The home of the Calgary Flames has been in the news for all the wrong reasons over the last few years. Between the arena saga which was killed late last year and is trying to be revived to the latest news of pieces of concrete falling off of a ring around the roof, the city is long overdue for a new arena.
However a report uncovered as part of a freedom of information and privacy request shows that the arena is going to cost the team and the city more than $48 million in regular maintenance over a ten-year period. Entuitive Corporation was hired by Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) to prepare a lifecycle analysis of the iconic stadium and to outline which building systems will need to be upgraded or replaced to ensure the building operates as it was designed to when it was built.
The story gets worse. The $48 million is above and beyond the regular cost of maintenance on the building, which, given both the size of the building and its age, is almost certainly in the millions of dollars per year. It also does not factor for any major improvements to the space, including any attempts to make the Dome more user-friendly or beautiful. In short, this $48 million dollars is simply money that will likely need to be spent to keep the Dome operational for the next decade.
How do Saddledome costs breakdown?
The majority of the $48 million outlined in the report is for architectural work—coming in at about $33.7 million. The primary work needed is to keep the public service areas usable and within the condition expected of the arena when it was built. This includes cleaning and updating the exterior cladding along the side of the building, coating the walkways of the concourse, and upgrading the exterior landscaping, retaining walls, and other parts of the building.
The next biggest areas of allocation were the electrical, structural, and mechanical systems of the building at just over $11 million combined. The mechanical systems are generally in good shape, but are always expensive to maintain. Given the work that they do to keep the ice-level cold and the seating areas temperate, these systems require regular maintenance to stay functional.
The electrical system is as old as the building itself, and is reaching the end of its lifecycle. While this does not mean that it needs to be replaced right away, the system is going to begin to live on borrowed time and will be due for replacement soon.
The big element in the structural system is the roof, which was replaced in 2013 after hail damage. However, the roof system and component parts are noted to be aging substantially. This includes the crumbling concrete ring beam, which is not currently a major danger to the building being condemned, but is both a hazard to fall on someone and an aesthetic issue.
The good news here is that while the concrete elements and some of the post-tension cables are reaching the end of their useful life, the cost to replace them is cheap relative to the rest of the work needed. If the Saddledome needed a new roof, it would be a much bigger cause for concern as the cost would be astronomical.
The balance of the money is for the refrigeration system, building envelope work, and the elevators. Combined, these three items account for just over $3 million, with the elevators being the smallest part.
Who pays for the Saddledome maintenance?
The long and the short of it is it depends. According to the agreements between the City, Saddledome Foundation, and CSEC, the latter is responisble for day-to-day maintenance and ongoing upkeep to the building. Major structural failures are to be noted by CSEC and sent to the Saddledome Foundation along with a budget for repairs. CSEC is not responsible for replacement to structural elements of the building.
There is one caveat: if the defects are a result of CSEC not maintaining a system of the building that would be their responsibility and that system fails as a result, that is on them to replace.
What this means is that a good chunk of the $48 million in additional maintenance is the responsibility of CSEC. This likely includes refinishing the concourse, renovating meeting rooms and public spaces, maintaining the HVAC systems and more.
There is some ambiguity around responsibility for items like the electrical system if goes, but the one area that seems to be the responsibility of the foundation is the structural issues happing near the roof. This is almost certainly the responsibility of the foundation, who will likely be footing the bill for this cost. As this ring continues to deteriorate, they will have to repair or replace it quickly in order to ensure it doesn’t impact their insurability or further cause deterioration to the building.
What happens next with the Saddledome?
By no means is this the final nail in the Saddledome’s coffin. The building is no doubt very old, but it is not past the point of repair. The problem is going to become that the costs are only going to increase as more parts of the building reach the end of their useful life and require updating.
However, with increased public scrutiny on the building and its condition, it is certainly time for the City and CSEC to review building a new building for the Flames and their affiliate organizations. How that is funded is still very much to be determined, and there are multiple arena models that can be explored to go about it. But one thing is for certain, all sides desperately need to get this done.