Major Renovation to Airport Attracts Business

Located very close to the geographic center of beautiful British Columbia, the Smithers Regional Airport is a vital economic link between Smithers and the rest of the province and country.

Today, the airport services the entire province with commercial daily flights to Vancouver, Prince George, Kelowna, Kamloops, and frequent charter flights to the mineral-rich regions of Northern BC. Passengers can land on the 7,500-foot-long asphalt and lighted runway 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, with modern efficient landing systems helping CYYD service the aviation industry in all sorts of weather.

As support to the airport, the Town of Smithers has made serviced light industrial land available for lease at the airport, and there is huge potential for different business to set up shop.

A Needed Change

Originally built in the 1960’s, the airport’s terminal building has undergone numerous piecemeal renovations over the years to accommodate commercial flights, passengers and cargo, but the time finally came to do a major overhaul.

When Rob Blackburn was first hired by the Town of Smithers to be the Smithers Regional Airport Manager in January of 2011, his first task was to add a washroom to the secure passenger hold room.

“With my experience and engineering background I thought that would be an easy win,” he says. “But when the Architectural assessments came back, they were overwhelming in support of a massive renovation and addition to the building to address lack of washrooms, fire protection, electrical system, security, and heating and cooling. All identified terminal safety deficiencies are mitigated and or eliminated in this project—the overall improvements make for an efficient facility that accommodates current users, is safer, more reliable and ready for future growth.”

Energy Efficiency

Tom Moore and his team of Victoria-based Studio 531 Architects were chosen as the architect to design the final product and manage the construction contract through to completion. Studio 531 worked closely with the Town of Smithers’ Mayor and Council, as well as with airport staff and tenants to produce a design that met the legislation, building codes, and most of the wants and needs of the community—one of the biggest of which was to drastically reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Many iterations of energy saving ideas were ran through the model. Blackburn says, “In the end, a very energy efficient building envelope tied to a geothermal field was chosen. Energy savings of 50 per cent were forecast along with 30 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.”

Local First

A priority was made to reduce cost by ensuring the project would make best use of readily and locally available products and trades people, and Northern contractors were invited into the design stages to review the proposed building. The General Contractor on the project, Vector Projects Ltd of Kelowna, utilized many local to Smithers trades, workers, and services as well as many subcontractors from all over BC.

Past and current Councils have identified the Smithers Regional Airport Terminal improvements as a priority project. “One of the Town’s objectives for this project was to finance the Smithers Regional Airport Terminal Safety Improvements in a fiscally prudent manner which the Town of Smithers and the service area can afford and manage in a sustainable manner for years to come,” says Blackburn. “The Town of Smithers has financially partnered with the Federal and Provincial Governments as well as also successfully securing the Northern Development Initiative Trust and The Regional District of Bulkley Nechako Gas Tax fund for the project’s estimated

total cost of close to $8.2 million.”

Completed in late spring, 2019, the final touches—the world-famous Hungry Hill Grizzly Bear and record sized Steel Head Salmon which have been proudly displayed in the terminal for many years—are scheduled to return in the fall of 2019 with a new glass enclosure and diorama.

Passenger reaction to the project has been “very positive,” says Blackburn. “Comments like ‘Wow, this is as nice as Vancouver,’ and ‘What an incredible facility,’ let us know we have achieved something special.”

The Architect team worked hard to help de-clutter the area successfully. The new open spaces for bag collection and passenger check in areas have really helped with reducing congestion and adding the washrooms to the new boarding lounge has provided a major change in traveler behavior. Blackburn adds how encouraging it was to see the very first passenger through the screening point enter the new boarding lounge, look up at the mountain, and then promptly sit up to the new desk top area where she plugged in her computer and enjoyed the view while getting some work done.

“Passengers now know they can go through security, relax on the secure side while enjoying the incredible views of the Hudson Bay Mountain to the west and the Babine Mountains to the east,” says Blackburn. “Drinking fountains and vending machines with snacks, drinks and electronic accessories help to make wait times more enjoyable.”