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Athletes’ village may be Games’ biggest legacy

Sustainability built into every aspect of Whistler facility

Whistlerites will judge for themselves the legacies and sustainability of the 2010 Winter Olympics, but officials held up the athletes' village as a prime example of those qualities during a media tour Aug. 20.

"This village is a legacy. It's here for a purpose - to house Whistler residents," said Dan Doyle, VANOC executive vice president, construction.

Doyle called the Whistler Athletes' Village "one of the most sustainable sites in the Olympics.

"Special thanks to the Resort Municipality of Whistler for having the vision to build this," he added.

The athletes' village, most of which will become resident-restricted housing in a neighbourhood known as Cheakamus Crossing following the Games, is 95 per cent complete and on schedule for an October handover to VANOC. It is a mix of housing styles and sizes. Most of the units are townhomes, while some could be classified as apartments.

Eric Martin, a board member of the Whistler 2020 Development Corporation, the municipal corporation responsible for building the athletes' village, also praised past Whistler councils for their vision.

"This could have been temporary housing, but the RMOW had this vision," said Martin. He said Cheakamus Crossing would be "a legacy for a long time to come."

Martin also praised "the people that had the faith in us, the purchasers of these homes."

More than 200 of the 295 townhomes and apartments have been bought by Whistler residents. Following the Games, an additional 55 units will become rooms in a building operated by Hosteling International Canada.

Martin said having a number of different contractors involved in building the athletes' village, rather than one large company, benefited many people.

"Our objective here was to be risk averse," he said. "We didn't put all our eggs in one basket."

By using a number of different builders, each with their own subcontractors - 95 per cent of whom were from the Sea to Sky corridor - the risks were spread wide, Martin suggested. There were no labour issues and none of the companies involved in construction went bankrupt during the building. If a company did have financial trouble, it would have been relatively easy to compensate.

Martin said if one company had been contracted to build the entire village it probably would have been Intrawest.

Intrawest is not involved in the Whistler Athletes' Village but its parent company, Fortress Investment Group, originally financed the troubled Vancouver Athletes' Village.

The district heating system, which uses recovered heat from the nearby sewage treatment plant to warm buildings, is one example of the sustainability of the Whistler Athletes' Village. But the concept that most of the units will be owned by Whistler residents, who might chose to live elsewhere if the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood wasn't available to them at a subsidized rate, is another example of sustainability.

The International Olympic Committee's technical requirements for an athletes' village, detailed in a 378-page manual, were also analyzed prior to the development of the Whistler Athletes' Village. The IOC regulations call for a maximum of two athletes per bedroom, and four per bathroom. So the Whistler project was planned with two people per bedroom and additional bathrooms were provided to get greater efficiency out of each unit.

By contrast, the Vancouver Athletes' Village will house one athlete per bedroom.

Following the Torino Olympics, and after plans had been formulated for the Whistler Athletes' Village, the IOC told VANOC it had to provide accommodation for an additional 650 athletes and trainers. Doyle said his first thought was to build a temporary construction camp, similar to those used by the oil and mining industries. VANOC could have leased portable units but with input from B.C. Housing decided to buy the units from BRITCO.

The 80 temporary modular units at the athletes' village will become 157 units of permanent housing in several B.C. communities following the Games.

Sechelt Mayor Darren Inkster, said his community will receive four modules following the Games, which will become eight units of low-income housing.

Inkster said Sechelt has an old RCMP building and was looking to find a new use for it and the property it sits on. Originally people thought it might be a museum, but with the modular units from the Whistler Athletes' Village it will become a low-income housing complex.

B.C. Housing brought the athletes' village and Sechelt together. The housing complex will be occupied by Sechelt resident by next fall.

Nejat Sarp, VANOC vice president, services and villages, said the variety of accommodation styles within the Whistler Athletes' Village provides alternatives to national Olympic teams.

Some teams stay in private accommodation the night before their events, Sarp said, but they return to the athletes' village the rest of the time. He expects the Whistler Athletes' Village will have 90-95 per cent occupancy on any given night during the Games.

All the major national Olympic committees have visited the village, Sarp added. Some, particularly the Scandinavians, were skeptical. He said all have left very impressed.

Within the nearly 300 units that will become permanent Whistler resident housing following the Olympics there are some temporary measures. The areas allocated for garages and kitchens in the units will be utilized as bedrooms during the Olympics. But the drywall in these rooms is not taped and the gap between the drywall and the floor is hidden by baseboards. Thus the drywall can be reused following the units' conversion to permanent housing.

Inside the municipally-funded athletes' village there is also the Rona High Performance Centre, which includes a gymnasium and office space in one building, a 100-room lodge and several townhouses.

The high performance centre, which was largely funded by VANOC, will be owned by the Whistler 2010 Sport Legacies Society following the Paralympics.

The Whistler Gymnastics Club and the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program will be based out of and heavily involved in the operation and utilization of the high performance centre following the Games.

The 100-room Legacy Lodge will house 200 athletes during the Olympics and is built from the same BRITCO-supplied modules as the temporary housing.

Following the Games the lodge will be used by athletes at all kinds of sporting events in Whistler and is expected to greatly reduce the number of rooms that hotels have to provide for events such as the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival, Crankworx and other events.

"It is designed to encourage athletes and teams to spend time in Whistler - all sports, all athletes," said Keith Bennett, the resident and CEO, Whistler 2010 Sport Legacies.

The Whistler Adaptive Sports Program is also expected to expand substantially as it gains new resources following the Paralympics. The growth will include more participants as well as new sports and will reach people with physical and cognitive disabilities.