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Contractors rise up for Silver on Vancouver Library Rooftop Garden

Peter Caulfield
Contractors rise up for Silver on Vancouver Library Rooftop Garden

Three contractors have won 2019 Silver Awards of Excellence from the Vancouver Regional Construction Association for their part in the Vancouver Central Library — Level 8 and 9 construction project.

(Vancouver Central Library is the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library [VPL] system.)

Smith Bros. & Wilson (B.C.) Ltd. won in the General Contractors — Tenant Improvement category. Westcoast Cutting and Coring Group Ltd. won for Trade Contractors — Up to $1 Million (Chairman’s Trade Award). Black & McDonald Ltd. won for Mechanical Contractors — Up to $3 Million.

VPL spokesman Scott Fraser says post-construction levels eight and nine are a mix of library offices, meeting rooms, a public reading room, theatre and exhibit space, “but primarily the new floors are dedicated to free open public space.”

“What is out of the ordinary with these new spaces is there are no books or other library collections,” said Fraser. “The expectation the public has for library uses in the 21st century goes beyond shelving.”

Planning of the project started in 2016. Construction took place in 2017-18 and the new space opened to the public in September 2018.

“When the central library opened in 1995, the top two floors were occupied by the provincial government on a 20-year lease, with the expectation that the library would someday require the space,” said Fraser. “As the lease came due, the library undertook planning to expand central library to provide much needed community spaces.”

There are over 42,000 square feet of interior space and an additional 16,800 square feet of publicly accessible exterior space.

The rooftop garden, which is open to the public during library hours, is on level nine.

West Coast Cutting and Coring (WCC) was given the task of removing a large portion of the existing green roof material and demolishing the Roman Coliseum-like arched roof slab, beams and support columns.

It did all of that with limited access to the work site, while keeping a watchful eye on the breakable glass covering the library concourse below. Vice-president Spencer Reid says WCC saw-cut new escalator openings on levels eight and nine that were directly above the library’s operating escalators, active library space and library visitors.

“The location and limited access of the project required a great deal of coordination and cooperation between the trades and general contractor,” said Reid.

Because of the cramped working conditions, close attention had to be paid to materials management.

“We removed 475 cubic metres of green roof material from the site using the library’s freight elevators, as an overhead crane was not available,” said Reid. “We also removed 1,045 metric tons of concrete debris during the project.”

WCC created and used a number of innovations on the project:

Custom gantry crane system the width of the new escalator openings to enable the live sawing and removal of the two original floors;

Two-tier containment system below the escalator openings to capture and contain the slurry and debris;

Custom rubberized crash deck below the roof demolition, to absorb the impact and noise of falling debris; and

Remote-controlled demolition robots to dismantle roof slabs onto the crash deck.

Black & McDonald did the mechanical renovation (plumbing, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, direct digital controls and fire protection) on the project. Division manager Kyle Wisniewski says the original HVAC system had to be replaced because it was inadequate.

“The older system used displacement ventilation, resulting in hot and cold spots throughout the space,” said Wisniewski. “We replaced it with a new convection system that uses Jaga convection units. It has six-way control valves to enable the convection heaters to provide more consistent heating and cooling.”

Wisniewski says the job was challenging for all the contractors.

“We all had to employ non-traditional construction sequencing because of the project’s unique requirements,” he said. “Black & McDonald did its work while Smith Brothers was working on the demolition, removal and remediation of the rooftop.”

Smith Bros. & Wilson project manager Daniel Metry says the project was unique in Vancouver.

“We demolished half of the roof of the existing building to make it outdoor-accessible,” said Metry. “We made room for an escalator from the seventh to the eighth floors and for a feature stairway from the eighth to the ninth floors.”

To do that, the company had to cut huge slabs in the concrete and then transport them down to street level in the Georgia Street plaza of the library. “We used a luffing crane, not a conventional tower crane, that we placed strategically on the plaza below to move materials up and down,” Metry said.

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