Safety of structure forecasts doubt

ABOVE THE PLAZA – Part Two of The Weather Catcher Series

By SHELLEY TERMUENDE, Connect Weekly

Two documented cases of people climbing the Weather Catcher at Jubilee Plaza have been reported to date. PHOTO: Shelley Termuende, Connect Weekly

Two documented cases of people climbing the Weather Catcher at Jubilee Plaza have been reported to date. PHOTO: Shelley Termuende, Connect Weekly

Fort McMurray residents have been concerned the Weather Catcher structure is a safety hazard for the community. Because of many public and internal requests for an inspection, the city conducted a Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) assessment to identify safety risks at Jubilee Plaza. The CPTED analysis determined the Weather Catcher is prone to climbing, stating that without surveillance and lighting; would-be climbers have advantageous opportunities to ascend the structure.

The city introduced several safety measures after the realization that climbing the Weather Catcher became a temptation. “Right away we noticed that there was no real restrictive area preventing people from actually climbing on it (the Weather Catcher),” said Bob Couture, the Executive Director of Community and Protective Services of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB).

“What happens when a curious kid tries to climb that and gets hurt? What safeguards do we have to put in place and then we have to hire a security guard twenty-four seven to make sure that someone doesn’t climb up it”.

Councilor Keith McGrath says the Weather Catcher will always be a safety concern regardless of the safety mitigations put in place by the city.

“What happens when a curious kid tries to climb that and gets hurt? What safeguards do we have to put in place and then we have to hire a security guard twenty-four seven to make sure that someone doesn’t climb up it”.

Safety features installed at an additional cost include: “Do Not Climb” signage; a fence around the perimeter of the Weather Catcher, in addition to large flower pots; two security guards patrolling the Jubilee Plaza in two twelve hour shifts (since removed); anti-climbing mats; four security cameras, as well as, the installation of additional lighting around the structure.

“Because the project was so poorly designed and thought through that we had to have twenty-four hour a day security to ensure people don’t hurt themselves. To me, that is putting the cart before the horse,” said Diane Slater.

To Diane Slater, the reactionary measures are not enough, “Because the project was so poorly designed and thought through that we had to have twenty-four hour a day security to ensure people don’t hurt themselves. To me, that is putting the cart before the horse.”

To date, two documented cases of people climbing the Weather Catcher have been reported. The Executive Summary of the CPTED report detailed one of the climbing incidents, “September 5 at 8:50 p.m., two moderately intoxicated males were found in the process of climbing it on the front side of the structure that faces Hardin Street. One male hoisted the other onto the first level of the structure; the climber was working his way into the interior space of the structure.”

“We want the Jubilee Plaza to be, and it is a safe environment for children and families, we want to be sure that we address those issues,” said Bob Couture.

With safety as his main priority, Couture defended the RMWB’s decision to tack on a larger budget to ensure that nobody gets injured. “We want the Jubilee Plaza to be, and it is a safe environment for children and families, we want to be sure that we address those issues”.

Adam Nicklin of Public Work says the designers have responded to the attempts to climb the structure, but says that the structure is meant to remain interactive, so people can come up and feel the water coming off of the structure. In terms of usage, the Weather Catcher mists an average of 3,600 gallons per day of non-recirculating water from the drinking water supply during the summer and 600 gallons per day during the winter months. The municipality ensures the water used is safe for residents to enjoy.

The RMWB engineering department said the Weather Catcher is completely safe for viewing and interaction: “As a seasonally responsive architectural display intended for public viewing, the weather catcher is completely safe for residents to interact with and appreciate. After construction finished, the potential for individuals to climb the structure was identified. To mitigate that possibility, the lowest level of decorative struts has been removed and anti-climbing devices installed. When enjoyed as an architectural display, the weather catcher poses absolutely no danger to the community.”

To further mitigate any thrill seekers, the city plans to install a four walled glass partition that blocks off entry to the base of the Weather Catcher, but allows visitors to see the structure. The walls will be removable nightly and seasonally, so the structure can be interacted with during the day and the summer and when installed prevents climbers. Presently the administration is assessing the costs of employing a technician to install the glass wall seasonally and nightly.

Bob Couture says unknown costs for safety are expected and important for a structure as the product needs to account for external factors, such as how the community will engage with it.

“When you look at a drawing from how it looks in the space you don’t know…when we are dealing with the situation where we really don’t have a finger on of what risks we are placing our citizens on, until we have an evaluation of those risks, it is a balance of keeping our citizens safe”. Couture wanted to ensure that the costs for security and safety will be reduced once the RMWB is assured of the safety of the area.

Councilor Colleen Tatum says that the weather catcher is a learning curve for the city stating that nothing ever done is going to be perfect, but the city can adapt, change and learn from these hiccups along the way.

This is Part Two of the “Above the Plaza: Weather Catcher Series” to be continued in the upcoming issue of Connect Weekly. Read Part One: Six-story structure catches attention.

– Connect Weekly –