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Calgary considers new bylaw after debris falls from completed buildings

Richard Gilbert

The City of Calgary is considering creating a new bylaw or regulation for building maintenance to ensure existing structures are safe, after several recent incidents involving falling debris.

The City of Calgary is considering creating a new bylaw or regulation for building maintenance to ensure existing structures are safe, after several recent incidents involving falling debris.

“What we are trying to determine is whether there is a gap in the current regulation and what we are trying to regulate,” said Cliff de Jong, spokesperson for the building regulations department in the City of Calgary.

“There is a general requirement in the city bylaws for owners to keep their buildings safe, but there is no specific requirement to maintain. During the lifetime of a building, it is just an expectation that owners do maintenance.”

The building regulations department is currently in discussion with BOMA (Building Owners and Manager Association) about the need to create a bylaw to set clear expectations on building maintenance.

“We are involved in these discussions and as a stakeholder we called the meeting with the city in response to two recent wind related incidents,” said Bill Partridge, president and CSO of BOMA Calgary.

“We have asked the city to get us involved in the communication chain,” he said.

“If we know there is going to be a heavy wind, we want to help get the word out.”

Partridge said the discussions with the city started immediately after two recent incidents of falling debris.

In one incident, the owner of a highrise apartment in downtown Calgary was ordered to inspect all of the windows in the building, after a pane of glass fell 11 storeys to the pavement on Mar. 19.

A slider type window in an aluminum frame fell from Mount Royal House and struck another window and cascaded to the sidewalk and street below.

No one was injured but some glass debris landed on the patio roof of Buzzards Restaurant & Bar.

On Mar. 13, strong winds blew part of a sign on the Husky Building onto the roof of a nearby 16-storey tower.

Two vehicles were badly damaged from falling debris, but no one was injured.

“We know that the cause of the sign falling was a very strong wind, but the manufacturer says the sign should have been able to withstand this wind,” said Partridge.

“The sign people are still undertaking an investigation and it is unfair to propose a solution to a problem before all the facts are in. In fact, it is irresponsible.”

Under these circumstances, Partridge argued that it is unrealistic to think that an additional bylaw would somehow make the public safer.

“It has been inferred that someone did something wrong, before the results of the investigation (are known),” he said.

“It is still not clear what type of maintenance needs to be increased and the original assertion has to be backed up and must be proven.”

In contrast, de Jong said the discussions with BOMA are the result of several incidents have occurred in downtown Calgary in the last few years, including the death of three-year old Michelle Krsek.

De Jong said the city is working with BOMA to ensure that any recommended regulations are relevant and help achieve the common goal of having a safe building over its entire lifespan.

Another issue of concern to BOMA is how the city warns building owners about the danger of strong winds.

Partridge said that BOMA received a warning about six hours after the wind storm caused a problem at the Husky Building.

He claims the information was not passed on in a timely manner.

In January, the use of a custom-designed wind warning system became mandatory for all highrise construction sites in downtown Calgary.

Calgary is prone to gusty summer windstorms and in the past few years there have been a number of incidents involving debris falling from downtown construction sites.

After one of these incidents in August 2008, in which a three-year-old was killed by a bundle of steel roofing materials, the local construction industry formed a committee to study improving safety options.

The committee awarded the contract for an early warning weather system to Rowan Williams Davies & Irwin Inc. (RWDI), an engineering consulting firm.

RWDI was awarded a $240,000 contract for the first phase of the project, which involves software development and the use of the system for one year.

The warning system was implemented late last year.

RWDI computer programs gather weather forecasts from four separate sources and can provide data for gusts of wind at different elevations.

The system was designed to alert construction companies, so they can secure or remove building materials and equipment from highrise construction sites.

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