WESTLOCK — Three weeks before the anniversary of the first hockey game played at the Jubilee Arena on December 29, 1963, final demolition of the facility began on December 8 when part of the southwest wall collapsed.
Demolition crews began the final phase of demolishing the 59-year-old facility on Thursday morning, work that had been expected for early fall but has been postponed several times, with the latest delay coming in early November after crews found more asbestos in the building, which Robin Benoit, operations manager for the town of Westlock, said was not picked up in the original report “when they started pulling out the bleachers” and came out from behind a wall. Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous silicate mineral that is widely used as a building material until its adverse effects on human health were widely recognized in the 1970s – the most common diseases associated with chronic exposure to asbestos are asbestosis, the scarring of the lungs caused by it asbestos inhalation, and mesothelioma, a type of cancer.
At the site just after 12pm on December 8, with demolition workers inside Jubilee, Benoit chuckled when asked if it was gratifying that work had finally started.
“It’s just nice to see that it’s started. We’ve waited a while and are at the mercy of the contractor’s schedule and he has until the end of the month to get the job done,” said Benoit, who admitted it’s a little sad to see the old arena finally fall.
City officials had hoped the arena would fall shortly thereafter following the erection of a security fence around the site the week of October 31. Previously, the city first designated the week of September 12 and then the week of September 19 for the final phase of the $280,000 demolition, as the interior had previously been demolished. As for the additional costs of asbestos removal, Benoit told councilors in mid-November that they could be as high as $50,000 as crews were working on an earlier report commissioned by the city.
Looking ahead, Benoit said once the site is cleared of rubble they will have to let it sit for a while before it is leveled and paved.
“The ground will actually recover a bit after we remove the building. And later in the year we’ll have it as a paved parking lot,” he said.
The demolition of the city’s first indoor arena was initially budgeted at $1 million and funded through unrestricted reserves in the municipality’s 2022 capital budget – CAO Simone Wiley has previously explained that there will be additional costs to level and landscaping the site in 2023 will give.
Benoit has also previously said that concrete from the arena will be recycled at no cost at Lafarge Canada’s local site, and the contractor has given them credit for the metal that can be flushed.
Wiley said on November 15 that while they were disappointed that the demo had been consistently delayed throughout the fall, along with the unveiling of more asbestos at the site, they were satisfied the final bill would be “substantially lower.” than originally estimated.
The Jubilee Arena, originally named the Westlock and District Jubilee Family Recreation Center, opened on July 13, 1963 and cost $75,744 to build, while the first hockey game at the facility was played on natural ice since it was still open no ice had facility was December 29, 1963.
The arena was due to be demolished after the Rotary Spirit Center (RSC) opened in 2012, but those plans were shelved after the discovery of asbestos on the site – a report from that year said 16 of 26 building material samples tested positive for it the substance.
At the end of 2018, the then council spoke about the demolition of the building and briefly considered renovating it as a heat storage facility. But when faced with a price of $1 million for this work, or $900,000 just to tear it down, the council put the issue on the back burner.