East Wing’s days are numbered at Vancouver city hall

The four-storey East Wing building on city hall grounds is expected to be demolished this summer. Plans to tear it down have been in the works for several years due to its high risk of collapsing in an earthquake. Staff moved out of the building to offices at other locations more than a year ago.

Danica Djurkovic, director of facilities planning and development for the city, says work to seismically upgrade the West Annex (the city's building at the corner of Cambie and West 10th) is also expected to begin this summer.

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The work is part of a longterm, three-phase plan that will culminate in the redevelopment of the entire city hall grounds, which stretches from 12th to Broadway between Cambie and Yukon Streets.

The overall objective is to improve access to and delivery of city public services, to improve safety for staff and the public and to optimize city-owned assets, according to Djurkovic.

Phase one, which involved relocating staff from the East Wing to the West Annex, as well as to sites at 815 Richards St. and the Crossroads building at Broadway and Cambie, and fitting out those sites for offices and creating a public counter in the West Annex, cost $9.8 million.

Phase two is deconstruction of the East Wing, tagged at $2.4 million, and the seismic upgrade of the West Annex at a cost of $4.5 million.

Phase three will involve seismically upgrading city hall’s main heritage building and redevelopment plans for the grounds — essentially a master plan for the city hall campus.

Djurkovic said phase three is in its early stages. An RFP for the programming stage was recently closed and the contract is expected to be awarded in March. “[It’s] really just focusing on functional programming needs before we start looking at any feasibility studies for the site itself,” she said.

Djurkovic anticipates public consultation about the redevelopment of city hall grounds will start sometime later this year.

Meanwhile, even though the East Wing, which was built in 1970, has been decommissioned, it’s been of use to organizations such as Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services.

Early this month, the fire department’s special operations technical rescue team practised rappelling down the building’s exterior. Special Ops deals with technical rope, confined space and structural collapse rescues.

Jonathan Gormick, the department’s spokesman, told the Courier that members started training exercises in the vacant building as soon as it was decommissioned, although they do so less frequently now.

Members have practised dealing with hazardous materials and they even created a mock meth lab for training purposes. The Heavy Urban Search and Rescue task force (HUSAR) practised collapse and breeching techniques, according to Gormick.

“Just about every business group within the City of Vancouver was offered access to the building for whatever need they had,” he said.

Gormick called the East Wing a “fantastic resource” because it provided members with the challenge of dealing with an unfamiliar building and it gave them the opportunity to practice aggressive techniques such as breaching drywall and breaching floors.

“It’s unique because not many of our staff are familiar with the layout of the building, especially not the details of how the offices were positioned and anything like that,” explained Gormick, who last visited the building in late June when the rapid intervention team was training.

“It was fairly gutted the last time I saw it. Obviously, we scheduled our training to use the least destructive techniques first — stuff like hazardous materials where we were just doing entry and cleanup. To the best of my knowledge, the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team has done some heavy coring through the floors, so it’s fairly Swiss cheese-like. [The building] has been a fantastic resource. As you can imagine in the City of Vancouver buildings like that are few and far between, especially ones that are city owned and slated for demolition. So it was an unbelievable training opportunity.”

noconnor@vancourier.com

@naoibh

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