Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Emotional response" sparked design firm to donate services: principal


The Clarion

If the aftermath of January’s fire at Exhibition Stadium has proven anything, it’s that a blow to hockey at the grassroots level can resonate all the way up to the top.

The latest example has an internationally renowned architectural firm, with projects like the Air Canada Centre and GM Place in its portfolio, offering to do its first-ever pro bono job in designing Kindersley’s new rink.

Toronto-based Brisbin Brook Beynon (BBB) Architects, led by principal architect Chris O’Reilly, will charge the town only for its expenses and perform the actual design work free of charge.

O’Reilly, who made his second visit to Kindersley last Wednesday to meet with the building committee and speak at a chamber luncheon, explained that the firm would normally charge about 4.2 per cent for a project like this one.

For instance, if the construction costs were $10 million, BBB would charge $420,000 in fees, which includes expenses. He estimated the firm’s own costs, which will be covered by the town, at about $200,000.

O’Reilly, the brother of former Boston Bruin Terry O’Reilly, brought three presentation boards to Wednesday’s luncheon featuring very preliminary designs for the arena. He stressed that they were put together simply as a starting point and will likely change significantly as the total of insurance funds becomes known and the community identifies priorities.

“My objective was just to get something down on the drawing board that people could relate to,” O’Reilly explained. “A lot of people were focused on the budget number (at the luncheon), but I think the point is we don’t know what the exact budget number is and you need to have a starting point. You can’t wait (to design something) until the 11th hour, until you know everything.

“This is like taking a big block of granite and chipping away at the outside and we’ll get more details as we get closer to the centre.”

Chief administrative officer Sherry Magnuson confirmed Monday that she expects to find out what funds will be available from insurance within a week to 10 days, which would clear a major hurdle to progress for both the West Central Events Centre and the new arena.

Walker Projects president Milt Walker told the audience at the luncheon that completing the new arena by fall 2011 is “a reasonable target” that would require “an aggressive schedule.”

O’Reilly called that target “doable,” suggesting that the construction itself could be completed in 12 months or less.

“A simple arena with a mezzanine should be pretty straightforward,” he said.

He added that BBB wants to establish what is known as a design-build contract, which would allow an overlap between the design and construction phases and give more flexibility.

“That speeds things up a little bit because I can do less drawing now and then get a contractor on board, send out a (request for proposal), get contractors to bid on it, and then work with them to do all the final construction,” he said.

How does a large Toronto-based firm wind up doing a small-town Saskatchewan project for free? Former NHL coach and current NHL Network analyst Gary Green, who is a senior director of BBB Architects, got the ball rolling.

“Aside from being in the sports architecture business, I‘m a broadcaster and like everyone else, I saw it on the national news,” Green said Monday just before flying to Germany for the IIHF World Championship.

“I thought about it and thought, ‘What a travesty that is for the people in that community,’” he added, recalling his days growing up in Tillsonburg, Ont., where “the arena was everything to us.”

His thoughts soon turned to pitching in, and he approached BBB partner Murray Beynon.

“I said, ‘Is there anything you think we could do to help them out?’ He didn’t even flinch. He said yeah, let’s help them out,” recalled Green, who was the youngest head coach in NHL history with the
Washington Capitals.

Green brought Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson on board in early February, utilizing the governing body’s vast resources to help co-ordinate the effort.

O’Reilly, who was also consulted on the decision to work pro bono, called it “an emotional response to your disaster.”

Magnuson received a phone call from Green less than a week after the fire, with the director offering BBB’s services.

“I picked it up and I was still in that ‘not enough sleep’ mode after the fire, and I thought, did I hear that right?” recalled the administrator. “He said, ‘Yes, that’s the case and I’ll send you a letter confirming that.’ We were really shocked and amazed and touched by that generosity.”

The development was not made public until now because BBB didn’t want it to seem like a publicity stunt. Further to that, getting the process started on the new arena was on the back burner for Magnuson while arrangements were being made to get the WCEC back on the road to operation.

“We backed away from any publicity on it because that’s not our reason for helping,” said Green. “We were very nervous about it.”

On the other hand, Magnuson felt it was “(BBB’s) story to tell” and suggested that the offer might spark other firms to pitch in, in various ways.

“From that point onward, there’s a lot smarter people than me that take the ball and run with it,” Green joked, calling O’Reilly “the guy that can make it happen.”

Wednesday’s meeting of the building committee, or the user advisory committee, as Walker has termed it, ran over two hours as O’Reilly presented two conceptual designs for feedback.

“It was pretty intense,” Magnuson said.

O’Reilly has recommended that the committee piece together an executive to trim the number of direct players from 26 to something more manageable.

“They can be the intermediary to the larger group,” he said. “That’s another good reason for having stakeholder meetings to keep everybody apprised of what’s going on, so nobody gets upset that they’re not part of the process.”

Magnuson said the large committee was formed based on the model followed in Estevan, where a new arena is slated to open early next year, along with research into the design processes in Melville, Melfort and Lloydminster.

The committee will meet with Walker on Thursday and discussion about an executive is planned.

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