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Q & A: A closer look at Westminster Pier Park

As the project manager for the new Westminster Pier Park, Dugal Purdie is in charge of transforming the desolate industrial site into a new waterfront park. - NEWSLEADER FILE
As the project manager for the new Westminster Pier Park, Dugal Purdie is in charge of transforming the desolate industrial site into a new waterfront park.
— image credit: NEWSLEADER FILE

Dugal Purdie was hired by the City of New Westminster as the project manager for Westminster Pier Park, the waterfront park which the city aims to have completed by November.

Q: Can you give us a brief synopsis of your background and experience?

I graduated as a civil engineer in 1970 in the UK and worked in marine and tunnelling construction before coming to Canada in 1975. I worked in Newfoundland, Quebec and Alberta before moving to B.C. Initially I focused on construction work but following a period as construction manager for the first phase of Vancouver’s SkyTrain project I moved into the development business. I spent eight years with Concord Pacific developing the Expo Lands on the north side of False Creek, initially as project manager and then as VP development. Subsequently I started a consulting business providing project management and development services.

Q: What similar projects have you been involved with in the past?

While with Concord Pacific I was involved with both the design and construction of the David Lam and Andy Livingstone parks for the Vancouver Parks Board. More recently I managed the delivery of the shipyards site in North Vancouver for the City of North Vancouver.

Q: Can you tell us how those projects compare with the pier park?

The similarities are quite striking. All three parks were previously contaminated waterfront industrial wastelands in urban areas. In addition, the shipyards was also bounded by a major road corridor and rail line to the north and was planned very much as an urban space rather than a suburban park. Those familiar with the north shore of False Creek will recognise that these areas can be as busy in the evenings after the sun goes down as they are in the daytime. The Pier Park has therefore been designed to accommodate these multiple user groups during the day and into the evenings.

Q: Where is the pier park project at today?

The project is proceeding on schedule and is about to move from the below grade marine and environmental stages of the work into the surface work. The environmental cleanup and the construction of solid foundations for the new park has been our primary focus to date. Building earthquake-resistant foundations on the edge of a fast flowing river is a major undertaking, but without these foundations, investing in a new park would be foolhardy. Since most of the work has been below ground, or underwater, there is not much to see at present but that is about to change.

Q: What's next?

This spring the servicing, building and landscape contractor gets into full swing with earthworks, underground services and building foundations. The concession building and hard landscaping (concrete pathways, furniture, guardrails, lighting, etc.) will take maximum advantage of the drier summer months and the soft landscaping (lawns, shrubs, trees, etc.) will be completed in the cooler fall period.

Q: Are things on schedule? When is it expected to be complete?

Yes, despite the usual construction difficulties the project is generally on schedule with the completion date targeted for the end of October this year.

Q: One resident has consistently raised concerns about the contamination on the site, the risk he believes it could pose to residents, and the possibility the cost to remediate the soils could soar. What's your assessment of the situation?

Those concerns are shared by the city and the project team, and are common to projects of this nature. Our challenge since the project’s inception has been to ensure that the site will be fully remediated to meet all provincial standards, without risk to residents or our construction workers, before park completion. Since we started standards have changed and new contaminants have been found, but to date we’ve managed both within our project budget and schedule. The worst is now behind us and I don’t anticipate any further contamination issues.

Q: In your opinion, what will residents experience when they first visit their new park?

Surprise that an area with such potential had been neglected for so long. I think a lot of residents will start to recognize this potential and take a much more positive view of living close by.

Q: What are the greatest challenges for a project like this?

Upfront, the political will to take the risk and find the funding. Then it’s a question of aligning expectations with what you can afford to build (with the funding) and, even more importantly, what you can afford to maintain and operate (within your budget).

Q: Have there been any surprises (pleasant or otherwise) that have cropped up during the process of the work?

Sure, that’s why those of us who thrive in construction love this business, but I doubt they’re of significant interest to the majority of your readers.

Q: What's the most satisfying part of working on a job like this?

It’s always the people who make these one-off projects work. The city staff have been a delight to work with; diligent, responsive, focused and helpful. The engineers, designers and contractors have all approached the project with enthusiasm and professionalism. We certainly have a great team.

Q: How do you think this new park will impact New Westminster's Downtown from an economic and social perspective?

I think the impact could be similar to False Creek. Once prospective home owners see the possibilities, enterprising developers may want to take advantage of the potential market. The city has taken the lead and improved the business risk, increasing the odds that development investment will follow. I believe further private investment would be positive for the Downtown and that the park will be a catalyst.

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