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End of an era

Demise of famous roof begins BC Place renewal Add to ...

BC Place's air-supported roof - the largest of any domed stadium in the world - was deflated on Tuesday to make room for another milestone structure.

By the fall of 2011, the iconic stadium that was in the global spotlight for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics will have the world's largest retractable roof for a domed stadium.

The new roof will cost $458-million. Building the original stadium in Vancouver's False Creek area cost $126-million in 1983, and the roof was seen as a cost-effective option instead of a fixed canopy. Replacing the current fan-driven system with something that will stand on its own will save $350,000 a year in power bills, stadium operators say.

B.C. Tourism Minister Kevin Krueger played a ceremonial role in turning off the 16 fans that have kept the roof fabric afloat since 1983. (The roof had been deflated only once, by accident, in 2007.)

"I felt a bit guilty about it because I am very fond of it," Mr. Krueger said, referring to the familiar milk-white, cushion-like roof. "When we flew in today, I was looking down on it, thinking it's the last time I'll see it from the air. At the same time, we're very excited about the new roof."

Mr. Krueger was speaking on the 16th-floor deck of a downtown hotel, where dignitaries and media watched the roof fall inward like the top of a collapsing cake. Over a period of about 48 minutes, 220,000 square metres of Teflon-coated fibreglass descended, observed by hundreds of spectators from various downtown vantage points.

Mr. Krueger noted that his party, which included David Podmore, chairman of the BC Pavilion Crown corporation that runs the stadium, hustled out of the complex amid the sound of alarms after throwing the off switches on the fans.

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"We had agreed we would all get out quickly because there is an element of the unknown, of risk," Mr. Krueger said of the possibility of bolts and cables coming loose inside. The process went off without notable hitches.

Pieces of the roof will be used for the liner of an ice rink near Kamloops and donated to the BC Sports Hall of Fame for fundraising efforts. But 96 per cent of the roof is to be sent for recycling to Billboard Tarp Warehouse in Minneapolis, Minn.

The co-owner of the company said Tuesday that he is eagerly awaiting the material, which is valued for its durability.

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"For a while, we knew they were going to put a retractable roof on there, so it has kind of been on our radar. They found us and interviewed us," said Matt McConville, referring to BC Place's operators. "We talked and talked. It was a lengthy process, and they wanted to make sure we were right for it."

He acknowledged it was unusual to receive so much polytetrafluoroethylene fabric at one time, but he noted, "We have the distribution to make sure this is all recycled and reused … It should not end up in a landfill."

Mr. McConville said he expected the material would arrive on five or six trucks and end up in such products as bags and furniture, though he said he could not be specific until the shipment arrives.

"You would be amazed how many different applications there are for this stuff," he said.

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