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Squamish cruise ship accommodation re-floated

Vessels, Whistler Secondary School could still house essential workforce

Organizers of the 2010 Olympics are once again looking at using cruise ships for Olympic-related accommodation in Squamish.

But this time the ships will be used to house essential workers, not the media. When the idea was first raised two years ago media representatives complained that they would be too far away from the action if they had to stay in Squamish.

A Request for Proposals for pocket cruise ships went out Friday, asking for interested parties to contact VANOC by Jan. 7, 2009.

“The main aim of the RFP is to find accommodation for the workforce working in the Sea to Sky corridor,” said Jacqui Murdoch, vice president of accommodations and services for VANOC.

The ships, which must have a two to three star rating, would be berthed at Terminal 1 in Squamish for 29 days, starting Feb. 3, 2010. There is an option that the ships may also be used for the last two weeks of January.

No wharf upgrades would be required.

“We have had discussions with (VANOC) right from the beginning,” said Ron Anderson, president of Squamish Terminals.

“We know that there is going to be some challenges but in our discussions and the way we have it organized it should be quite workable for both of us.”

Those workers under contract who are governed by union standards would likely use the ships, said Murdoch, using bus drivers as an example.

“(We) are going through a major procurement period and some of our contractors will require accommodation suitable under their union arrangements,” she said.

“Either (they) need to be housed one to a room or two to a room and with a certain standard of meals, which is quite different to some of our other workforce individuals that might be volunteering or part of our Homestay.”

Cruise ships are also being considered by the District of North Vancouver and New Westminster for tourist accommodation. And the RCMP is still looking for vessels to house its personnel in Vancouver.

It is not a new option for the Olympics. Organizers of the 2000 Sydney Summer Games used 10 cruise ships that were berthed in Sydney Harbour. The ships contained 6,000 beds and accommodated 32,000 people during the period of the Games.

Discussions are still planned with Whistler Secondary School, as well, to use the facility for accommodation, said Murdoch.

“We have been talking to the Whistler Secondary School but they are still seeing if there is a time frame that will work with us,” she said.

Sea to Sky School District superintendent Dr. Rick Erickson said the board has been approached by various interested parties about renting district high school facilities, but no negotiations could take place until the local school calendar, which governs school closures, was approved.

The board approved the secondary school calendar last Wednesday at a meeting in Whistler, though it is, said Erickson, “subject to change.”

“It would have been premature prior to that date to have been talking about anything because nothing had been passed,” he said, adding that the board is considering hiring a professional negotiator to make sure the school district maximizes its opportunity.

“We want to approach these (discussions) in a very business-like manner.”

The board had always anticipated using the funds raised through the rental of facilities for the Olympics to pay for camp-like activity programs for kids out of school during the Olympic school closures.

However, this idea may run into problems if VANOC ends up being the tenant, as it has said compensation would come in the form of goods not cash.

“The board was not anticipating that people would work for free and therefore we need to generate some dollars,” said Erickson.

“There are various currencies that are widely used and we would expect to be collecting a currency that we ourselves could use in exchange for the work that people would be doing, and I don’t see us accepting Olympic blankets and then paying employees blankets.

“We anticipate that early in the New Year that we will be focusing on what options are available and what kind of currency is out there.”

Under the approved school calendar:

• Spring break for Whistler Secondary will be moved from March 8-12, 2010 to Feb. 22-26, 2010. The school will also be closed for an additional two weeks prior to the moved spring break and two days following the moved spring break, resulting in a total closure from Feb. 8 to March 2, 2010.

• Spring break for Whistler area elementary schools will be moved to Feb. 22-26, 2010.

• Spring break for all Squamish and Pemberton schools will be moved from March 8-12, 2010 to Feb. 22-26, 2010.

• Pemberton, Don Ross and Howe Sound Secondary schools will be closed for an additional week prior to the moved spring break.