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Inside the velodrome: Milton’s new landmark

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As you wind up a long driveway to the Milton velodrome, its oval-shaped design stands out among the rolling hills of the Niagara Escarpment with the Canadian, Ontario and town flags displayed prominently outside.

Located at 2015 Pan Am Boulevard, the $56-million, three-storey facility is the only one of its kind in Canada. Leaving a lasting legacy, it will be a permanent home to the Canadian cycling team and will also host athletes from around the world during the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games, which kick off July 10 and August 7, respectively.

Inside the velodrome, the smell of recently laid wood wafts through the building. The 250-metre long, seven-metre wide Class 1 track is the focal point of the facility. It is made from smooth, untreated Siberian spruce, known for its hardness, stability and long straight lines. This wood is also regarded as the "fastest timber, allowing cyclists to reach speeds up to 85 km/h," reads the Mattamy National Cycling Centre’s website.

The track itself features 42-degree banked bends and 13-degree banked straights designed to meet the most stringent requirements set by the International Cycling Union.

Installing the track took careful planning and a special touch, explains Ben Alves, a project manager with Kenaidan Contracting Ltd. The company was part of a joint-venture with Bouygues Building Canada Inc., called Ontario Sports Solutions, that was tasked with constructing the velodrome and several other projects for the Games. Alves provided a tour of the facility as part of an event hosted by the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers.

"It (the track) was installed by Velotrack, a German company that came over. It took them about eight weeks to construct. There’s about 60 kilometres of wood in the track. It was all hand nailed," he explains.

"You take a seven metre long piece of 40mm X 40mm spruce. You then start at the centre point and you chase it around for one layer, go to the second layer. Of course they had about 12 guys or so working on it at any given time. All you heard all day was somebody banging with a hammer."

Now that’s it built, the velodrome should be kept at around 24 C and 35 per cent relative humidity in order to maintain the integrity of the wood.

But the velodrome isn’t just about the track, the cycling athletes or the Pan Am Games. It is a place meant for the community. It includes three multi-use courts on the infield or bowl that are suitable for basketball, volleyball, badminton, group events and trades shows.

The facility has around 1,500 permanent spectator seats, with the ability to expand to 2,500 seats, Alves adds. Behind the spectator seating, around the circumference of the building, is a 300-metre track where walkers or joggers can get some exercise. A fitness centre, studio, bike shop, storage area, café, press area, meeting rooms and offices round out the remaining features of the building.

"It truly is a multi-purpose facility," says David Kirkland, chief operating officer and executive vice president with Kenaidan.

"We just feel good about really being able to have a strong contribution to facilities such as this…which I think will benefit Ontario and this local community way beyond the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games."

Constructing the velodrome was no easy feat, state Alves and Kirkland, with extreme weather causing delays and posing various challenges.

"The project did not finish on time, we had lots of constraints," Alves says, be it harsh winter days or strong winds.

The facility opened in January of this year, but was supposed to be finished in August 2014, the Town of Milton website states.

"What I can say is that we finished in time to have the Pan Am Games. That’s the big win," Alves adds.

Installing the roof trusses during winter was another hurdle workers had to conquer. According to Kenaidan, the roof structure support required 100 metre long, eight metre deep structural trusses be installed, which meant there had to be large laydown areas, with a wider clearance by other work activities.

"This was a very cold empty shell when we were constructing everything. They were knocking together the trusses on the ground…tipping them up and 200 ton crawlers would tandem lift them and place them up on the vertical steel," Alves describes.

"It was quite an operation. They were about two-and-a-half days a truss (there were 16 in total) to get it all torqued, bolted and up in the air in place."

"Installation of these roof trusses was certainly a highlight. Just for the magnitude of the work," adds Kirkland.

"This site is off the side of the escarpment, you get a lot of wind blowing through here. It’s a very cold place to be working. There were a lot of challenges related to the logistics of building this facility in a fairly tight timetable."

Creating a building envelope that was able to meet such unique characteristics was also a challenge, says David Thompson, the building envelope lead at engineering firm Entuitive.

Because of the wooden track, an air tight enclosure system for a curved wall was needed. Such is the reason why an insulated metal panel cladding system was used. While the installation was difficult because the product is normally slated for rectangular buildings, Entuitive was able to create a system that helps deflect water and is air tight.

The site also needed to import about 50,000 cubic metres, or 5,000 truckloads, of engineered fill to raise the ground level, states Kenaidan. Trucking and placement had to be carefully planned with foundation work.

"The ground that we founded the facility on had some challenges," adds Kirkland. "We had a lot of work to do just to get up out of the ground."

The entire facility has about 12,000 cubic metres of concrete, Kenaidan highlights. There were roughly 100 to 120 workers on site each day, Kirkland states, with about 70 contractors involved in the project, including suppliers.

As Alves stood in the mechanical area, the steady hum of ventilation systems and various units in the background, he also highlighted the importance of 3D modeling for this project.

"There’s seven layers of services going through this space," he says. "It was very complicated. 3D modeling was very key in order to lay out everything. You couldn’t do something like this without doing the 3D modeling."

For Alves, seeing the project come together was extremely rewarding.

"All these things that you don’t appreciate during construction, you’re just thinking, ‘OK I’m just building a track’ but there’s a lot that goes around it. It’s a beautiful facility and we’re very proud of it. A lot of work went into it."

Milton Councillor Zeeshan Hamid, who was also present for the tour event, says it’s the start of a grand vision for the area, with the facility eventually being a part of the "Milton Education Village," which is expected to be a 400-acre neighbourhood that also includes a university campus, innovation centre, an integrated transit hub, cycling and trail connections, as well as student housing and residential developments.

For Councillor Mike Cluett, seeing the velodrome come to fruition shows the strength of the community.

"The fact that we wanted to have a multi-purpose facility was the number one priority. A lot of naysayers were out there and I’ve received a lot of phone calls from those naysayers actually coming back and saying you guys were right to build this type of facility."

Mike Patton, team physiologist with Cycling Canada, says it will be nice having a place to call home.

"If you can imagine our working conditions, both from an athlete and a staff perspective, and the national team, (it) was a shipping container. That was the storage facility for all of our equipment. It wasn’t home ever," he states.

The team often travelled back and forth from Los Angeles to train.

This facility means finally "being able to really put down some more permanent roots," he says.

To see the first video installment of our Pan Am Games multimedia series watch here.

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