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Conference centre to close Oct. 1

First phase of renovations will take one year It’s going to get noisy and dirty around Whistler’s conference centre next month. On Oct.

First phase of renovations will take one year

It’s going to get noisy and dirty around Whistler’s conference centre next month.

On Oct.1 the centre will close its doors for a year and Phase I of impressive renovations will get underway to bring the centre up to a worldwide standard.

"The benefit of this project for the community is immense," said Suzanne Denbak, CEO of Tourism Whistler.

"It is so important for the future health and success of the resort. Our ability to bring business to the resort in the spring, summer and fall is really going to be enhanced with a facility that is truly world-class.

"We have suffered by having a facility that is not up to the standards that Whistler has set in terms of the nature of the experience that we offer to our leisure travelers."

For the first two months workers will concentrate on tearing down the interior atrium and getting ready to place a new concrete floor across the entire surface at ground level, substantially increasing usable convention space.

This deconstruction is likely to take longer than similar projects as it is the goal of Task Construction to divert 80 per cent of the materials to recycling and salvage depots.

For example any old concrete will be trucked out and crushed and used again as road surface. Timbers cut down inside will also be re-used as work progresses.

During this phase of construction, said Task construction manager Susan Hildebrand, several outside parking spots in the lot at the north of the centre will be taken over.

A large fence will also be erected along the side of the centre traveling around the front entrance of the building. A covering will be attached to the fence to minimize dust and dirt travelling out into the pedestrian area.

Work will be carried out during the day from 8 a.m to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday. If the project gets behind schedule work may be done on Saturdays.

A weekly activity schedule will be posted for the public at the front of the centre.

Donny Paschleigh, general manager of Tapley’s is concerned at the loss of parking and the noise level.

But he said: "The other thing is it will bring construction workers into the area."

At a breakfast meeting hosted by Tourism Whistler this week to outline the plans other concerns were also raised.

Rob Sage of the Grocery Store sought some assurance that delivery trucks would be able to park and unload.

"They pull right into those parking spots before backing up to unload," he said referring to the spots which will be behind the construction barrier.

Peg Racicot of the liquor store echoed sage’s concerns.

"Things are not cast in stone and we can make adjustments as it suits," said Hildebrand, adding that business owners just have to keep in touch to make sure things go smoothly.

The plans were well received by the more than 60 people who turned out to learn more about the construction schedule.

As the interior work is completed workers will move onto the roof, which is scheduled to be replaced in the spring of 2003.

At that time, work will move to the grand entrance of the centre and start once again outside.

When renovations are complete there will be several easily identifiable entrances to the facility. The main doors will get most of the attention as 70 per cent of those coming to the centre gain access that way. About 20 per cent enter from the parking lot on the north side and a further 10 per cent come through the lower level.

Some of the parking stalls outside will be restored over the Christmas season and beyond as work allows.

Rainbow Theatre will not be affected during Phase I.

Trucks moving debris in and out will be kept to a minimum and project workers will park at the Whistler Golf Course lot over the winter and in one of the skier lots once golf gets under way again next year.

According to Tourism Whistler the conference centre currently brings in $19 million in annual delegate spending. When both Phase I and Phase II of the renovations are complete an additional $30 million a year will flow into the resort.

Tourism Whistler has not analyzed what the economic benefits will be from each phase, but Denbak believes Phase I will bring increased business to the resort.

"Phase I does give us some significant increases in capacity," she said.

"We do believe that already with Phase I we will not only be able to retain the business that we have, but we will be able to attract the business that has come here but has left us because of the state of the facility.

"And with the new capacity we will be able to secure some incremental business that we didn’t have before so we will definitely see growth in Phase I."

Phase I is budgeted to cost $9 million. It includes a new roof, a dramatic new entrance, increased ballroom space, increased meeting room space, new telecommunications wiring and equipment, some electrical upgrades and new sustainable finishes on the building.

Phase II, which will not entail closing the building, includes further increased capacity in the ballroom and meeting rooms, a new daycare and staff amenity area, geothermal heating, passive cold water cooling, a system to retain rain water and a grey water circulation system, These upgrades are estimated to cost $13 million

"Phase II is not optional," said Denbak.

"It is where we replace all the mechanical and electrical systems. We have boilers and chillers that are at the end of their useful lives."

Denbak said funding is being sought for Phase II from the provincial and federal governments as well as others. Tourism Whistler is also investigating selling the naming rights to the building.

It would be ideal if the funding came through while construction of Phase I was underway. But even if it doesn’t phase II will get underway soon.

The convention centre is also part of the legacy program for the bid to host the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Whistler and Vancouver. The facility would be the Whistler media centre for the Games.