uptown, the project began in May this year and sits on a 9.52-acre lot, where it will eventually be flanked by two Christian churches, other religious facilities and a recreation centre. The ground-breaking ceremony saw Mayor Melissa Blake in attendance, along with members of Kuwait’s royal family, in addition to political and community leaders. 

 The city’s current downtown mosque was built in 1987 and has outgrown its capacity of about 300 people. Today, Fort McMurray is home to about 12,000 Muslims, who rent school gymnasiums for various gatherings. The new Islamic Centre will meet the pressing need for space to accommodate Friday congregational prayers and religious holiday celebrations.

A project eight years in the making, the centre’s development began in earnest when land title was transferred to religious organization Markaz-Ul-Islam in 2013 with a cost of $5 million, fully funded by the local community. Muslim women have pitched in by making hot lunches for Friday prayers, and others have donated 24-karat gold jewellery and diamonds to make the facility happen—truly, this is a project with emotional importance to the community.

And for the general contractor as well, which ultimately dedicated a total of 1,000 person-hours to bid the project. Jeff Sandeman, general manager at locally owned Casman Group, says working on the new Islamic Centre holds deep meaning for his company.

“We feel privileged to be selected to build the Islamic Centre of Fort McMurray. There’s nothing like this project,” he says. “This was our largest job awarded to date, and it will not only provide experience for Casman, but the opportunity for us to contribute to the local community.”

PHASED APPROACH

The project is divided into three phases. The first is expected to be complete in October 2016 and will consist of the 55,000-square-foot multi-purpose hall and supporting facility with a basement and two floors. The hall, which can accommodate up to 2,500 worshippers, will be used for weekly congregational and holiday prayers as well as special events such as sporting activities. In addition to serving as an extension for the mosque, it will also be utilized by students once the Islamic school is completed.

“Projects such as the Islamic Centre, which involve multiple phases, provide Casman with the opportunity to develop and build relationships with the client and the consulting team over an extended period of time,” Sandeman says. “In the beginning of all projects it takes some time to learn the processes each team brings with them, [but] with the continued relationship this process will be effortless.”

In keeping with the Islamic requirement of women and men praying separately, the 34,000-square-foot common area on the main floor will be used for daily prayers by the men. The second floor area will be used for women, and will also be connected to the women’s prayer area in the mosque’s mezzanine.

The minaret, which will be the tallest point of the building, is 12.85 metres. There will be about 5,000 square feet of glass used in the project. The first stage of phase one will see about 2,500 cubic metres of concrete poured, while 60,000 square feet of wall area and 29,500 square feet of ceiling area will require approximately 2,800 sheets of drywall.

By the end of October, all footings, foundation walls, weeping tiles, sewer, storm water and water lines had been finished for phase one, with the backfill about 80 per cent completed. Suspended slab has been poured, and the steel structure is scheduled to be delivered in the latter part of 2015.

COLD FRONT COMING IN

As with any northern Alberta project, weather will be a challenge. Sandeman notes that long winters mean the project will have to move quickly to ensure things are in place and protected before the cold sets in.

“Given the unique staging of this project, Casman may have to work with the client to implement temporary heating solutions to increase efficiency during the multi-phase projects,” he says. “In addition, with Fort McMurray slowing down, subcontractors often leave town, leaving us with limited subcontractors to perform the work.”

Mohamed Al-Zabidi understands the pressures of the slowdown all too well. He is the volunteer vice-president of projects for Markaz-Ul-Islam and the director/treasurer for Abram Land Corporation, a non-profit group formed to build worship facilities. The project has faced funding issues, and the first $23-million phase even had to be divided into two stages because of a cash shortfall.

“The first stage is comprised of underground services and enclosed building, while the second stage will include the completion of all interior work: drywall, mechanical, electrical fixtures, paint and parking lot. It will be tendered once we have collected the funds,” explains Al-Zabidi, who is also a project control and quality manager for Aecon Mining and has been a Fort McMurray resident for over seven years.

He has been leading Markaz-Ul-Islam’s project team of seven professional engineers, who have been volunteering for the last three years. The group is working with B.C.-based architect Sharif Senbel of Studio Senbel to finalize the design to meet community requirements. Just as the centre will one day stand next to churches of other faiths when finished, so too will its design represent a coming together of different cultures.

“The community has worked hard for the new Islamic Centre,” Al-Zabidi says. “It has a unique design, because we opted to combine Islamic architecture with modern western architecture.”


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