Frantic flood work kept Flames in ‘Saddle’
CALGARY, AB -- It was 48 hours that few won’t likely forget.
It also set the stage for the following 65 days, a two-month span that won’t soon slip the memory of Calgary Flames chief operating officer John Bean.
“Most people wouldn’t even know it,” Bean said. “By the time they came to the preseason game it looked like nothing had happened. By that point in time we had put everything back to stock, back the way it was. We did 65 days worth of work that normally would’ve taken 270 days or more.”
Bean and the Flames -- with plenty of help -- were able to undo the damage of 30 million gallons of water pouring into Scotiabank Saddledome on June 20 as part of the most expensive natural disaster in Canada’s history.
Over 100,000 Calgary and area residents were evacuated from their homes as part of devastating flooding that hit Southern Alberta 365 days ago.
The Flames, too, found themselves homeless.
“The day leading up, which was raining, in the city, we actually had no sort of real early-warning system that there was something coming,” Bean said. “We got a call from the city around 2 o’clock to prepare for about a metre of water off of centre ice. That was the first indication we had that there might be a problem.
“Later in the day, there was a debate around six o’clock, the next word came that it was not going to be one metre, it was going to be three metres or more above centre ice.
“What went from ‘hey, maybe we can do something on the event level’ turned into ‘everybody needs to get out of here and get home’ so they could be safe and out of harm’s way.”
Soon thereafter, floodwaters breached the southeast doors of the Saddledome.
“A handful of us stayed around until 10 or 11 at night and then we decided we should get out of dodge,” Bean said. “A few of us went to the basement and grabbed a few things like (Jim) Peplinski’s contract -- things like that -- and brought them up to the main level and then we left so we could get home.”
Security manager Bob Godun and vice-president of building operations Libby Raines kept an eye on the building as water levels continued to rise.
What he saw between emails and photos exchanged was heartbreaking, Bean admitted.
“Bob got an early look on the Friday or Saturday,” he said. “He got in and sent some pictures. It was surreal more than disheartening. At that point, you can’t fathom water up to row eight or nine. It was more surreal than disheartening.”
Disheartened feelings were quickly replaced with those of determination, though.
“By Monday, they had the water pumped out and you put your rubber boots on and walk around and go ‘holy crap’,” Bean said. “This building wasn’t just a bathtub filling up. It was a torrent of water throwing everything around.
“We were lucky. We assembled a pretty good team between Flames people and CANA and then some mechanical and electrical contractors like Custom Electrical and Botting Mechanical and we put a plan together.
“You can get overwhelmed if you look at the quantity of the entire task ahead, but like most tasks, you start to break them down into pieces and you bite them off one at a time.”
Dressing rooms, the ice plant, the kitchen, the video control room – everything from the ground floor up to the row nine of the lower bowl had been submerged in brown, brackish water. The electrical was destroyed. Any mechanical equipment was rendered useless.
Nothing could be salvaged.
The rebuild was on.
“We met every day at 3 o’clock and discussed where we were at and what we were going to do tomorrow,” Bean said. “‘Where are we at and what are we going to do tomorrow?’
“It’s the ultimate planning and accountability session every day. It literally is breaking it down and saying ‘what did we learn today? What do we need to order? What do we need to do to get everyone onside?’ The next day, we looked at how we did and what we were doing tomorrow. It was daily. Decisions were made daily on millions of dollars of equipment that had to be done quickly.
“Within a week CANA had a master plan of how to get to September 1 and then we worked our way backwards. Every day we would meet to see how we were doing against our plan. It was different. Normally you go out and design and build. This was build then design. It was a complete team effort with goal in mind.”
Two goals, in fact.
The first was to be ready for July 10th to salvage Stampede concerts scheduled for the ‘Dome. The second was to be fully operational as a hockey facility by September 1st.
“Because of that, people worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week from June 21st to July 9th,” Bean said. “We got the building demolished and cleaned with the hopes of putting on a concert. We didn’t get to for some other reasons, but that internal deadline allowed us to meet September 1st.
“We did so much work in that first two weeks that we were able to do the rebuild process faster.”
A herculean effort from crews working around the clock at allowed the second deadline to be met.
An estimated 650,000 man-hours undid 48 hours of Mother Nature’s worst.
“I don’t think anyone got paralyzed by the deadlines,” Bean said. “No one sat there and panicked and said ‘impossible’. Everyone thought we’d get it done. That doesn’t mean individually people thought that it was nuts. Those types of feelings would be pretty normal, but no one got paralyzed to the point we didn’t get it done because of how it could be perceived to be overwhelming.”
As a result, the Flames opened the 2013-14 season on time.
At home, no less.
“It was a really proud moment,” Bean said. “When you work hard as a team, when you get the opportunity to celebrate and to thank people was really special. That night was special, especially at the end of the game when the trades came on the ice. The Flames showed real class. They came back out onto the ice and interacted with them.
“It was really special.”