Building for the Olympics

Friday, February 17th, 2006

Five major construction projects are being pushed ahead this year to provide Canadian athletes with two years training without pressure from their competitors

Jeff Lee

This year the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic organizers and their partners will be pushing hard on five major construction projects that need to be finished in time for the 2008 training season.

It’s all part of a pledge to help Canada break its at-home gold medal drought by giving Canadian national teams two years’ training on the facilities without pressure from their competitors.

This spring, the major footings will be built for the Whistler Sliding Centre, home of the bobsled, luge and skeleton track; the University of B.C. hockey rinks, the Richmond speed-skating oval, and the Whistler Nordic Centre, where four ski and jumping events will take place.

The cities of Vancouver and Whistler will also break ground this year on their two athletes’ villages, and planning work is proceeding on several other sports venues, including a new curling rink in Vancouver and snowboard and alpine ski facilities at Cypress Mountain on the North Shore and Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler.

Earlier this week we published reports on the progress of construction at the Nordic Centre and the Richmond oval. Here’s a roundup of other projects on Vanoc’s radar screen this year.


When the Whistler Sliding Centre opens for testing in the winter of 2007, it will join a rarefied group of bobsled, luge and skeleton tracks. There are currently only 13 of the specialized sporting facilities in the world, and Whistler’s will be the most modern.

Construction of the $55-million, 1,450-metre concrete track will get underway this spring once snow recedes from the south side of Blackcomb Mountain.

It’s a technically challenging and intensive project, involving nearly 100 kilometres of refrigerated piping inside the length of the U-shaped track. The track itself will be composed of spray-on gunite concrete.

Last year, Emil Anderson Construction won a $13-million contract to clear the site and build the access road that will wind from the base all the way up to a 50-sled parking area, men’s start and short warm-up track. Some services were also installed before the snow chased the contractors down the mountain.

Over the winter, Vanoc put out requests for proposals to build the track and liquid-ammonia refrigeration system.

It received five expressions of interest for the refrigeration contract and pre-qualified four of them, according to Steve Matheson, Vanoc’s vice-president of venue construction. Ten construction firms also submitted bids for the track work, with five being pre-qualified.

The track contract will be issued by the end of February, Matheson said.

Building a winding concrete chute that can safely carry the world’s top sledders down a steep mountain slope requires a huge amount of technical skill. Getting the design of the tight curves wrong can spell disaster. But with only two dozen or so tracks like that in the world, there’s not a lot of demand for professional bobsled track designers. In fact, according to Matheson, he knows of only two.

Vanoc hired one of those, German engineer Udo Guergel, who designed all of the tracks for the 1998 Nagano, 2002 Salt Lake and 2006 Turin Olympic Games.

Guergel’s plan calls for a track almost a mile in length, with 16 corners and no long straight stretches. Racers will hit speeds of up to 130 kilometres an hour over the course, which has a vertical drop of 175 metres. The average time will be about 50 seconds.

Another fun fact: at that competitive speed, bob and luge sleds, which weigh about about 590 kilograms and 90 kilograms respectively, develop massive gravitational forces as they round the corners. The track has to be designed to withstand a G-force of five, and keep the athletes from flying out of the curves.

In November 2004, a consortium headed by general site contractor Vancouver-based Stantec Architecture Ltd. was hired to put into practice Guergel’s mathematical design. The company’s experts participated in the design of the Salt Lake track. The consortium includes Stantec Architecture, Stantec Consulting, Stonefield Development, Van Boerum & Frank Associates, Inc. and R.H. Strong & Associates Inc.

The site will have space for 12,000 spectators, mostly along the access road. There will also be three parking lots and seven buildings, including a guest services building and a control tower. The track itself will have several start lines for men’s, women’s and junior competitions.


Before construction of two new Olympic-sized hockey rinks can begin at the University of B.C.’s Thunderbird Winter Sports Complex this summer, bulldozers, will have to raze three of four existing arenas.

Hockey will halt at the complex at the end of April, and likely won’t resume until November or December at the earliest.

The existing 1,200-seat main rink is being retained. But it will never see a single Olympic game played; instead, it will serve as an operations and media centre to the two new sheets being built nearby.

The larger of the new ovals will be a 7,000-seat arena where many of the Olympic games will be played in 2010. The other will be used as a practice sheet.

The project was first billed as costing $40.8 million, of which Vanoc will provide $35.8 million. UBC was to provide the remaining $5 million, but last week increased its budget to $9 million to allow for new dressing rooms and a restaurant at the existing arena.

It is also getting $1 million in materials and services from Rona, the hardware retail chain, which is one of Vanoc’s premier sponsors.

The ambitious project is complicated by the fact the centre is heavily used by many groups, including the 1,200-member Thunderbird Minor Hockey Association, recreational hockey leagues and the university’s own intramural sports program.

Originally, UBC planned to demolish all four arenas. But a community and user-group backlash and a study of the university’s ice needs caused UBC to change its plans.

Also complicating the construction process is a faulty ground-heating system under two of the soon-to-be demolished arenas. The result was that the arenas’ ice plant froze the ground up to four metres deep. It will cost UBC about $800,000 to remove the affected soil.

In January 2005, UBC hired Kasian Architects of Vancouver and Bird Design-Build Ltd., a subsidiary of Bird Construction, a Canadian company, under a design-build contract. They put forward a 240,000 square-foot concept. The university has since scaled it back by 10 per cent, saving $3 million.

The design now calls for 7,000 Games-time seats, with 4,800 permanent seats.

Kasian-Bird came up with a design that orients the main and practice arena towards Westbrook Mall. The old main arena will sit at the back, around which there is a cluster of offices, team rooms, the ice plant and mechanical services.

The large oval will be built on an existing parking lot north of the university’s playing fields. A new, four-storey, 1,600-stall parkade is being built adjacent to the complex. During the Olympics half of those stalls will be reserved for Vanoc use.

The practice sheet should be finished by the summer of 2007. The main oval will be in operation by the summer of 2008, giving Canada’s hockey team at least two seasons to train before the Olympic Games.


The main athletes village for the Olympics has been caught up in a political and financial argument over how much and what type of post-Olympics housing should be built on the site on the southeast corner of False Creek.

Plans to select a developer among four qualified bidders have been put off until later this spring. In fact, city council’s decision in late January to increase the amount of market housing to lessen the demand for government subsidies will require a new public hearing into the area’s official development plan.

As a result, the four bidders are having to submit two proposals each — one for the post-Olympics housing mix as it was first envisioned by the last council, and one for a new mix that would include 80 per cent market and 20 per cent social housing. No decision is likely until March.

Under the old scenario, the city was to contribute $50 million from its Property Endowment Fund to help underwrite up to a third of the site’s 2,800 units as “modest income housing.”

The village is being built on a former industrial site at the head of False Creek and, like most other Olympic villages, will be turned over after the event for public use. Vanoc is contributing $60 million to the cost of development, but the city is responsible for the entire project.

Jody Andrews, the city’s project manager, said he doesn’t believe the late council changes will delay plans to turn the village over to Vanoc in November, 2009.

This year, the city will issue contracts for installation of services.

The current official development plan envisions a fairly defined set of buildings on the site, stepping up from low near the water to as much as six storeys near First Avenue.

As a result, the city can proceed with the site servicing, including roads and rebuilding the waterfront walls, even if it hasn’t yet selected a general contractor, Andrews said. In late January, it approved a site servicing budget of $1 million.

The city hired Stantec Engineering to design the site. Last fall the city short-listed five companies to do the actual development.

However, one of those, Concert Properties, withdrew after public concerns were raised about its chairman, Jack Poole, who is also chairman of Vanoc.

The four remaining companies are Concord Pacific, The Millennium Group, Wall Financial and Windmill Development.

For the Olympics, Vanoc has created a four-zone area, orienting the village entrance at Quebec Street. That’s where the obligatory bus and transportation hub will be.

Farther to the west, at the waterfront, will be an “international” zone where media and athletes can mix. Just to the south, and further west, will be the highly secure village itself, composed of about a dozen buildings.

And at the far western end will be the Olympic “back of house” operations such as laundry, food services and other facilities.

Main access will be through the Quebec and Terminal corner, although several security exits will be built into street-ends linking to Second Avenue. Under the Olympic proposal, a security envelope will be erected around the entire village, extending to the lane on the south side of First Avenue.

The street itself will be put behind a security fence for the period of the Games, although pedestrians will have a walkway on the outside to get to existing businesses.

In mid-January, the city closed a portion of the seawall cycling and walking route that runs through the site, rerouting it out and around near First Avenue. The seawall likely won’t reopen to the public until after the Olympics, because the area will be under construction.

In December, the city awarded a $265,000 contract to JJM Construction of Delta to remove about 275 pilings and the remains of a wharf near the heritage Salt Building, which is being retained and renovated.



Location: Cesana Pariol, 90 km from Turin.

Course length: 1,435 metres, with a 114-metre difference in height.

Spectator capacity along the course: 7,130 (3,624 seated).

Number of events: 8 (three bobsleigh, two skeleton, three luge)

Distance to Athletes’ Village: 28 km.

Post-Games use: training and competition venue.

Cost as of 2005: 77.29 million euros ($108.7 million Cdn)

Of note: The new track has 19 curves, 11 to the left and 8 to the right. It was moved from its original proposed site in 2001 because of geotechnical problems. Construction started in June, 2003 and all facilities were finished in fall, 2005.


Location: Palasport Olimpico, (main), Torino Esposizioni (secondary), Turin

Description: Palasport Olimpico is a brand new arena in central Turin. Torino Esposizioni has two temporary surfaces in a renovated fair pavilion. One is being used for competitions, one for practice. All have International-sized rinks of 30 by 60 metres.

Spectator capacity: Palasport Olimpico, 12,116; Torino Esposizioni, 6,165.

Number of events: all men’s and women’s ice hockey events.

Distance from Athletes Village: 2-3 km.

Post-Games use: Palasport Olimpico, part of a larger renovated sports and stadium complex, will be used for main sporting events. The other venue returns to use as a fair pavilion.

Cost: Palasport Olimpico: 90.25 million euros ($126.7 million); Torino Esposizioni, 10 million euros ($14 million)

Of note: The venue programs in Vancouver and Turin are reversed: in Turin, the main hockey hall is new; in Vancouver, GM Place will be the site of the main events. Vancouver’s secondary and practice arenas will be new facilities at UBC.

Construction and renovation of both Turin facilities began in July, 2003.


Site: Former Mercati Generali (General Markets), a sprawling 90,000-square-metre site near the Fiere Lingotto, the former Fiat factory that is now the main Olympic media centre. New housing for more than 2,500 athletes, coaches and support staff, in 39 buildings. Designed to high environmental standards, it includes photovoltaic electricity generation and solar panel systems.

Facilities: logistics centre, shopping centre, training facilities, parking, medical centre and massage facilities. Two restaurants, one for athletes and assistants and one for staff and volunteers.

Post-Games use: Will be turned over to the city of Turin for a combination of housing and research and technology services.

Cost: 140 million euros ($196.5 million), of which 105 million euros ($147.4 million) came from federal government and the rest from the city.

Source: Jeff Lee

© The Vancouver Sun 2006

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