After more than three years of work and countless hours of planning Tom Thomson can see the end in sight.
Thomson, the executive director of the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce said work on Nelson’s old CP Rail station — which the chamber acquired in 2010 in hopes of restoring and using as its new office — has changed.
“The first three years was deconstruction. They are now back into the construction phase.”
By 2013, workers began the finishing stages, which Thomson said means they are “putting things back together.”
If the progress that has been made continues, the site could be open by December 2015.
But it has been a long, hard road to get to this point. In the first three years, crews lifted the building, moved it, scraped the paint off the exterior and did months of structural upgrades to stabilize it.
“Actual work has just gone on in really small phases and increments as we have money. That has probably been the biggest challenge of doing a project of this magnitude … we’ve been doing it in bits and pieces,” explained Thomson.
Finding funding is a constant challenge, but the chamber has found ways to keep cost low, including using workers from the government’s job creation program.
By utilizing the program the overall cost of the restoration has dropped from more than $4 million to the $3 million to $3.5 million dollar range.
Construction site manager Joern Wingender became involved in the project in 2010 as part of the chamber’s advisory board.
“Then it was more about the use, rather than the physical work.”
But after seeing the building he knew a lot of work needed to be done and he became more heavily involved.
He has utilized the job creation program workers, which came from the Kootenay Career Development Society, as effectively as possible.
Thomson said the program has been really cost-effective for the chamber, but the skill level wasn’t there for some of the more intricate restoration work.
“We need skilled tradespeople as well,” said Thomson
“For the longest time I didn’t bring any of my own employees to the site,” said Wingender. Owner of the Traditional Timber Framing Company in Nelson, Wingender specializes in architectural restoration. However, this project has been unlike most of his works. He has had to be flexible with the workload, depending on staffing and weather conditions.
“We have brought the building to a stage that we can work in any weather condition inside or outside.”
Now that construction has begun on rebuilding the structure, efforts are being made to both save the heritage look and make it as energy-efficient and practical as possible.
“We are actually creating a state of the art new building, while preserving the heritage values of the old building and that’s, I think, the big win-win for the chamber” said Wingender. “We are giving the building a new use and making it applicable to the 21st century.
He said there are two key features that highlight this change, the thermal barrier and the window restoration.
The walls are being recreated using specially-made bricks set up row by row. As they are put up, insulation is packed in behind them, again row by row. When finished, the brick surface is ground down until smooth and painted, creating the heritage look of plaster.
“It gives the building thermal mass which will allow it to function as a buffer to help control temperatures,” explained Wingender.
The building will stay cool all day, or hot all day depending on need.
“In the winter it’s a heat sink, in the summer it’s a cool sink,” he explained. “It’s a massive storage tank for heat or cold.”
That will keep the cost of heating or air conditioning down for the chamber.
The heritage windows also had to be restored, but making them energy-efficient presented another problem.
However, because of the thickness of the structure’s walls, a simple solution was found: two windows for each opening.
The interior windows would be restored to their original look while there was room for new outside storm windows as well.
The outside windows serve double duty: they are energy efficient and also protect the newly renovated interior heritage windows.
As for the restoration process, the interior windows are taken upstairs to professional restorer Kate Richardson. She strips the windows, removes the glass, cleans, putties and reassembles them.
“As far as the windows go, everything is pretty much as close to how it would have been originally done as possible,” said Richardson.
They even use linseed oil in the putty and the paint.
“It was used all the time, 100 years ago,” she explained.
While there is still 15 months to go, Thomson said the chamber is looking forward to moving into its new home and should soon have another source of funding to help complete the work.
“We are in a situation now where we are just finalizing the sale of our existing building. That will supply us some cash flow.”
While papers have not been signed, Thomson said an offer sheet has been signed and a few subjects need to be removed for the sale to be completed.
“Once our assets are back on the table and we’ve sold our building, we can start putting those monies directly into this and also helping to leverage other funding.”
The chamber’s deal would allow them to remain in their current building, as renters, until the CPR station is complete.
The plan is to create a new regional visitor gateway and business opportunity centre, a full-service visitor centre with interpretive displays that introduce people to the region.
While the chamber will be the main tenant, there will be rental opportunities for office and retail space as well.
“We’ve been working for the last couple of years, just feeling people out asking if they have any interest in the building and if they do what would you bring to the table?” said Thomson.
He said they want something that brings some vibrancy to the building in order to attract people to the area.
“There’s lots of different irons in the fire for the spaces.”
Looking back, Thomson said he actually had some doubts about the project, especially in the beginning.
“Part of me, over the past four years, has thought, ‘is this ever going to happen?’ but now windows are going in, building is going on, you see a vision.”
Business After Business
The Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce is inviting members and guests to attend its summer Business after Business event at the CP station tomorrow between 5 and 7 p.m. Drop by with some work friends for a glass of wine, a Nelson Brewing Company beverage and appies and check out the work completed so far.
The chamber is also pleased to sponsor the July Marketfest on Friday in downtown Nelson, as well as assisting with the upcoming Airshow August 2 at the Norman Stibbs Airport in Nelson.