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Spotlight on core review: Report suggests demolishing Departure Bay activity centre

NANAIMO – User groups value Departure Bay building but repairs are cost-prohibitive.
Paul Winn

If Departure Bay Activity Centre isn’t quite looking on the level, your eyes aren’t deceiving you.

The building dips 20 centimetres lower on one side.

Core review consultants say the building is sinking and propose the city scrap it to avoid the cost to rebuild at an estimated $2.1 million, as well as its $30,000 annual operating cost.

But not everyone is as quick to dismiss the potential of the Wingrove Street centre.

Peter Gunstone, who’s instructed Japanese sword art for more than a decade in the Departure Bay Activity Centre, said the building is showing its age, but he’d be disappointed to see it go.

He finds it well suited for the Japanese sword art, with high ceilings and reasonable floor space, but he also believes it serves the whole community as a building in a green space and accessible to those who need it.

“The frustration is there’s a usable space there,” he said. “Yes it does need upgrading, but to be replaced by nothing would be a huge detriment to the area.”

Paul Winn, a member of the Departure Bay Neighbourhood Association executive, is opposed to the potential closure.

He believes there’s an opportunity to make better use of the building and that it would be a real loss if it was gone. He suggests talking to the community about what activities would be best suited if the building was upgraded and renovated and sees the potential for a reception hall for events, parties, community socials or dances.

“I keep thinking we could use this,” he said. “The Kin Hut is nice, but it’s not big enough for some of the meetings we have.”

City leaders will mull recommendations of a core services review, completed in May, including shutting down and removing the activity centre.

The core review report says few programs are offered at the facility and most users, with the exception of 40 to 50 table tennis players who need the space for their equipment, could be accommodated elsewhere. The building is sinking, it states, and might be impossible to rebuild. By closing it, the city could expect to save operating costs and rental revenues at other centres might increase “a little.”

Art Groot, the city’s manager of facility planning and operations, said in an e-mail that in talking with longer-term staff, it seems the activity hall has had settlement issues for as long as the building has existed. It’s not rapid but has a cumulative effect.

Settlement has caused issues with doors, windows and the gym floor, which has dropped 20cm in one corner.  The city doesn’t know what the geotechnical issues are under the original footings and foundation or the extent of them.

“When you stand on the field, you can actually look at the back of the building and just run your eye on a horizontal plane and you can see how much it dips down,” Groot said. “In 2010 we did some basic repairs and … you couldn’t put things in plumb and level just because the building had sank so much on that side.”

While the core review said it may be impossible to rebuild, Groot said the wording should have been “cost-prohibitive” because if the geotechnical below is in such a state that a large portion or all of the activity centre part of the building had to be deconstructed to fix it before a rebuild, then it’s at a point where enough costs have been sustained that a new build might end up being more economical.

Seismic issues have also been identified by the city. Groot said to bring the building up to acceptable standards today would cost approximately $650,000 to $700,000 but would not include esthetic improvements or geotechnical remediation.

The core review mentions removal of the facility and demolition is estimated at around $300,000 to $400,000, plus cleanup of the current building site.