Bold Steps 2021

Another great news story coming out of our Council meeting last week (and to contrast from my generally sour recent social media persona, because there is a lot to be frustrated by out there right now) was an update on the City’s Bold Steps Work Plan for 2021.

Like some other jurisdictions, the City of New Westminster declared a Climate Emergency. Like a sub-set of those jurisdictions, we are taking concrete actions in addressing that Climate Emergency, in practice and in policy. Far from being an empty declaration, it was immediately followed by Council asking staff to come up with an actionable plan and viable targets – 2050 targets to meet the IPCC goal that our Country agreed to, and more important 2030 targets that require immediate action to achieve.

I feel strongly those shorter term targets are important because they require us to act now, to put the necessary changes in to our work plans and budgets in 2021 if we hope to get there. It will be hard to hold me and my Council cohort accountable for a 2050 climate target missed (As a Mayor entering his 7th term, I’ll be untouchable!), but we will know if we are on track for 2030 in the next couple of years, and will know if our actions today will get us there.

We have talked quite a bit already about the 7 Bold Steps the City as put forward, but there is a nuance in how they exist within two overlapping magisteria (h/t Stephen J Gould) known as the Corporate Energy and Emissions Reduction Strategy (CEERS – what the City does with its own operations) and a Community Energy and Emissions Plan (CEEP – what the residents and businesses in town do). If we have 90% control over the former, we only have 10% control over the latter, and it is the much bigger nut to crack. That said, working with senior governments, we can create the right conditions for the entire community to adapt to a low-GHG economy.

The report we were provided outlines the many actions our Climate Action team and other City Departments will be undertaking in 2021. I’ll take the opportunity here to share some brief highlights from each of the 7 Bold Steps:

Carbon Free Corporation. Obviously, there are two big parts of this: our fleet and our buildings. We are replacing the CGP (our highest-emission building) and are shooting for a Zero Carbon standard for the replacement, while prioritization of retrofits and upgrades for the rest of the building stock is an ongoing project. The Green Fleet roadmap will allow us to shift to GHG-free vehicles as they become available, and assure we have the infrastructure to support them across our organization.

Car Light Community. The biggest part of this work will be shifting more spending to support Active Transportation (pedestrian safety improvements, transit support, and greenways), but it also means updating our development planning to assure we are building communities where active transportation is a viable option for more people.

Carbon Free Homes and Buildings. Two ways we can support lower-emission buildings in the City are through updating or accelerating our Step Code implementation to require that new buildings meet higher standards, and continuing to support the great work of Energy Save New West. (Did you know ESNW one of the longest running and most comprehensive community energy efficiency and GHG-reduction programs in Canada?) to help residents and businesses upgrade their own buildings and save money on energy. We are also supporting the Help Cities Lead campaign, asking the Provincial Government to give local government more tools to encourage and support a more efficient building stock.

Pollution Free Vehicles. Our biggest role here will be to support as best we can adoption of electric vehicles (e-cars, e-bikes, e-whatever comes next) by making sure we have adequate public charging, and support the installation of chargers in all new buildings.

Carbon-Free Energy. The inevitable shift from GHG-intensive energy sources to low-carbon electric power puts the city in a unique situation, with our own electrical utility. We need to update our electrical infrastructure to facilitate that, starting with our Advanced Metering Infrastructure project.

Robust Urban Forest. You may have noticed boulevard trees popping up across the Brow of the hill neighbourhood especially, we are going to keep moving ahead on that commitment, along with trying to find more opportunities to protect trees through development.

Quality Public Realm. This is one aspect of the Climate Action plan that includes adaptation to the climate change already inevitable even if we globally meet our 2050 goals. We will be doing climate risk mapping to inform that adaptation, along with other programs that may not seem like climate action (like improving road safety around schools) but is actually climate action (because it makes it more likely people won’t drive to school).

There is other work that spans all 7 Bold Steps, and indeed many of the things above overlap between steps. It is important that we have included these actions in our 5-year financial plan, which means our budget matches our priorities. But even more important, every department in the City has a role, and knows its role. The next 10 years are going to be transformational and require a culture change in how the City operates. Having everyone on board and padding the same direction is the only way we will succeed.

NWACC

We had a full agenda in Council last week, so we didn’t spend a lot of time going through the reports that arrived early in the meeting. There were two reports form staff that are pretty big deals for the City, so it is worth expanding a bit on them here. The first was a project update on the still-acronymically-named NWACC, but more commonly known as the Canada Games Pool replacement.

The big news, I guess, is that we have tendered the main construction works, which means we are really doing this thing. We put the tender process on hold a little less than a year ago as there was so much uncertainty in both municipal finances and the global economy during the unfolding of the pandemic. The regional construction market has adapted, and many projects are moving on across the region, and Council and our project team were confident that we could understand pricing and meet our objectives on budget, and at this point waiting further creates more uncertainty.

The report says we are within budget, though it’s not as simple as that it sounds. This is a big piece of infrastructure, and you can’t just go to Amazon and click on “new pool” and pop $106M on your credit card. The cost of construction materials is way up over the last two years since we began this procurement (lumber has almost doubled, steel up 50%), and trades are in major demand right now, which means some parts of the construction cost are also up. Our project team was able to “value engineer” some aspects of the project, which means going through design and assumptions and finding ways that less expensive techniques or materials can be creatively applied. We have also eaten a bit into our contingency budget that was included as part of the overall budget planning. So we are on budget, but pushing the top part of it, and need to be cognizant of that as the project moves along.

There are also parts of the project that we have not yet procured, like construction of the outdoor playscapes. Fortunately, there are aspects of those components that may still apply for senior government funding support, so we will continue to seek ICIP grants and funding support to reduce the overall finance load of the project.

The NWACC was designed over more than two years, and involved one of the most comprehensive public engagements the City has ever undertaken. There were a lot of ideas and desires for this facility, and it was a big challenge to prioritize and assemble a program that met most needs, fit on the footprint available, and was within the budget of a City of 80,000 people. I am really excited about the result.

The program includes a 50m pool with 8 full competition width lanes, two baffles and a partially mobile floor to provide greater flexibility of space for everything from competitive swimming to aquafit. There is also a second leisure pool that has shorter warm-up swim lanes to support competitions, and all of the leisure uses that people expect in a community pool. Having two pools also allows the cooler competition temperature in the big tank, which the leisure tank can be warmer and more comfortable for leisure users. There is also expanded hot tub and sauna options, greater accessibility to all tanks, much larger change room areas (with ample gender-neutral changing areas) and more deck space and storage areas.

The exercise space will be greater than the current CGP and Centennial Community Centre offer. Final details on equipment are to come, but the plan is for larger free weight space on the main deck floor (no more dropping barbells on wood floors!) and a large fitness equipment space overlooking to main pool. A dedicated spin class space, and rooms for dance, yoga, and other assorted uses. Add to this a full-sized multi-purpose gymnasium and a compact more versatile gymnasium space that opens to the outside. There will be a cafeteria, space for sports medicine practitioners, a significant childcare and childminding space, and multi-purpose rooms for community meeting and arts programming.

Perhaps informed by the Canada Games Pool experience, the new complex is going to emphasize natural light. The entire complex was designed to align better with the sun, there will be lots of window space between sections to let light pass through, and the main gym and pool will have saw-tooth roof designs with clerestory windows facing north to allow ample indirect sunlight to fill the rooms.

Finally, the NWACC is going to help the City meet its aggressive climate goals. The current pool is the City’s single largest GHG emitter, the new complex will not only use electricity for air and water heating, it will generate some power onsite, and is anticipated to be the first aquatic center in Canada to be certified as a Zero Carbon Building. The building systems for energy recovery, air management and pool filtration will be cutting edge, likely the most technologically advanced pool in Canada when it is done. We are building it right so it saves us money in the long run.

So, it is all exciting. But there will some hassles between then and now. As we committed early to have the existing pool and recreation centre operating during the 2+ year construction process, we are really tight on space over the existing lot.

This means inevitable parking hassles for the users and adjacent neighbourhoods, starting with official groundbreaking next week when the fences will go up and the site will start to look very different. I hope people will be patient and understand the long-term goal here (and, yah, I’m looking at you, my Royal City Curling Club cohort!). We should be doing a grand opening towards the end of 2023, which is about a year later than we probably hoped when we started this planning process back in 2016, but the end result is going to be great.