Delays and safety issue plague new rec centre in Hay River, N.W.T.

A new recreational centre in Hay River, N.W.T., is scheduled to open in mid-February, and could require renovations.

Office of the Fire Marshal concerned facility's main stairwell isn't designed for orderly evacuation

An artist's concept of the proposed upgrades to Hay River's recreation centre, including a walking track above the ice rink. Despite delays, town officials believe the arena will be ready for the 2018 Arctic Winter Games in March. (Stantec)

It was originally set to open last October, but now residents from Hay River, N.W.T., will have to wait until at least mid-February to use their new recreation centre — just weeks away from the Arctic Winter Games scheduled in March.

According to a Town of Hay River news release, contractor Clark Builders will hand over the facility to the town at the end of the month, but will do finishing work for about another two weeks after that.

But the N.W.T. fire marshal's office doesn't believe the design of the lobby's main stairwell allows for safe evacuation in case of fire.

Hay River Mayor Brad Mapes said he doesn't want the public using an unsafe building. That said, he's not sure what the problem is.

Hay River Mayor Brad Mapes hopes the N.W.T. fire marshal will reconsider an order that states the recreation centre's main stairwell isn't sufficiently designed to handle orderly evacuation in case of emergency.

"We feel that the Office of the Fire Marshal maybe needs to reconsider a lot of these options that have been put forward from our contractor," said Mapes, adding its design isn't "much different from several other examples [the contractor] put forth to the fire marshal's office."

Mapes explained the stairwell issue could lead to renovations to the brand new facility, such as construction of an additional wall fitted with fire-rated glass.

When the town opted to build a new recreational centre over renovating the old one in June, Mapes told CBC a new centre would help avoid unforeseen problems that could come with renovations.

N.W.T. fire marshal Chucker Dewar didn't comment on the specifics of his office's concerns about the stairwell, but said staff from his office are working with the contractor and town officials to come to a resolution. 

Dale Johnson, Clark Builders' project manager for the recreation centre, redirected CBC to the Town of Hay River when asked for comment on the stairwell issue.

According to Mapes, the contractor and fire marshal have been discussing the stairwell design for "several months" and consultations had been ongoing throughout construction.

Town banks on interim solution

In the meantime, Hay River officials hope to appease the fire marshal's office by implementing a Fire Watch Program. To do this, the town would assign rec centre staff to watch for fires and help with evacuations in case of emergency. Dewar said his office is assessing this proposal.

Hay River Senior Administrative Officer Judy Goucher said staff already on site would be able to perform these duties.

"For [the Arctic Winter Games] we were already planning on security," she said. "And for day to day we already have those people working for us so we aren't seeing a significant amount of incremental costs at this point in time."

CBC previously reported the new recreational centre will cost the Town of Hay River $21.3 million.

The Arctic Winter Games run from March 18 to 24. Neither Mapes nor Goucher believe the delays will affect the event.

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