By Chad A. Safran
Published in the September 2011 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Due to the need for public funding, the task force had a difficult job persuading BC citizens to support the project. Eventually, the provincial government moved forward with the plan—to build a new wing of the VCC on land and over water adjacent to the west side of the existing building (which is now known as the VCC East Building). With a budget of nearly $508 million, the project began in October 2004 with a completion date goal of summer 2008.
Finding The Answers
The West Building’s location appeared ideal when construction began. It was situated in the city’s vibrant downtown core, yet it still offered amazing views of the water and mountains. And the new VCC West Building would be close to hotels, shopping, and entertainment.
But as previously stated, 40% of the facility would be built over water, creating construction challenges. This proximity would prove to be both a blessing and a curse. While serving as magnificent backdrop, the marine ecosystem surrounding the site had to be carefully preserved.
To protect animal and plant life around the Centre, the developers built an innovation known as a marine habitat skirt—a series of concrete steps fanning out from the building’s foundation providing habitat for marine life.
Each step was planted with specific water species corresponding to its depth below the water. The resulting kelp forest would be representative of the natural shoreline and assist in supporting a variety of marine wildlife. Narrow channels under the building were set into tidal flats, establishing an ecosystem that could come through to feed the reef.
A Chat With Ken Cretney, General Manager,
Vancouver Convention Centre
How many years have you been in the facility management profession? I have been involved working in facility management for more than 30 years, and much of it has been spent in the hospitality and hotel sector.
What notable changes have occurred in facilities management during your time in the profession? The recent severity of the global economic crisis has had an impact on most facilities. It’s a very competitive market for everyone. Flexibility, creativity, service, and facility excellence have become very important as a consequence of this increase in competitiveness.
What challenges have these changes presented to you? We prefer to approach the challenges of the current economy as opportunities for business diversification, innovation, and the pursuit of excellence. It means we need to ensure we know our clients and understand their goals, that we need to understand the markets and the competitive forces, and that we need to be responsive and flexible.
“Since its inception in 1987, the Vancouver Convention Centre has taken steps to manage and minimize its impact on the environment,” says VCC General Manager Ken Cretney, who has been overseeing operations at the VCC since 2008. “We wanted to design and build a facility that would be ‘green’ in new ways and become another model for sustainability. This project could demonstrate how sustainability initiatives could be implemented with a very large scale building.”
Green From The Get Go
One important decision regarding the new facility was made early on—the West Building would include Canada’s largest green roof and one of the largest non-industrial living roofs in North America. The six acre area was designed to model the Pacific coastal grasslands and would include more than 400,000 indigenous plants and grasses from the West Coast. Since the roof would not be open to the public, the landscape designers were able to create a complete ecosystem with natural seed migration patterns and drainage using the roof’s design topography. The goal of this design decision was to offer natural habitats to a variety of mammals, birds, and insects.
Now complete, it serves as a viable success. Today, four colonies of bees produce honey for the Centre’s food services division in addition to pollinating the plants on the roof.
“While our facility is situated in the heart of downtown Vancouver, when you’re up on the roof, it feels like you’re in a different world,” says Cretney. “Add to that our beehives, and you’re in the middle of a large, beautiful field of coastal grasslands. We formally trim the roof only once a year, so when the grasses and plants are in full bloom, it really is naturally beautiful. Some of the plants grow as high as 6′ tall prior to being trimmed.”
During warmer summer weather another innovation—a black water treatment plant—irrigates the roof and does much more. The treatment plant gathers all black and gray wastewater from the restrooms and sends it through a series of processes and filtrations to render it appropriate for non-potable re-use. The recycled water is then returned to the washrooms for toilet flushing, enabling the VCC to reduce potable water usage by 72.6%.
If building activity is low, the system uses wastewater from the city, since the plant functions by way of a “digestive” biological system that requires constant input. The treatment plant, combined with a desalination plant that purifies seawater for additional non-potable uses, has enabled the VCC to reduce potable water usage by 72.6%.
To correspond with the purchase of “green power” electricity generated from low impact renewable sources in the province, the HVAC system takes advantage of the adjacent seawater to keep the building’s temperature moderate throughout the year. In addition to the HVAC system, the renovation has allowed the Centre to convert to efficient lighting and control systems.
Another environmental initiative has made it possible for the VCC to recycle an average of 397,000 pounds of materials annually, nearly half the total volume of waste generated. This includes batteries, lighting ballasts, wood, organics, metal, glass, plastic, and much more.
Approximately 300 to 400 pounds of organic waste is recycled each week. And to reduce waste further, the food service department avoids prepackaged canned goods and uses cutlery, china, glass, and cloth napkins. Nearly all condiments are served in bulk or reusable containers. The combination of these efforts makes it possible for the Centre to create a zero waste or zero carbon event.
The West Building, with its 220,500 square feet of exhibition space, 60,000 square feet of meeting space, and 53,000 square feet of ballroom space was initially designed to meet a LEED Gold standard. The resulting quality of its innovation, design, construction, and operations, however, merited a Platinum designation—making the VCC expansion project the first convention center in the world to receive the highest LEED rating. In addition to the Platinum certification, the Centre has received awards from the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), and the American Institute of Architects for its environmental practices.
The World Is Watching
The West Building debuted in April 2009, hosting the American Bar Association as its first major event that same month. But all eyes were on the VCC when nearly 10,000 international broadcasters and journalists gathered there during the 2010 Winter Olympics.
The East Building held the Main Press Centre and the West Building served as the International Broadcast Centre. When U.S. viewers tuned in to see Bob Costas host the games on NBC, he was stationed in the West Building.
“The facility was an exciting place to be, and it was also very memorable to see journalists wearing their countries’ colors, speaking languages from around the globe, and cheering for their countries’ teams as they watched the coverage displayed on screens throughout the facility,” states Cretney. “It was exciting to know the world was watching the Games through our windows!”
Cretney had one goal during the Games, and that was to provide seamless service to the media. But because these professionals were working around the clock to meet different deadlines across a variety of time zones from all around the world, food and beverage service had to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“The building and logistics teams were fully engaged,” he says. “We worked as closely with them as any two organizations could.”
Bigger And Better
When the Olympics concluded, bigger challenges awaited Cretney. Immediately after hosting the International Media Centre for the Winter Games and Paralympics, the VCC began operating and managing its two buildings simultaneously for the first time at an unprecedented level of event activity.
The first major events took place within weeks of the Olympics moving out, which meant decommissioning those offices, studios, and infrastructure had to take place immediately. However, all timelines were met, and the transition was successful.
“The adjustment to a much larger venue has been exciting and challenging for all departments across our organization, and I’ve been very impressed by the commitment and efforts of the entire team to ensure we’ve continued to deliver seamless service to our clients at all times,” says Cretney. “We have many benefits with the new facility—a great location, excellent room layouts, and vast pre-function space, great load-in/load-out access and much more flexibility of use.”
The new combination permits the VCC to hold multiple events, each with its own separate access and function space. It’s also possible for the Center to host much larger events using both buildings with seamless continuity.
Welcome To Hollywood North
Flexibility of space has enabled the Centre to be used as more than just an exhibition and convention hall. Thirteen films and television productions have used the VCC for their shoots.
The upcoming fourth installment of the Mission: Impossible series with Tom Cruise used the West Building facade to stand in as a street in Bangalore. The Centre has also been used as a bank and train station for the recent A-Team film as well as being dressed up to emulate airports in New York and Tokyo, a fictional building in Seattle, and a Manhattan boardroom.
“We receive many special requests from our film clients to suit the needs of a specific scene—whether it’s to shut down a road, remove a window, or carry out stunts like having a door blown out,” says Cretney. “Our first reaction may be to say no, but by saying yes, we’ve been very successful in working with our clients to find creative ways to make our space fit their location requirements.”
Worth The Cost
The expansion has proven to be an economic boon to the city. Since its debut, the facility has booked 470 major events (conferences, consumer shows, trade shows, or special events) including the Risk Insurance Management Society 2011 Annual Conference and Exhibition with nearly 10,000 delegates over five days this past May. This conference has generated nearly $23 million in direct spending to British Columbia. Just this past August, the Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques (SIGGRAPH) was the Centre’s largest event to date.
So far, the economic impact generated from activity at the VCC was $17.2 million higher than the almost $724 million anticipated at the start of fiscal 2010-11.
Severely over budget and several months behind schedule, the West Building’s final price tag came in at nearly $900 million. Then-Prime Minister Gordon Campbell pegged rising steel and construction costs for the overspending. Meanwhile, a 2007 Auditor General’s report suggested late design changes and the need to finish the project before the Olympics were somewhat to blame.
While opposition critic Adrian Dix called it “the largest overrun of any public project in BC history,” Vancouver’s return on its investment has been enormous. “It had challenges initially, but in the end, the product and its value have proved themselves to be well worth the investment,” Cretney says. “We’re proud of the large number of major events and conferences we’ve been able to attract to Vancouver and the significant economic benefit being generated.”
This article was based on an interview with Cretney.
Project: West Building of Vancouver Convention Centre. Location: Vancouver, BC. Type of Project: New Construction/Renovation. Function of Facility: Meetings and convention industry. Owner: BC Pavilion Corporation. In House Project Management Team: BC Pavilion Corporation. Square Footage: 333,500. Construction Timetable: Fall 2004-Spring 2009. Budget: $896.7 million. Architect: LMN Architects; MCM Partnership; DA Architects. Electrical Engineer: Schenke Bawol Engineering. Mechanical Engineer: Stantec. Structural Engineer: Glotman Simpson Consulting Engineering. General Contractor: PCL Constructors Westcoast, Inc. Interior Designer: MCM Interiors Ltd.; LMN Interiors. Lighting Designer: Horton Lees Brodgen Lighting Design. Landscape Architect: PWL Partnership Landscape Architects, Inc.
Furnishings: MTS seating; Mity-Lite; Sico; Forms+Surfaces; Architectural Brass. Flooring: Access; Armstrong. Carpet: Tandus. Ceilings: Armstrong; USG Ceiling Systems. Paint: Benjamin Moore; Sherwin Williams; Pittsburgh Paint; Scuffmaster Coatings. Surfacing: Trespa. Building Management System/Services: Siemens Canada. CAFM/CMMS Software: Insite. Fire System Components: Siemens Canada. Security System Components: Siemens Canada. Lighting Interface: Crestron. Plumbing: Toto. Power Supply Equipment: Cummins; Vista. Roofing: Flynn; NATS Nurser; Holland Landscaper. Windows/Skylights/Curtain Walls: Saint Gobain Glass; Inland Glass and Aluminum. Elevators/Escalators: Kone. Signage: King; Knight Signs; Peachey & Associates. IT Infrastructure: Avaya.