CANMORE – A pair of capital projects will help increase safety and bring back some amenities at Elevation Place.
Canmore’s finance committee recommended at a meeting earlier in November council approve an increase to the rock wall refurbishment in the outdoor plaza and a new concrete platform at the top of the waterslide when the budget returns for final approval Dec. 5.
The waterslide platform would be budgeted at $200,000, while the rock wall refurbishment outside of Elevation Place would see an increase of $185,000 to its previously approved budget to bring the total to $285,000. Both funding levels would come from the asset replacement and rehabilitation reserve.
“It’s a flagship facility for us and we are a tourism-based community and it’s right there at the entrance, so I think it’s a valuable consideration,” said Mayor Sean Krausert of the rock wall refurbishment, noting addressing safety concerns was a priority.
The outdoor rock walls are half walls located around the plaza of Elevation Place and are often used as sitting spaces during the popular Mountain Market and frequently used by people to walk on. They also have lights in them, to help people see when walking through the Elevation Place plaza when it's dark.
All seven members of the committee expressed a need to address the safety concerns with the outdoor rock wall, but the way to move forward saw differing opinions. Finance committee voted 4-3, with Couns. Jeff Mah, Karen Marra and Wade Graham opposed to funding the additional costs.
Mah expressed concerns about the growing costs and whether a full replacement should be prioritized over a different design.
“It seems a bit of a luxury piece,” he said.
Andreas Comeau, the Town’s manager of public works, told the finance committee if the outdoor rock walls were removed there would also be a cost. However, Town staff could return with more information to analyze as a comparator of costs.
Though voting in favour, Coun. Jeff Hilstad added he had concerns about the potential for further increased costs once workers get in and potentially find more damage.
“I’ve seen enough things when you start getting into it and it’d just be cheaper to knock these suckers down and start from scratch,” he said. “I don’t think that’s where we are with this, but I do have concerns they’ll get into it and we’ll find out the rock work may need to come off and we have to start fresh with a new façade of rock work or something else. That’s my main concern.”
The staff report stated the short wall system outside Elevation Place had moisture in the walls, leading to a new design to replace the lighting system and sections of rock wall sides. A concrete cap and protection of each corner would also be included as well as a metal bracing system to protect the walls from maintenance equipment.
The project summary stated the walls “are poorly designed” and in the last two years there have been three public incident reports where people have been hurt after rocks on the wall came loose and fallen after the annual freeze and thaw had impacted the wall.
As of Sept. 30, $57,000 of the original $100,000 budget from 2021 had been spent.
“The challenges that were being presented with the existing rock wall were more extensive than we had anticipated, so we had to redo our approach to repairing the rock walls outside of Elevation Place,” said Whitney Smithers, general manager of municipal infrastructure.
Town CAO Sally Caudill said there would also be an increase in savings from maintenance, which would help in the long-term.
“This spend now is anticipated it will save us ongoing operations and annual replacement,” she said.
Comeau also noted the Town has had to do ongoing work, which is expected to not be needed in the near future to maintain the area.
“With this rework, we do not expect that operational cost to continue or it’d be very minor and much farther into the future,” he said.
In addition to the rock wall, the project summary for the waterslide repairs stated cracks began to form last spring in the concrete platform at the top of the waterslide, which led to it being shut down after being inspected by a structural engineer.
The platform could only be reopened once fixed, which has seen design work completed and have the platform removed and replaced.
“This will be a labour-intensive and challenging project given the poor accessibility. As such, it will likely require the construction of a dividing wall to keep the public out during construction, and use of scaffolding since most lifts cannot access this area,” stated the summary. “Work will be disruptive and some will likely need to be done outside of regular operating hours of the aquatic centre and/or temporary shutdowns.”
Additional work such as high dusting and window cleaning, sanding and restaining wooden glulam beams that have been water damaged and lighting replacement may also be needed.
Elevation Place is one of the busiest facilities in the Bow Valley. According to statistics provided by the Town, its door count for 2023 as of Nov. 18 was 496,863 people, which is an increase from 451,231 people last year. In 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the door count was 630,380.
Town statistics also show memberships have increased for the recreation space, with 3,056 being purchased in 2023 as of Nov. 18 for an increase after 2,471 were bought in 2022. Prior to the pandemic, 2019 had 2,832 memberships bought for the use of Elevation Place programming.
With multiple options available for the rock wall, Coun. Joanna McCallum said it’s important to pick a course of action, particularly given the high usage of Elevation Place.
“I think you can explore other options, but by the time you do a half job, you may as well do a full job. … Elevation Place is a centrepiece of our community,” said McCallum.