FortisBC to demolish South Slocan buildings

Now that it has approval to build a new operations centre, FortisBC plans to demolish its old South Slocan administration office.

FortisBC will demolish the old West Kootenay Power staff house at South Slocan (seen here in 2006) once it opens a new operations centre in Ootischenia.

Now that it has approval to build a new operations centre in Ootischenia, FortisBC plans to demolish its old administration office and warehouse at South Slocan.

Spokeswoman Nicole Bogdanovic confirmed Monday that the company doesn’t plan to keep the two buildings adjacent to its generating plant and powerhouse once its new facility opens before the end of 2017.

“We did an extensive review of the state of the buildings,” she said. It was determined by an independent consulting firm that it would be costly to bring up to today’s safety standards. The cost of maintaining buildings is passed on to customers through their rates.”

The three-storey vine-covered administration building was designed in either 1926 or 1929, depending on conflicting sources. It originally housed workers employed on construction of West Kootenay Power’s South Slocan dam and later became a guest house. In 1986, it was converted into an office building.

The warehouse was built in 1930 to house construction horse teams and was used for that purpose untiil the late 1940s when it was converted to its present use.

Selling the buildings was not possible, Bogdanovic said, because the company needs to retain secure access to the site.

If we were to entertain any other option, it would have to be fiscally responsible, and allow us to continue to operate safely and securely. The decision was made after considering every alternative.”

Five scenarios are outlined in the company’s application to the BC Utilities Commission submitted last July: do nothing, renovate the existing facilities, replace the existing facilities on their current site, lease a facility around Castlegar, or build new combined office and materials site in Ootischenia.

The cost of renovating the existing facilities was pegged at $24.6 million. It would take about 17 months and require staff to be temporarily relocated while the buildings were repaired. Replacing the existing generation facilities in South Slocan was estimated to cost $30 million. No alternative sites were identified around Castlegar. Consolidating operations and building new in Ootischenia was identified at the cheapest option at $20.6 million, including $446,000 to demolish the two South Slocan buildings.

In its submission to the provincial utilities regulator, FortisBC cited “the age, critical end-of-life condition and health, safety and code compliance concerns” of the latter buildings.

The company identified three chief concerns: both buildings have a long list of problems that affect their code compliance and health and safety; their location is “unsuitable for use as a designated emergency operations centre”; and they “do not function well as office and warehouse space respectively due to their original design purposes.”

Deterioration of the buildings has resulted in “clear signs of damage and extensive building component failure,” the submission says.

Iredale Architecture Group, hired to complete an extensive audit, concluded both buildings are “beyond life expectancy” and require significant upgrades to their envelopes, fire detection and protection, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems. However, “It would be expensive and disruptive to address these failures individually.”

The administration office also has problems with handicap accessibility, undisturbed asbestos, and lead paint.

“The company believes that further significant capital investment in a building at its end-of-life is generally not good practice as such investment does not extend the building’s life in a cost-effective manner,” FortisBC said in its submission.

Generation department staff in South Slocan operate the company’s Kootenay River dams. The new operations centre in Ootischenia will centralize them with other workers presently stationed in Castlegar and Warfield.

There is no timeline for the demolition, Bogdanovic said, as construction of the new facility is their chief focus.

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