May '07 Newsletter

Town Council News

May 2007                                                                        Volume 2, Issue 2


Newest riverfront attractions taking shape in Athabasca

Great news for local skateboarders and young summertime water worshippers – Athabasca’s latest attractions start to take shape on the riverfront June 4.

Construction of the long awaited Athabasca Skateboard and Spray Parks begins on that date, with the scheduled completion targeted for around the middle of August, says Rob Balay, outside services superintendent for the Town of Athabasca.

“Time enough to enjoy the parks for a couple months or so,” he notes, adding that weather conditions will determine the closing date for the spray park for the year, likely by the end of September.

Rob also confirms that Jim Sandgathe of Athabasca Pipelines will be the project manager during construction.

The skateboard and spray parks are just a small part of the proposed development plans for Athabasca’s riverfront. Other recreational and beautification components are in the works as well with intentions to follow the heritage theme developed in the Town Common. Plans include walking trails, benches, landscaping, parking and other components yet to be confirmed.

“We are trying to spread the heritage theme across the rest of the riverfront,” indicates Town Councillor Mike Gismondi. “Hopefully, by fall, we will have a construction guide for the next five years of work."

Some of the funding for the riverfront is tied in to the Athabasca Regional Multiplex project.

“The riverfront is a component of Multiplex fundraising, with $200,000 designated specifically for riverfront development,” says Mike, noting that, while the Multiplex is a joint community project, the riverfront is a project of the Town of Athabasca.

Additional funding for some components of the riverfront initiative will come from local groups, for example, funds towards the skateboard park coming via fundraising done by the Athabasca Skateboard Park Committee. Other groups may also kick in funds or in kind labour or materials for various aspects of future riverfront construction and landscaping.Mike points out that the site preparation, construction, location of utilities, interpretive components and landscaping on the riverfront project are simpler in construction than building a multiplex.

“Like the riverfront stage and heritage sites, they are something we can do ourselves with in kind donations which would be immeasurably appreciated,” he says. “We are hoping for strong in kind support from the community.”

Riverfront ideas abound

A number of features are being considered for the riverfront.

“Maybe some kind of sculpture to pick up the heritage theme. Also, some kind of boat replica,” states Mike. “We want to incorporate the interests of the Athabasca Heritage Society.”

He says members of the community have presented many interesting ideas.

“We have heard proposals for a winter skating area, an interpretive centre, and suggestions to tie in the old train station and the tourist information caboose.”

An outdoor market might also be considered.

“Possibly a Farmers Market a few days a week,” he suggests.

Park projects a result of community interest and determination

The Athabasca Skateboard and Spray Parks are examples of groups coming together to help create added value and attraction to the town, Mike notes.

“They are both community projects,” he says.

He believes the finished results will be pleasing to those interested in such attractions.

“The spray park looks like a little lake, about an inch deep, and painted like a river bed,” he explains.

Families with young children will enjoy the spray park and skateboarding youth will enjoy the skateboard park. And once the rest of the plans for the riverfront are transferred from drawing board to reality, there is sure to be something for everybody down by the river.

To view the newest design plan
click here

Athabasca Regional Multiplex project progresses - May 25, 2007

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Construction crews are working to keep the Athabasca Regional Multiplex on target for opening by Christmas. Front and rear photos taken at the end of May show the wall cladding coming along well. Interior work will soon follow.

Multiplex construction on track, unexpected costs accounted for

Taking into consideration the usual bumps and hitches that can occur with a project this size, construction on the Athabasca Regional Multiplex is moving forward quite well.

Members of the Municipal Multiplex Committee (MMC), responsible for keeping close tabs on the progress of the project, meet regularly and report back to their respective councils: the MMC is made up of councillors and administrators from the Town of Athabasca and County of Athabasca. The committee has been meeting monthly, but will soon increase the frequency of their meetings as the main focus of construction moves to the interior of the building, once the exterior finishing nears completion.

The project did suffer a bit of a slow down as, according to town councillor and MMC member Mike Gismondi, an issue developed with some of the steel for the building. The contractor is dealing with the problem to the satisfaction of the committee.

“They are a little behind because of some pitting in some of the girders,” Mike explains. “The supplier is paying for the repair job – sandblasting and repainting.”

It is possible that rusting may have occurred while the steel was in transit from its origin in the United States, or the original painting may not have been up to standard.

In general, though, the committee is happy with the construction managers, and the project appears to be on schedule for the anticipated opening by Christmas.

Change orders not unexpected

While the MMC meets monthly, the Town and County chief administrative officers meet with construction management and the construction team on a biweekly basis to help keep an eye on the project and to deal with change orders.

“They do the close supervision of the project and find out if changes are needed,” says Mike.

Change orders result when things outside of the original plans need to be added or when things within the existing plan need to be altered. Changes, and any additional costs, need to be approved first.

For example, new building standards dictated that sprinklers had to be installed on certain windows.

“We needed sprinklers on the windows overlooking the rinks,” Mike explains. “The cost is a lot more than we were expecting.”

Costs for management, equipment and labour all need to be factored in.

“All the costs get rolled up, then submitted for approval. Before anything gets done, before we release and spend the money, we give it lots of discussion and evaluation.”

The Multiplex budget accounts for unexpected change orders, says Mike.

“No building gets built without this sort of thing. We are where we are supposed to be with change orders.”

Kitchen issue heats up

Earlier in the planning stages of the project, construction of kitchen facilities had been dropped from the plans due to financial restraints. Kitchen facilities would be added at a later date when funds could be found.

Now, the kitchen is being reconsidered as a more immediate priority and there is hope on the horizon for the necessary funding.

“We are trying to get that kitchen built now,” states concerned councillor Mike. “We need that kitchen.”

New grant money may be available, but the deadline to begin kitchen construction is fast approaching. There is no time to waste in making the decision and giving the order.

“We want to put the kitchen back, but we have to commit soon,” Mike confirms.

Soccer boards could be sidelined

A great deal of debate has occurred over the issue of whether or not to include boards around the soccer pitch in the field house component of the Multiplex project. Mixed opinions abound. Councillor Mike offers his own.

“There is ongoing discussion about the utility of the field house, with and without the soccer boards,” he says. “My opinion – and it’s just my opinion – is, we need to be maximizing the utility of that room.”

The field house will be used as a multipurpose area to accommodate a variety of community, social and sports activities.

“Without the boards, it is much more usable. It can be used as a soccer pitch without the boards,” declares Mike.

No decision has been made and the debate is likely to continue.

Multiplex Society to be developed, director to be hired

While the process is still in the planning stages, it is expected that the new facility will be run by a manager who will report to a board of directors.

“It will be set up as a not-for-profit society with maybe the provisional name, the Athabasca Regional Multiplex Society,” states Mike. “We are working on a job description for the manager or director and we will have a binder of information ready for the person.”

There is a possibility the same individual will oversee other facilities in the community as well.

“There are a number of buildings jointly funded and jointly run by the Town and the County now,” says Mike. “We might have one person overseeing them all.”

Until the society is confirmed and formed and a director hired, the MMC will continue to oversee and manage the Multiplex project. Presently, the committee is setting out to confirm the anticipated tenants for the facility. Several local groups had expressed an interest in committing to regular space in the building. Now the time has come to qualify their intentions – “find out who’s in and who’s out,” advises Mike – and firm up their commitment.

“We are still trying to determine a couple of the tenants,” he points out. “Some areas in the facility were designed for a particular group, but if they are no longer committed, we may have to re-purpose the room or that area and look for other tenants.”

Community support, though not 100 per cent behind the location, still very strong

Mike admits that not everybody in the community is enthusiastic about the Multiplex location. There are those who do not believe in the location or feasibility of the facility. Still, in many ways, support has been very strong and he is confident that it’s just a matter of time before some of the doubters will come to see the value.

“I know there are still people with concerns, but over time, people adapt,” he advises. “There is a real opportunity here for change. Everything is going to re-orient to it and this will become a better community. There are young people coming along who will embrace it and follow through.”

He encourages all in the community to look to the future.

“This is the building that will serve the community for the next 50 years. It will become a central focus for all kinds of community events – weddings, sports and recreation, health and wellness, socializing, indoor sports in the winter – with creative management, the sky is the limit for community activities.”

It is a new era, says Mike, the community having come from an old era that revolved around a community centre, arena and curling rink in separate buildings, now aging and outdated.

“Look at it this way, you’ve just had a heart replacement in the community. If it’s all hooked up properly, the community is going to feel young again.”

Fundraising efforts continue

Companies, community groups and individuals continue to throw their financial support behind the Athabasca Regional Multiplex in a big way. Financial commitments from all sources total $16,516,000 towards the overall goal of $17,281,000.

Fundraising efforts continue and all donations are appreciated.

Residents Ponder future of local campgroud

Town Councillor Mike Gismondi discusses campground options with members of the community following an open house meeting on May 23, 2007

Community discusses relocation of River’s Edge Campground

A few dozen concerned citizens met with members of Athabasca Town Council and town administration the evening of May 23 to discuss relocation options for Athabasca’s River’s Edge Campground.

Council hosted the open house meeting, held in the lower floor of the Athabasca Community Centre, to get a sense of what direction the community wanted council to go with the campground issue. The campground has to be relocated to accommodate major changes planned for the Highways 55 and 813 interchange.

Two relocation options were presented: the first, directly east of the existing campsite, on the east side of the Tawatinaw River, along the south bank of the Athabasca River; and the second, south of 50 Ave. in the Tawatinaw Valley, along the west side of the Tawatinaw River.

In an introduction to the meeting, Athabasca Mayor Richard Verhaeghe noted that a third option was also available, that being to simply close the existing campsite and accept a cash settlement from Alberta Transportation and Infrastructure, then decide on where to build a new campground in the future. A fourth option of a private land purchase on the East Hill was also mentioned, but not discussed.

Mark van der Zalm, principal landscape architect with Van der Zalm and Associates Inc. of Vancouver, was on hand to present drawings of the two relocation options, provide additional insight and answer related questions.

Mark noted that there were pros and cons for both campground options and that either location would provide good camping for both residents and visitors.

Prior to the meeting, it seemed that the Tawatinaw Valley option had been ruled out due to the anticipated cost of the land. However, members of the community present at the meeting suggested that the option should be revisited.

In response, Mayor Verhaeghe advised that there was a cap on the amount of funding Alberta Transportation would provide to relocate the campground, and the cost of the land in question would likely exceed that cap. He indicated that if residents wanted that option anyway, it could be done, but the town would have to pay the extra costs and that would mean an increase in resident taxes.

Members of the group felt that Alberta Transportation should cover the entire relocation costs, even if that meant purchasing the additional land required to secure the estimated four acres necessary for the campground.

Mayor Verhaeghe didn’t think the province would be willing to negotiate the settlement value, but if the community wanted, it could be given further investigation.

Other pros and cons of both relocation options were discussed. One benefit of the first option, keeping the campground next to the Athabasca River, north of 50 Ave., is that families and children would not have to cross the busy street to get to the Spray Park and Skateboard Park. It was explained, however, that a pedestrian underpass would be built under Hwy. 55, linking the second campground option (Tawatinaw River, south side of 50 Ave.) to the waterfront as well.

A few concerns about the Athabasca River riverside option were, first, the slope of the land meant the camping sites would have to be tiered, which presented design, access and erosion challenges. Second, portions of the site could be subject to potential flooding. Also, a portion of the highway would run very close along the southeast border of the campground causing noise and potential safety concerns.

The second option, south of 50 Ave., running along the Tawatinaw Valley, offers flat, easy to service and easy to access land adjoining the Trans Canada Trail. Also, by locating the campground there, the land in the first option next to the Athabasca River could be preserved in a more natural state, as preferred by some members of the community.

After the discussion ended and questions all appeared to have been answered, Mayor Verhaeghe thanked those present and brought the meeting to a close. Informal discussion then carried on in various groups afterwards.

Town Council will take the evening’s proceedings into consideration before making a decision on the campground relocation. Once a decision has been reached, Alberta Transportation and Infrastructure will be advised and the required next steps will be taken.

Historic hotel a local landmark

Strategically located near the riverfront at the intersection of 50th Street and 50th Avenue, the Grand Union Hotel is one of Athabasca's most significant historic resources

Grand Union Hotel a classic

A cornerstone of Athabasca’s historic riverfront architecture

There was a time when Athabasca’s Grand Union Hotel held a particularly unique distinction in the Province of Alberta. It may be hard to imagine now, but the historic resource once was the largest hotel north of Edmonton.

Built in the early 1900’s, strategically located near Athabasca’s riverfront, the Grand Union Hotel served as a commercial focal point for the community. Central to the development of the town as the gateway to the north, the hotel symbolized the economic prosperity of the province.

Paralleling similar growth occurring throughout the province, Athabasca’s population grew from 200 to more than 2,000 during the community’s boom years of 1906-1911. In 1911, the settlement then known as “Athabasca Landing” qualified for town status and became simply “Athabasca.”

A major fire in 1912 caused damage to several homes and businesses in Athabasca, however the Great Fire of August 1913 was far more devastating: thirty-two Athabasca buildings were completely lost to the fire, including the original Grand Union Hotel, then a wood-frame structure.

In 1914, a new Grand Union Hotel was built at the same location, this time using brick as a more durable building material.

In addition to the regular array of hotel services, at one time, the Grand Union also featured a billiard hall, a bowling alley, a dining room and a tavern.

Today, the classic hotel remains an important landmark in the Town of Athabasca and continues to provide a variety of services. The hotel tavern has developed into one of Athabasca’s neighbourhood social attractions, featuring regular entertainment.

Hotel a significant heritage resource

The Town of Athabasca 2006 Municipal Heritage Inventory report identifies the Grand Union Hotel as one of the 25 most significant historic resources in Athabasca. The report describes the Grand Union as “an L-shaped three-storey commercial brick building with a cut-away corner entrance … located on a town lot in the heart of Athabasca’s historic downtown district near the Athabasca River and across from the former (1913 CNR) railway station.”

Each of the historic resources in the report is highlighted with statements of significance including a list of character defining elements. For the Grand Union Hotel, these elements include:

§ The L-shaped plan with chamfered corner entrance

§ The brick materials, such as the decorative brick arches over all the windows, the corbelling below the roof line and the coloured brick details between the two continuous bands of concrete parging below the second storey windows

§ The stone foundation

§ The cast stone sills

§ The window pattern on the three levels of the main façade

§ The two large stained glass windows of the main façade featuring the letters “GU”

§ The window style, such as the main floor front façade windows

The Municipal Heritage Inventory report was a joint effort between the Government of Alberta Municipal Heritage Partnership Program (MHPP) and the Town of Athabasca. Since completing the report in May 2006, participating partners have been working on the next stage of the project, the development of a management plan for Athabasca’s historic resources.

More information about the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program can be found at

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