WESTLOCK – Although there continues to be “shifting” of the Tawatinaw Valley Ski Hill Chalet which has resulted in cracked drywall and bowing of the facility’s suspended floor, a $10,000 structural engineering report has deemed it “safe for use and occupancy.”
That’s the bottom line from the 75-page Tawatinaw Valley Ski Chalet Investigation Structural Condition Report prepared by BPTEC Engineering and unanimously accepted for information by Westlock County councillors at their Aug. 9 meeting — at their June 14 meeting, councillors voted 7-0 on the advice of community services coordinator Adrienne Finnegan to hire an engineering firm to conduct a structural engineering report of the facility, with the “potential of a geotechnical report to provide expert opinion and to investigate the settlement problem in order to come up with appropriate recommendations.”
“There’s nothing super irregular besides the bowing in the floor but that’s to be expected with where the chalet is. So, I think we’re doing pretty good considering. It’s important that residents know the chalet is in pretty decent condition and this is a good report and I recommend residents read through it,” said Coun. Isaac Skuban, whose division includes the Tawatinaw Valley Ski Hill. “I think this is something that Westlock County needs to maintain and if we don’t, we’re going to be putting in a lot more money down the line and that’s going to be where the big mistake is.”
“I think that this report will be very valuable in our strategic planning,” added Coun. Stuart Fox-Robinson, who made the motion to accept the report as information.
In January councillors learned there had been “significant movement” of the chalet and that a county-hired contractor, who’s not a structural engineer, had done “several” measurements and adjustments to screw jacks under the chalet.
While the BPTECH report, which includes a new geotechnical report by Thurber Engineering as well as similar report from 2013 by Shelby Engineering, notes a variety of fixes, Finnegan said a survey of the site and tele-post adjustments at the building prior to the 2022/2023 season top the list. Following those measurements and subsequent adjustments, Finngenan said they’ll look at the chalet again in the spring to see how much it’s moved because “there’ll be continual movement (at the chalet) and it’s not something we’ll be able to prevent based on the location.”
“All we can do at this point is to survey it annually, visually inspect it to make sure things are still structurally sound and make the adjustments to the tele-posts as necessary so that the floor remains level and we don’t see as many deficiencies in the chalet itself,” said Finnegan.
“A few improvements that the structural engineers have identified to preserve the life of the building is for us to complete a survey sooner rather than later by a licensed surveyor to establish a baseline and annually refer to those baseline measurements to determine any settlement at the chalet and in conjunction with that to proceed with any regular adjustments, if necessary, by a contractor of the adjustable tele-posts.”
Deputy reeve Ray Marquette cut to the chase and said the most-relevant information gleaned from the report is the fact the facility is safe. Page 8 of the report states simply: “The chalet building in its present condition appears to be safe for use and occupancy” and goes on to note that “at the time of this assessment the foundation’s differential settlement has not resulted in any significant structural concerns; however, over time the degree and severity of the settlement is anticipated to increase.”
“The key is that it’s safe for people to use and that was a big concern. So yeah, we might have to put a little money in to fix it over time and there has to be a limit and we have to see what’s in reserves and budget for it. But the whole point was that it’s safe for public use,” said Marquette.
Finnegan goes on to note in her briefing that administration will gather quotes for the smaller repairs, like strengthening the handrail, replacement of concrete pads at the bottom of staircase, and regrading of the gravel surrounding the bases of the facility and then prepare requests for proposals “if required to complete the larger improvements.” She also told councillors there’s $25,000 set aside in the budget annually for maintenance of the chalet.
“Some of the work needs to be done immediately and some of it can be completed in a one-to-three-year period and some in later periods afterwards. We’re not going to complete everything all at once as we obviously don’t have the money in the budget for this year, so we’ll do what needs to be done immediately and then we will work those recommendations into budgets going forward,” said Finnegan.
“Being that most of the recommendations are relatively minor improvements, it is preferable that we complete the recommendations over the course of the next one to five years to minimize any future problems.”
Getting the costs under control
Reeve Christine Wiese for one wants to get a handle on the ongoing maintenance at the chalet saying, “I’d love to have a report before we just go off and do all of this work.” She also said Tawatinaw was open 66 days over the past season and “the amount of money we’re putting into this and we’re cutting in other areas … this is something that we’re going to sit down and talk about.”
“I hear what Coun. Fox-Robinson is saying that it needs to be part of our strategic planning and 100 per cent I agree with that. But we need to spend the money on priorities first. We keep cutting essential infrastructure and capital replacements and then we continue to throw this kind of money at one, county-owned recreational site. We’ve got to come up with something better than this,” said Wiese.
“We can’t keep throwing money at this. And I would like to know how much is it going to be for these reports yearly. We need to get this under control.”
While Coun. Jared Stitsen agreed in principle, he said the building, just like any county-owned facility, needs annual maintenance. A new chalet for Tawatinaw was first talked about in 2012 and with it all but finished in 2014 it had to be physically moved due to flooding — it was revealed that the initial engineering report which had selected a suitable location had been ignored. The facility finally opened to the public in 2015.
The chalet had an initial price tag of $2 million, which according to reports in the intervening years ballooned to as much as $3 million, while the $1.5 million debenture on the facility is slated to mature in 2023, leaving roughly $344,000 left to be paid this year and next.
“If we did a report on this building (the county administration building) alone we’d find deficiencies. Every year there are handrails that need to be tightened and some settling (of foundations). I don’t want council or residents to be surprised that there’s maintenance issues,” said Stitsen. “These aren't drastic things in my mind. We have time to do them and they don’t all have to be done overnight.”