Canada Olympic Stadium roof saga gets murkier


Montreal Olympic Stadium renovation update July 2023 Image: Olympic Stadium (Montreal), Tolivero, CC BY-SA 3.0

Nearly six years after plans to replace the roof of the iconic Olympic Stadium in Montreal (Canada) were announced, those plans are changing drastically and, as a result, the cost of the work is expected to balloon.

‘CBC News’ stated that in 2017, the Quebec Government under the former Premier Philippe Couillard approved a $250-million budget for a new roof. It was supposed to be installed by the end of 2022 but that timeline has since been pushed back several times and there’s been no real end in sight to ‘The Big O’ roof saga.

On July 26th, things got even more complicated.

The 56,000-capacity Olympic Stadium is a multipurpose stadium in Montreal, Canada, located at the Olympic Park in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district of the City.

‘CBC News’ further stated that the provincial agency that manages the Olympic Park announced that it canceled the call for tenders for the initial roof replacement job. Instead, it will pursue a deal with the Groupe Pomerleau-Canam (GPC), a consortium that includes Quebec companies.

That consortium would then be in charge of replacing the roof – and the technical ring, which is the immense concrete, oval-shaped structure that holds the roof in place. It has a perimeter of about 470 meters and a diameter that varies between 104 and 175 meters, depending on where one measures it.

In a statement, the Société de développement et de mise en valeur du Parc olympique (the Olympic Park Development and Enhancement Company) said expert analysis showed that replacing the technical ring was necessary in order to conform to the latest Federal building code.

It also described this latest change to the project as “radically different” from what was initially approved by the province.

The agency now expects to submit a new proposal, with a new price tag, to the Quebec Government this Fall.

‘Money Trap’

Moshe Lander, a Senior Lecturer in Economics at Concordia University, didn’t mince words. He said it’s time to give up on the ‘The Big O’ and demolish it.

Fumed Lander, who specializes in Sports Economics, “This thing is an absolute money trap. Any attempt to prolong its life is probably more for politics now than it is for economics.”

Lander says it would be better to build a new facility that can house the same activities ‘The Big O’ is currently being used for, since the maintenance costs in a newer building would be cheaper.

‘It’s Worth Repairing’

Bruno Massicotte, Professor of Civil Engineering at the Polytechnique Montréal, acknowledges that rebuilding the roof of the Olympic Stadium is a “major undertaking” but believes that the efforts are worth it.

Massicotte explained that because there’s only one axis of symmetry on ‘The Big O’, each piece of concrete has only one twin. Therefore, each pair of pieces is unique and has to be tailor-made, driving up costs. But he believes the repairs are still justified.

He added, “It’s worth repairing unless we can see damages or signs of misfunction. Tourists come to see it … as people go to see the Eiffel Tower in Paris or other icon[ic] structures.”

Dinu Bumbaru, a Policy Director at Heritage Montreal, agrees, “It’s one of the few buildings or sites in Montreal that has acquired an international reputation. So, we’re doing it for ourselves, we’re doing it for the country but also we’re doing it as part of an international movement.”

Massicotte believes it’s important to keep the stadium safe and operational well into the future – “It’s very important to keep that structure for future generations – and [that] it’s used, not just as a monument.”

Bumbaru, however, does acknowledge that constant delays to the repair work will lead to higher costs that “amplify the political debate. It’s like a vicious circle that they’re fuelling all the time.”

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