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Banff's capital projects mostly on time, on budget

“When given the choice of working in Calgary and getting paid the same or even a bit more and not having the cost of living and housing crisis to the same extent we do, then labourers are choosing to favour Calgary, making it incredibly difficult for us.”
A multi-purpose pavilion is under construction as part of the ongoing redevelopment of the Banff recreation grounds. JUNGMIN HAM RMO PHOTO

BANFF – Most of Banff’s $39.2 million worth of capital projects will be delivered on time and on budget.

However, Town of Banff officials say construction of many of the 66 projects on the capital books for 2022 has not been without challenges given current market conditions, particularly labour shortages across most trades and ballooning construction costs.

“Calgary construction is booming,” said Adrian Field, director of engineering for the Town of Banff during a fourth-quarter capital project update briefing to Banff town council on Monday (Nov. 14).

“When given the choice of working in Calgary and getting paid the same or even a bit more and not having the cost of living and housing crisis to the same extent we do, then labourers are choosing to favour Calgary, making it incredibly difficult for us.”

In terms of budget, 86 per cent of projects are either on budget or under budget, such as St.-Julien Road reconstruction. Three per cent are over budget for a total of just $6,000. About six per cent are under review and five per cent haven’t started.

“It is currently anticipated that the majority of capital projects will be delivered within the identified capital budget,” said Field.

The reconstruction of St.-Julien Road, which started in April with an $8 million budget, is substantially complete and aims to enhance pedestrian and cyclist connectivity between downtown and the Banff Centre, improve lighting and stormwater management and replace old sewer and water utilities.

“We plan to return $1 million to reserves this year, quite possibly some more this time next year, too," said Field.

One of the more challenging projects has been construction of the Aster, a 33-unit affordable housing project on Banff Avenue that will be LEED silver certified, house a 39-KW solar array and have energy performance approximately 20 per cent better than the national building code.

Field said the pandemic-related supply chain delays and inflation caused the project to be delayed and challenging to manage.

He said materials are taking longer to procure, and the unavailability of some materials meant the need for nimble redesign to accommodate alternate materials that can be acquired in time.

“Framing labour is pretty much a continual revolving door of folks who come to the site, work for a few days and then leave again, so it’s been really hard to keep that on track,” he said, adding framing is now more than 75 per cent complete.

“The trades downstream of framing don’t seem to be experiencing the same issues to the same extent, so we’re really hopeful that when we get through framing this project is going to get a bit easier.”

The for-purchase housing project is fully sold out, with 85 per cent of units sold to first-time home buyers. It is anticipated owners will be able to move into their new homes sometime next spring.

Field said a price-restricted model will keep the Aster a perpetually affordable housing development.

“It’s going to be a really awesome place to live,” he said, noting the courtyard and shared amenity spaces and saved heritage cabin located on the roof deck.

As for the ongoing redevelopment of Banff’s recreation grounds, the multi-purpose pavilion is under construction and is expected to be completed in spring.

The design of the winter skating rink is ongoing, with construction expected in summer 2023 and open for fall-winter of 2023-24.

An adventure playground is also currently being designed with construction planned for next year. The bike park regulatory approvals, scope, design and procurement are ongoing. Administration hopes to be able to build the bike park in 2023 or 2024.

Coun. Hugh Pettigrew raised concerns about the escalating costs associated with construction, worrying how it would affect the Town of Banff’s 10-year capital plan.

“Would you be comfortable if we held back on some projects next year to give you time to catch up?” he said.

Field said that would not be needed from administration’s perspective.

“A very small percentage, four per cent of projects which we can’t get done, is because we haven’t got staff,” he said.

“The vast majority of the projects where carry-forward occurs happens because they are designed to go over multi years or they’re complete and it’s warranty work.”

Mayor Corrie DiManno thanked Town staff for continued work on the lengthy list of capital projects.

“It’s been so nice to see the progress we’ve been making, whether it’s the bridge or St.-Julien or Bear Street,” she said.

“It’s always remarkable what this organization is able to get done on time and under budget.”