The City of Grande Prairie
faces continuing challenges, with no end in sight for a boom
that's generating $90 million a year in non-infrastructure
building. Peace River Branch engineers are helping the city
and the community deal with unprecedented growth.
BY HEIDI YANG, P.ENG.
Peace River Branch
Up with the Boom
Second-stage paving takes place along Resources Road in
Grande Prairie, in the southbound lanes, looking south.
When our branch executive brainstormed ideas for this article,
words such as "infrastructure," "growth,"
"north-south trade corridor" and "community
knowledge campus" came forward. What did these words
have in common? Grande Prairie!
Grande Prairie's Growth
Over the last three years, Grande Prairie's population has
grown by an average of four per cent per year, as compared
to 1.7 per cent for other Alberta cities of similar size.
There are now more than 40,226 people in Grande Prairie, and
the activity around town shows it.
Grande Prairie reported a record year in 2002 in building
construction activity (not including any infrastructure construction)
at $117 million, with an impressive five-year average of $90
million per year. The boom continues in 2003. "We already
see 903 new legal parcels for residential, commercial and
industrial subdivision development so far this year, as compared
to the total amount of 892 for the year 2002," says Frank
Daskewech, R.E.T., Public Works director.
Municipal improvements by developers were a record $13 million
in value in 2002, and it is projected that this will be exceeded
in 2003. Road upgrades and rehabilitation plans are underway,
and the city is looking to spend more than $5 million per
year in the next two years on road and sidewalk repairs or
rehabilitation of transportation infrastructure.
The transit system has also risen to the challenge to support
this growing infrastructure through the development of a transit
master plan, which won the Canadian Urban Transit Association's
Exceptional Performance in Transit Award in 2001.
"Transit use on average has increased more than 16 per
cent over the last three years," says Karen Bustin of
Transit Services. "I guess that is why Metro Magazine
rated Grande Prairie's transit system in 2001 as one of the
top 10 fastest growing transit systems in North America."
In the midst of the growing infrastructure comes the innovative
concept of "shared community" in the Community Knowledge
Campus. Because of its impact to all of us in Grande Prairie,
an APEGGA Technical Night regarding the campus was held -
and well attended - a few years ago, when it was still in
the conceptual phase.
With an original budget of $77 million, the CKC is a joint
venture of the City of Grande Prairie, the Grande Prairie
Catholic School District, the Grande Prairie Public School
District and the Province of Alberta.
Today, the concept includes a Catholic and a public high school,
a multi purpose gymnasium, an indoor running track, twin ice
surfaces, an aquatic centre, a gymnastics facility, an arts
centre, a community science and technology resource centre,
a wellness centre and a gathering area and food court - all
under one roof.
Says Greg Scerbak, Community Services director: "One
unique aspect of this project is the sharing of infrastructure
between the partners. For example, all the heat to the CKC
will come from the boilers in the Catholic High School and
the air conditioning for the CKC will come from the chiller
plant in the arena. An underground utility corridor serves
to connect the necessary infrastructure for the components
of the campus."
Outdoor recreation and sports facilities are also part of
the project: two running tracks, two ball diamonds, two combination
soccer/football pitches, four senior soccer pitches, eight
tennis courts, four sand volleyball courts, a multi-use asphalt
pad for basketball, tennis and hockey, and a playground/picnic
The Catholic High School, twin ice surfaces and a portion
of the outdoor sports facilities have been built and are in
use. Next under construction will be the gymnastics facility,
adding about $4 million to the original budget.
The scale of the proposed aquatic centre is still being considered
by city council and may add an additional $10 to $15 million
to the original budget.
All this activity is keeping many Peace River Branch engineers
busy. Out of the 212 members in the Peace River Branch, 65
per cent live in Grande Prairie and area. At least 20 per
cent of those people are directly involved with the growth
and development of Grande Prairie's infrastructure, not to
mention many other engineers working here from other major
Key roles that these engineers play are providing services
such as surveying, conceptual and detailed design of roads
and services, project management, field engineering, and contract
The City of Grande Prairie employs three full-time engineers
and several engineering technologists to support the growth
Serving the Trucks
One of the challenges facing Grande Prairie's transportation
system is serving the trucking industry, which relies heavily
on transporting goods on our roads to reach its various destinations.
"Many of our road upgrades over the next few years are
a result of heavy resource-based trucking required for our
local oilfield and forest products economy," says Darwin
Juell, P.Eng., and manager of Transportation Services. "Some
of the road upgrades needed in the next few years include
reducing congestion on the already busy Highway 43 corridor
and Highway 40 corridor, and in the downtown core."
"The city is growing in all corners, and each quadrant
has its own unique challenge," says Kristine Donnelly,
P.Eng., Development Services engineer. "We have water
supply, water pressure, sanitary capacity, storm management
and road challenges. However, by working in partnership with
many engineering consultants, we have been able to find the
right solutions to support our growth."
She continues: "There is more work than our city engineering
resources allow. Having more resources would definitely help!"
The city is currently recruiting engineers in its Transportation
and Development departments.
Infrastructure growth is not happening just within city limits.
Newly formed Aquaterra Utilities Inc. a for-profit company
created from the partnership of the City of Grande Prairie,
the County of Grande Prairie, and the County of Sexsmith,
employs two full-time engineers and a number of technologists
to accommodate regional development.
The company provides regional water, waste water and solid
waste services in and around the city. "Our objective,"
says Bernd Manz, P.Eng., the general manager of Aquaterra,
"is to provide high quality, reliable water sources to
The North-South Trade Corridor, which was a hot topic for
an APEGGA technical night last year, will provide a continuous
divided trade corridor from Montana, through Alberta to Alaska.
The North-South Trade corridor runs through Grande Prairie
via Highway 43.
Currently, there's a proposal to realign Highway 43 around
the City of Grande Prairie, west of the airport, to provide
a continuous, non-stop access route for transportation. This
$95-million project will span the next 5 years and may provide
more opportunity for Grande Prairie to be a viable location
for future manufacturing facilities.
The city also plans to upgrade Highway 40, the other major
highway intersecting Grande Prairie, by twinning the roadway
from 100th Avenue to 68th Avenue to a four-lane divided highway.
"This city's 10 years of exceptional growth could not
have happened so seamlessly without the contributions of this
region's professional engineers and engineering technologists,"
says Grande Prairie Mayor Wayne Ayling. "We are fortunate
to have highly trained and experienced engineers in both the
municipal and private sectors who work together to achieve
the best results for the community and the private developers."