The City of Nelson has developed a risk-reduction plan to deal with the newly-discovered structural weakness of the roof at the Civic Centre on Vernon Street.
In September the city wrote to eight tenants of the building, stating that they might have to temporarily evacuate the building during the coming winter if snow loads are too heavy.
“The roof structure is considered completely safe without any load on it,” Chris Johnson told Nelson City Council at its Nov. 9 meeting. “The issue comes when there is a certain amount of load on the roof that could cause stress on the roof. It it were to fail, it would fail catastrophically.”
Johnson is the city’s general manager of community planning, climate and infrastructure. The Civic Centre building is 87 years old and its construction pre-dates Canada’s national building code that was introduced in 1941.
The city’s plan includes waiving the lease fees for tenants of the building from Dec. 1, 2023, to April 1, 2024, to compensate them for the uncertainty and risk, at a cost to the city of $20,000.
The tenants in the building are Glacier Gymnastics, Dance Umbrella, Tumbleweeds Gym, the Civic Arena, Civic Theatre, Seniors Coordinating Society, and Restorative Justice.
Johnson said bolstering the structure of the roof before the upcoming winter will not be possible.
He presented council with a plan created by his staff after obtaining structural analyses from two engineering companies and after consulting the Municipal Insurance Association of B.C.
Details of the plan
The plan includes a 24-hour, seven day per week monitoring program, with a minimum of one person assigned to that duty in a rotating cycle, to monitor conditions on the roof in real time and to check weather forecasting for upcoming large snowfall events, and to keep a daily log of all observations.
Video monitoring of the roof will also track changing show conditions.
The building will be evacuated in the event of:
• Snow accumulations of eight inches or more.
• Accumulations of snow over existing ice of six inches or more.
• Weather forecasts predicting continuous snow or heavy accumulations of snow, or wind events.
• Rain on top of existing snow or predictions of rain that may occur over existing snow.
• Observation of any change in the structure or condition of the roof or trusses.
Signs alerting tenants and the public to this plan will be posted at specifically-named entrances to the building, and “no entry” signs posted if the building has been evacuated.
Johnson said the question in developing the plan was “how we could safely keep the building open when it is safe to be open, and closed when it needs to be.”
Council voted to accept the plan.
The Nelson Star reached out to the Civic Theatre, Glacier Gymnastics and Dance Umbrella for comment and heard only from Steve Long, manager of the gymnastics club.
“It certainly changes the picture a lot,” Long said in an email. “An eight-inch maximum snow load potentially puts our entire winter session at risk. That’s a significant part of our operational income for the year and is the main gymnastics season.”
Long said that the club, recently recovered from COVID-19, does not have the savings to cover any new losses. He said his board is reviewing the options and has not yet come up with a plan, which could include a temporary alternative location or make-up classes in the spring.
The newly-discovered weakness in the roof raises questions about the cost and timing of the major renovation planned for the building. At the Nov. 9 meeting, Mayor Janice Morrison said this will be considered at council’s upcoming budget planning meetings for 2024.
The proposed renovation, which has been in the planning and fund-raising stage for several years, has had three parts — an energy retrofit, a new accessibility concourse, and a renovated theatre — each of which is a major project in its own right.
But those three components — perhaps now four because of the need for a new roof — are so structurally interrelated that they need to be done simultaneously.
The city originally decided on the rebuild as an employment project in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
An earlier version of this story mistakenly said the period of the waiver of lease fees is September 2023 to April 2024. The correct period is Dec. 1, 2023 to April 1, 2024.