April 1, 2009

UBC Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre

Award Magazine

The eyes of the world will be on Vancouver next February as the city hosts the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.
An aggressive $580-million sports venue upgrade and new construction program has been underway since Vancouver was awarded the bid on July 2, 2003. Venue construction began in late 2005 with several projects completed by mid-2008, well in advance of the Games to support athlete training. The completion of the curling facility in February, 2009, one year before the games start, marked the end of the on-time, on-budget venue program.

Sustainability and legacy building are two cornerstones of the Vancouver Olympic Committee’s platform – both prevalent in its venue construction program. The University of British Columbia’s Thunderbird Arena, one of the first facilities completed, is a prime example of efficiency, adaptability, sustainability and lasting legacy.

During the Games, the multi-use facility is the secondary venue for the men’s and women’s ice hockey games and the primary venue for all sledge hockey games. The final ice hockey games will be played at GM Place. While GM Place sheet ice meets National Hockey League regulation, the IOC agreed to allow the Olympic ice hockey games to be played there due to exorbitant costs of renovating GM Place to an Olympic sized ice surface. UBC’s thunderbird Arena does meet both Olympic and NHL size requirements, leaving the facility open to host future international events such as the World Junior Hockey Championship.

Part new construction and part renovation, Thunderbird Arena houses three ice sheets. Arena A will be run in NHL configuration during the Games, with additional seats provided for up to 7,200 spectators, leaving 5,000 permanent seats in legacy mode. The other two rinks (used for operations and practices, both have NHL sized ice surfaces). There are seats for 980 spectators in the Bauer Arena and a viewing gallery overlooking the ice in Rick C. The parabolic seating bowl in Arena A provides excellent viewing from any seat in the house. “The vision for the building was to create a lasting legacy of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games to benefit UBC, the surrounding community and the province of B.C.,” says Michael McDonald, Principal, Kasian Architecture Interior Design and Planning Ltd. “It is also meant to complement the existing Bauer Arena, whose naming plays homage to a storied leader in Canada Olympic ice hockey history.”
The original ice sheet used by Father David Bauer as he coached the 1964 Olympic team to a fourth place finish in incorporated into the new facility. Of the site’s original four rinks, three were demolished, while the Bauer rink was reused and two new rinks were built.

The arena design targeted equivalence to LEED® Silver and addresses sustainability in several key ways including: the reuse of the Bauer ice sheets and existing plant; no increase in the existing building footprint; a minimum 26-percent energy use reduction through integrated design of the ice plant; high-efficiency building envelope; use of thermal mass concrete; use of excess heat from the ice plant for water and space heating; internal and external water management through low-flow fixtures; and low-maintenance landscaping.

“Generously sized change rooms are located directly adjacent to the ice and are warmed with under-floor heating pipes that recycle the heat of rejection from the refrigeration process,” says Kasian’s Ralph Laser, job captain for this project. “The insulated concrete panels used for the walls around the competition rink and rink C provide insulation from outside daily and seasonal temperatures and act as thermal storage on the inside, further reducing energy consumption.”
Building materials include steel, concrete and glue-laminated wood. The structure boasts 1,100 tons of steel, not including the open web steel joists, 10 glulam columns and 11 glulam beams, and 5,012 permanent, self-rising, polyethylene NHL mode seats in the exact colour match to the blue in UBC’s crest. That blue in coincidentally the same blue found in the arms of ILANAAQ, the Inukshuk in the Winter 2010 Games emblem.
“On a practical side, the building needed to be robust and resistant to the normal scrapes and dents that follow hocked bags and sticks over the next few decades,” says Laser. “Taken together, the combination of materials reflects the strength and toughness of the athletes the will be competing.”

On the inside, the building’s tightly knit plan optimizes core and support facilities: lockers and change rooms, a fitness centre, lounge and restaurant, and the Nationals Training Centre. Each arena can be used independently or together as in a large tournament. The arena can also serve other recreational and community uses, such as music concerts.
Design flexibility and versatility make the competition arena compatible for sledge hockey. Artificial ice will be used in the player and penalty boxes to create a smoother transition to the playing surface. As sledge hockey players are only centimetres off the ice, clear Plexiglas panels are inserted in the boards for better viewing and enhanced ice level photography and videography.

The building materials are reminiscent of the venue’s West Coast context. Large glulam timber columns that support the entry canopy echo a forest edge while deep glulam beams carry the roof over the arriving spectators.
From construction start in mid-2006 to completion in early July 2008, this project took 22 months to build at a cost of $47.8 million. It came in on budget and opened four months early – no small feat during a province-wide construction boom.
“The project’s entire design team, the design-build contractors and subconsultants all pulled together from the very beginning of the project, working closely with UBC Properties Trust, UBC Athletics and VANOC to produce a fully integrated effort,” says McDonald.  “Even in a period of extreme construction cost escalation and scarcity of construction labour, Bird Construction was able to bring the project on budget and months ahead of schedule.”

Construction was not without challenges, however. Deep soil freezing 10 to 15 feet beneath the existing rinks led to deeper than anticipated excavation, adding time and cost to the project.  On the structural side, the renovation/new construction combination created phasing and design challenges related to the arena’s original ice plant.

“The multiple phases meant that we had to design each phase as an independent structure and allow for connections as each phase  came on line,” says Greg Smith, Weiler Smith Bowers Consulting Structural Engineers. “This is where design build partnership shines. The most important time on a job like this is time spent at the beginning. Once we start, the speed is such that there is no going back.

Considerable time was spent upfront with Bird Construction and key structural sub-trades in developing structural schemes and construction sequencing that balanced scheduling and building choice. For example, insulated tilt-up panels would have been perfect and economical for construction, says Smith but with no room for casing the panels during ongoing excavation, insulated precast panels were used instead.

“The entire project was incredibly smooth and there is a simple explanation – teamwork,” says Smith. “Everyone had the best people on the job and we all worked together to solve issues. Very little time was spent going back and forth. We had to keep moving forward and everyone recognized that.”

While the world waits in anticipation for the Games, banners bearing the likenesses of former UBC sport alumni such as former Prime Minister John Turner, former Canadian National basketball icon Ron Thorsen, Colorado Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis and the original UBC Women’s ice hockey team line in the main arena’s north wall.
As part of the new UBC Sport Hall of Fame housed in the arena, these portraits are meant to inspire the athletes competing within theses four walls.

By Heidi Castle