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Timber ordered from Italy, Austria delays new South Burnaby ice arena

Completion date for Rosemary Brown Arena, which the city originally said would be ready in fall 2021, now pushed to December 2022.
South Burnaby arena
An artist's rendering shows the mass timber beams at the Rosemary Brown Arena, which is under construction in South Burnaby.

Burnaby’s new South Burnaby ice arena could have been up and running by now if its dramatic wooden beams hadn’t been ordered from Italy and Austria.

When the project, now named the Rosemary Brown Arena, broke ground in September 2019, the city estimated it would be up and running by the fall of 2021.

But a report to the city’s financial management committee last week said it is now expected to be complete in December 2022.

Coun. Sav Dhaliwal asked how confident director of civic building projects Tim Van Driel was in the new completion date since the timeline has continued to “slip.”

Van Driel said “the main source of all that delay” was the building’s mass timber, which the city has confirmed was ordered from Austria and Italy.

“Every single stick” of the timber has now been delivered, however, so Van Driel said he’s confident the arena will be finished by December 2022.

When asked why the timber was ordered from Europe, the city told the NOW the general contractor for the arena had contracted with a local mass timber subcontractor, Seagate Mass Timber, and Seagate chose to source materials from the European market.

“We recognize that it is important to support local industry in B.C., but the city cannot dictate that subcontractors be required to purchase timber locally, as this clause would violate existing free trade agreements,” said city communications manager Chris Bryan in an email.

Bryan said the hold-up in getting the timber was mostly due to Covid-related delays in the source countries, as well as supply-chain disruption issues and related shipping issues, including a shortage of labour in ports and a global shortage of shipping containers.

He noted the city’s “fixed-price lump sum contracting model” means the contractor will bear the cost of the delays in sourcing materials.

And, since the city got a “complete bid for the supply and install of the entire arena," the cost of shipping was already factored in, according to Bryan.

“The contract was awarded to the lowest compliant bidder through a competitive bidding process,” he said. “Any cost impacts as a result of difficulties the subcontractor experienced with shipping were not borne by the city.”

But Bryan did acknowledge local residents have paid a price of a different kind as well. 

“There is an obvious cost to the community of not having access to this new facility as early as we’d all like,” he said.

As for how the city squares ordering timber from Europe with its sustainability goals, Bryan explained mass timber construction is a "carbon removal technique" that offers “a number of climate-related benefits compared with traditional steel and concrete construction.”

“For example, the production of traditional building materials (steel and concrete) account for a significant chunk of the global carbon emissions each year, whereas mass timber has the advantage of sequestering carbon,” Bryan said. “Many of these benefits are still relevant, even if the sub-contractor chose to source the mass timber products from overseas.”

Bryan also noted the environmentally friendly design of the building itself, including the use of more natural light, a highly efficient building envelope and EV charging stations in the parking lot.

At last week’s committee meeting, Dhaliwal urged staff to “keep a close tab” on the project to keep it on track and possibly even recover some of the time lost because of the timber.

Coun. Pietro Calendino echoed Dhaliwal’s sentiments.

“I wonder if you can put some pressure on the developer to push it forward a bit,” he said.

Mayor Mike Hurley said he wanted to ask a question too, but then said cryptically it would be “better left to closed” – meaning the part of the meeting that  isn’t public.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor