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More upgrades coming to Fort William Gardens

The last of a series of improvements in recent years should leave the arena in good shape until about 2036
Fort Williams Gardens

THUNDER BAY — More improvements are coming to the Fort William Gardens, the largest and oldest arena in Thunder Bay.

Kelvin Jankowski, the city's supervisor of construction services, calls the plans for the project an "aesthetic and energy makeover" to the outside of the building.

The city is currently looking for a consulting firm to lead a project that will consist mainly of significant upgrades to the structure's "envelope" that will make it more energy-efficient and reduce ongoing maintenance requirements.

It's allocated $675,000 for the work, but the city is also hoping for some government funding on top of that.

In 2021, city council adopted a long-term investment plan for the Gardens that would see $3 million in upgrades over four years, with the goal of extending the arena's lifespan for at least 15 years.

At the time, city officials said there was potential to cover 75 per cent of the cost with funding from the federal Green and Inclusive Community Building Program.

Although there has been no announcement yet about the status of that application, planning for upgrades that will begin after hockey season ends next spring is proceeding.

Last year, repairs were completed to the last of the 20 concrete haunches that are the main supports for the building.

The next phase will improve its air tightness and water tightness.

Jankowski said this will require work on the roof and the installation of infill cladding between the haunches.

It will also necessitate replacing a number of windows and doors that date back to 1951, when the arena was opened.

"These are original single-pane windows and doors. Some of them were replaced about 25 years ago ... but our main goal is to get rid of the low-efficiency items," Jankowski told TBnewswatch in an interview Wednesday.

Another way the building will be made more energy-efficient is by repairing the ceiling over the ice surface and adding a high-reflective coating to it. This will make it easier to keep the air temperature constant, thereby reducing the amount of time the ice plant is operating.

Jankowski said this will also improve the building aesthetically.

The final phase of the ice plant modernization will happen during a separate project to replace the condenser on the roof, at an estimated cost of between $250,000 and $300,000. The condenser essentially pulls heat from the ice-making system.

Once all the upgrades are done, it's estimated the Gardens will be in good shape for at least 15 more years without the need for additional work on the building envelope.

Jankowski noted that one of the biggest benefits to come after the improvements are completed by late next summer will be with the arena's water tightness, saying "There's always water leaks. We're constantly repairing that original blockwork. It continually leaks water."

It's also projected that the project will create about $80,000 in annual energy savings while reducing the building's greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 40 per cent.

Gary Rinne

About the Author: Gary Rinne

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Gary started part-time at Tbnewswatch in 2016 after retiring from the CBC
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