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Banff delivers $37 million in capital projects largely on budget

“Thank you to you and your teams and the many teams throughout the organization that helped to make all of those projects happen,” said Banff Mayor Corrie DiManno
Banff Town Hall 2
Banff Town Hall

BANFF – The Town of Banff has delivered $37.4 million worth of capital projects for 2021 – and only one was over budget.

Adrian Field, director of engineering for the Town of Banff, said good progress is being made on the majority of projects with liabilities identified early and acted upon as part of the project management process.

“Fifty-nine out of 60 projects are on budget, and by that I mean within the value approved by council prior to starting the projects,” he said, noting pier and masonry work on the 100-year-old Bow River bridge was the only project to overshoot its budget.

One of the long-awaited projects – the new pedestrian bridge connecting downtown at Central Park to the Banff recreation grounds on the south side of the Bow River – is underway following approval of environmental work by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Parks Canada.

Field said the selected design meets the stringent environmental, performance, geometric, budget and aesthetic objectives the municipality laid out, adding that work got started earlier this week.

“We’re quite excited about that… you may have heard chainsaws firing today,” he during his update on 2021 capital projects to Banff town council on Monday.

“It’s not an unchallenging project, though, in terms of avoiding regulatory headaches by producing a design which is worthy of its location.”

The $5.5 million bridge – to be known as the Nancy Pauw Bridge in honour of the legacy of Nancy who died in 2018 after a long battle with cancer – was paid for by Banff taxpayers ($800,000), The Pauw Foundation ($2.5 million) and a federal infrastructure grant ($2.2 million).

A large portion of Central Park will be fenced for public safety reasons with heavy machinery working, storage of materials, preparation of new connecting paths, and construction of the complete span of the bridge on site.

After foundations are created on either side and the full span is built, it will be lifted into place next summer.  The bridge will not have any piers in the river.

Work underway includes the relocation of 13 large trees in Central Park to make way for new trail alignment and site preparation. This week, about 30 more trees will be removed where the foundations of the bridge will be established near each bank.

Many new trees will be planted during reclamation and landscaping, while trees that cannot be relocated will be used for fuel in the Town of Banff’s biomass district heating system, which reduces fossil fuel consumption in municipal facilities.

Field said when complete, the new bridge will see up to 8,000 pedestrians, cyclists and skateboarders cross the bridge.

“There shouldn’t be, touch wood, too much in the way of a fall 2022 completion, possibly a wee bit sooner than that,” he said.

The $9.5 million reconstruction of Bear Street to turn the area into more of a tourist attraction and boost businesses was finally completed in mid-July after being on the books for about 28 years.

The project scope included full replacement of all water, sanitary, storm services and mains, full road reconstruction and placement of geotextile and insulation, installation of soil cells, electrical, lighting, and street furniture as well as 90,000 block pavers.

The project started two months behind schedule due to groundwater issues with the contractor’s intersection project in Canmore, but winter work caught up on timeframes to bring the project in three weeks later than the original construction completion date.

“It was an incredibly disruptive project because we replaced everything with the street,” said Field.

Early data shows a shift in the ratio of pedestrian volumes between Banff Avenue and Bear Street, which is a shared street concept giving pedestrians priority and requiring vehicles to drive at very low speeds.

Field said the split prior to construction was 5:1 Banff Avenue versus Bear Street, meaning Bear Street saw 20 per cent of the volume of Banff Avenue. Now it is a 3.3:1 split.

“We’re seeing a 50 per cent increase in pedestrian volumes now and I am hopeful that that is trickling down into increased revenue for the businesses who are on the street,” he said.

“The pedestrians being the priority and the vehicles being the guests is the design rationale and it appears to be working quite well.”

For another big road construction project, the redevelopment of St.-Julien Road, detailed design and environmental approvals are ongoing.

The goal of the project is to enhance pedestrian and cyclist connectivity, lighting and stormwater management, and replace old sewer and water utilities.

Councillor Hugh Pettigrew expressed concern that the budget may come in higher than initially anticipated.

“I think we need to get these detailed designs a few years sooner so we have a little more confidence on where we’re going,” he said.

Field said the plan is to bring the project to council in the upcoming service review for a final decision on whether to move ahead next year or defer to a future year.

“There is a new budget number coming to service review and you’ll see a report that comes along with that that explains why it’s a new number,” he said.

“As quite often happens with these projects, we present a number that’s based on a concept and that number we should think of as being very fluid and as an order of magnitude.”

The multi-year redevelopment of the Banff recreation grounds continued to move ahead this year.

The skatepark picnic area, sports field upgrades and track removal, ball diamond irrigation and dog park have all been completed.

Major projects planned for 2022 include the pavilion building, trails, skating rink and toboggan hill, with the south playground and bike skills loops and basketball court resurfacing scheduled for the following year.

Field said the project has proven difficult in terms of environmental approvals and included negotiations with Parks Canada for a remediation plan for contaminated soil beneath the sports field, which led to capping the field rather than removing the material.

“Rather than disturb that and take it away, we capped the whole thing,” he said, noting the cinder running track – called the black ring of death – was removed too.

“Finding a way to achieve what we wanted to achieve in the environmentally responsible way was probably the crux of this.”

The development of 33 price-restricted affordable for-purchase housing units in the Aster project on the 300 block of Banff Avenue has also had some trying moments.

Water quality testing of the groundwater indicated elevated levels of selenium and zinc above the concentrations that are acceptable for discharge into the Bow River, identified as critical habitat for bull trout.

Field said discharge into the Town of Banff’s sanitary system was also not possible without risking compromising the biological treatment processes at the wastewater treatment plant.

“Pumping large volumes into the sanitary system wasn’t an option because of COVID and the plant’s running at a much lower capacity,” he said. “So if it’s suddenly filled with thousands of cubic metres a day of cold water, that would certainly kill the plant.”

In response to the unanticipated problem, Field said the team developed an innovative and cost-effective waterproof shoring box design, which allowed the elevator pit and sump to be constructed 1.5-metre below the groundwater table without the need for major dewatering.

“There was fairly high groundwater, which in of itself wouldn’t be too much of a problem and we were ready for that, but what we weren’t ready for was the high levels of selenium in the groundwater,” said Field.

“We’ve seen exceedances to the guidelines before, but this particular exceedance was 10 times anything we’ve seen before so it was a little strange, but it’s more than likely a natural occurrence.”

Field said the project is nearly out of the groundwork.

“We’re almost in the clear in terms of the huge risk aspects of this project,” he said.

The affordable housing project – to be LEED silver certified and housing a 39KW solar panel array – is to be funded through the sale of the units and requires no taxpayer subsidy.

Administration launched the sales process for the units in October, and based on the level of interest, a lottery process will likely be held early in the new year.

“We’re heading towards summer 2022 occupancy,” said Field.

Anothe major project, the Roam transit bus storage project, was substantially completed on schedule and within budget in February and is now fully occupied.

The building includes administrative offices, a state-of-the-art driver training simulator, indoor and covered storage for 32 buses, a wash area and charging stations for the electric buses.

The 27,000-square-foot facility produces net-zero carbon emissions and is fully powered by the largest solar array in Banff and Jasper national parks.

It is heated entirely by the new biomass energy district heating system that burns wood chips and turns them into heat energy.

“It doesn’t have a gas connection because of the biomass district heat building,” said Field.

“It is the only source of heat for the transit storage building and it heats three other buildings in the operations yard.”

Councillor Barb Pelham was fascinated by the $1.5 million biomass heating project.

Overall, the project is estimated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 233 tonnes per year and achieve a cumulative reduction of 5,970 tonnes CO2 equivalent over the project lifetime.

“I love the biomass district heating and I was curious if there would be a chance to have a tour of it at some point,” she said.

The one capital project on the list of 60 running over budget is work on the Bow River bridge, a 100-year-old structure that was designated a municipal heritage resource in 2016.

The $228,825 project scope includes rehabilitation of the decorative masonry along the northern abutment and land pier 5 and the pier in the river located closest to the northern shoreline.

“We’re over budget by $60,000,” said Field. “We did get a contribution of $78,000 from the province, which hopefully softens the blow.”

While demolition work was underway in January, more significant structural issues were identified as the stonework cladding and the old scour apron were removed – exposing the structure of the pier underneath.

The internal bridge stormwater management system is a set of troughs that direct the water to downspouts, but the troughs were found to be full of fine sediment debris. Water flowing through the deck expansion joints is not being contained and instead overflows the troughs onto the pier caps, which accelerates deterioration of concrete, masonry, and corrosion of steel in the bridge.

Field said the troughs were cleared of debris; however, this is a temporary fix, and the excessive water flowing through the deck expansion joints will need to be addressed as part of a bridge maintenance plan in future years.

“At service review, council will be presented with options for doing the other piers as well as looking at developing a new solution for the deck joints, so basically water-proofing the deck joints,” he said.

“We think that would be a very good idea to prevent ongoing degradation of the bridge piers.”

Coun. Pettigrew said he was concerned about the condition of the deck, noting it hasn’t been resurfaced for quite a few years.

“I am more concerned – maybe not with the cost which will be interesting – but how we’re going to manage the replacement since it’s the only bridge,” he said.

Mayor Corrie DiManno thanked Field for his comprehensive update on progress on the lengthy list of capital projects for 2021.

“Thank you to you and your teams and the many teams throughout the organization that helped to make all of those projects happen,” she said.