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Olympic venue construction will leave lasting legacy

New Hillcrest Park rink will host wheelchair curling as warm-up to 2010 Games

Watching TV broadcasts of the Beijing Olympic Games, Ian Robertson can't help focusing on the venues.

"I think to myself, 'Boy, are they ever going to get a lot of use after the Olympics are over,'" said Robertson, an NPA parks board commissioner. "That's the true legacy of the Games, and that's going to be the case here."

Construction is underway on several new sports venues across the city in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. Robertson, the parks board liaison for the Riley/Hillcrest parks neighbourhood, is proud of the work on the Vancouver Olympic Centre/Vancouver Paralympic Centre at Hillcrest Park, which is more than 50 per cent complete.

Upon its completion in December, the Wheelchair Curling World Championship, followed by the World Junior Championship, will be held at the curling venue as a test run for the Olympic Games.

The new venue, a joint project between the parks board, city and Vancouver Organizing Committee for the Games, will host the men's and women's Olympic curling, with 100 athletes from 40 countries taking part, as well as the Paralympic mixed men's and women's wheelchair curling, with 50 athletes from 20 countries. The centre will have 6,000 seats for viewing curling matches with nine medals awarded from competitions held there.

Whether the facility will be called the Vancouver Olympic Centre/Vancouver Paralympic Centre will be decided after the games.

The curling venue is one part of a large recreation facility under construction at Hillcrest Park under the Olympics legacy program. Included in the plan is a 66,500-square-foot aquatic centre with a 50-metre lap pool, leisure pool, outdoor pool and hot tub.

According to the parks board's schedule, the pool should be completed by June 2009. The parks board is considering opening the outdoor pool to the public that summer, but Robertson said no promises are being made.

"We're going to have to see how it goes," he said. "According to our current plan the pool will be operational after the Games."

The curling and aquatic venues will be turned over to the parks board from VANOC in April 2010 as part of the legacy program, which also includes the new 100,000-square-foot Riley Park Community Centre, set to open in 2011. The community centre will feature a gym, arts and crafts room, multi-purpose, aerobics and games rooms and a fitness centre.

Opening to the public at the same time will be the NHL-sized Riley Park ice rink and curling club. As part of the massive project, a new field house at Hillcrest Park is scheduled to open by 2011, as is the parks board's new Queen Elizabeth District office.

Robertson said prior to Vancouver winning the Olympic bid, facility reviews completed by the parks board determined the neighbourhood needed a new community centre, pool and ice rink.

"They all needed replacing," said Robertson. "We would not have had these new facilities without the Games."

The old Percy Norman Pool, Riley Park community centre, ice rink and curling club will be demolished by early 2012 and the site will be returned to green space. Following the demolition, public consultation will be held regarding future development of the site.

Construction costs include $39.5 million for the curling venue and $31.9 million for the aquatic centre. The city and parks board are paying for the aquatic centre. The post-games conversion is estimated at $12.35 million. VANOC contributed $40 million to the project, while the city's portion so far is $43 million.

During the games the current Riley Park community centre and ice rink and the Percy Norman Pool will remain open. Programming at these venues, as well as at other facilities in Hillcrest Park will be modified during the games.

Robertson said planning for neighbourhood access, security and transportation is underway, and the community will be informed as decisions are made.