The City of Nanaimo will get started this year on one of its largest-ever underground infrastructure projects.
At a meeting Monday, Jan. 17, staff provided city council with an update on what’s being called the mid-town water supply project, estimated to cost $28.4 million.
The capital project, included in the city’s 2022-26 financial plan, has increased in cost from $19.8 million in the 2021-25 financial plan, but the project scope has changed significantly over the past year.
Bill Sims, general manager of engineering and public works, said a water main break on Bowen Road in the spring of 2020 was the impetus to rearrange project planning to expedite work on the water supply in that part of the city. Mike Squire, manager of water resources, reported to council that the structural failure of the pipe caused the loss of 22 million litres of water.
“Three of our main supply reservoirs were drained and we were receiving phone calls from the hospital that the upper floors were out of water,” Squire said.
Sims said the city initially budgeted at a conceptual level, estimating $19.8 million would cover replacement of the pipe in the Bowen Road area.
“As we were getting into it and thinking about it and brainstorming about it, we [realized] there’s a better opportunity here, a bigger opportunity to really improve the resilience of the core water supply through the middle of the city,” Sims said.
The city is now looking at a primary supply main along the Nanaimo Parkway from the College Drive area to Labieux Road, a secondary supply main along Pryde Avenue, and a dedicated water main to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.
“For a little bit more investment – and I don’t say $10 million is a little bit, but relatively speaking to the value of the system – for a little bit more investment, we can really strengthen and protect the resilience of it and really improve the risk aspect,” Sims said.
In addition to new and improved infrastructure and system redundancies, city staff highlighted a few other benefits of the project. There will be opportunities to create gravel walking paths overtop of the buried pipes along the east side of the parkway, and Squire said certain sections of pathway, in Beban Park for example, “will be built to the full standards.”
City staff said the alignment of the system can also make better use of gravity and limit energy use – Labieux pump station would no longer need to pump water.
The mid-town water supply project has not been designed in its entirety, but the city has begun a process for a negotiated request for proposals to secure a contractor before designs are complete. Squire said finalized designs of the mid-town water supply project are expected to be completed this spring with construction to start this summer and continue for more than a year and a half.
“Engineers are really good at designing, contractors are good at building. Somewhere in the middle lies a really good project,” Squire said.
He cautioned council that construction costs have generally “increased dramatically” due to labour shortages and volatility in prices of materials. Sims added the city will “build as complete a picture as possible” over the next few months and that will inform the capital budgeting process.
City staff, at this week’s meeting, weren’t asking council to approve spending beyond the $28.4 million in the financial plan. Sims said the purpose of the report was to build awareness of such a large-scale project and its benefits, and remind citizens where their water is coming from.
“There’s a huge component of people working in the background to make it happen and $1 billion worth of water infrastructure in the background that allows you to just assume that water comes out of that tap in the wall,” he said.