Olympic Village’s giant birds headed east for repairs

Skateboarders and kids blamed for public art’s wear and tear

The giant birds at Olympic Village are taking a long winter break, but they’re not heading south. The first of a two-stage trip will see them travel east to Calgary for repairs before eventually being shipped to China for finishing work.

Repairs are needed because of damage to the exterior — kids like to climb and slide down them, while they’ve also been used by skateboarders.

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Repair costs are tagged at $425,000, which is coming from a reserve fund previously set aside for maintenance of public art.

On Thursday, a crew of five from Wingenback Inc., industrial riggers and movers, lifted the sparrow sculptures from their plaza home for transportation to Alberta. Company spokesman Shane Leavy said they weigh 3,500 pounds each. The job took the equivalent of about a days-worth of planning prior to the move, including several visits to the site to work out details such as where to stage the crane and truck.

“I can’t say we’ve ever rigged and moved birds before. That’s the first time we’ve done that. But that’s where Wingenback’s specialty is — being called into jobs that are out of the box,” he said.

Produced by artist Myfanwy MacLeod, “The Birds” were installed in 2010 after the winter Olympics.

The city expected that some maintenance would be needed, but it did not anticipate the degree of damage done by skateboarding on the tail, which led to the surface being completely compromised and the need for major repair. 

The repairs, which will mainly be to the exterior, will make the sculptures more durable — they will have a much harder and stronger aluminum shell.

In Calgary, the surface will be stripped and body work done to make the forms pristine. Then they will be shipped to a foundry in China for casting before being returned to Calgary for painting and finishing. Once the entire job is finished, they will look much the same and still have a painted surface.

They are expected to return to their Vancouver home within 10 months, in time for the 27th International Ornithological Congress taking place between Aug. 19 and 26.

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