Drainage pump station upgrade boosts resilience

They say hope for the best but plan for the worst. Richmond, British Columbia may never be hit by a disastrous flood, but if it is, they'll be ready.

Cities around the world are grappling with planning for both routine and post-disaster structures in a global-warming era. But for this town on Canada’s Pacific coast, there is already a risk. On average, the town is only one metre above sea level, and it is below the high-tide level. This means flooding is a constant threat.

The city’s founders built a series of man-made raised embankments, or dikes, that surround the city, and added 41pump stations that are used for storm water drainage during high tides. As plenty of time has passed since they were built, a team from Opus DaytonKnight, led by Simon Kras and Gurjit Sangha, was recently commissioned to upgrade the No. 1 Road North Drainage Pump Station.

Multi-faceted design

Locally, mixed land use infrastructure is increasingly popular, with the BC Provincial Court building located under a major downtown public square, and the Vancouver Convention Centre featuring a green roof and public park. In the same vein, and drawing from the latest international thinking on urban infrastructure, the Richmond project is at heart a pump station designed to protect the surrounding area from flood, but it is also a city park space with an educational component.

While designers are taught that form follows function, partnerships between architects, engineers and contractors are increasingly pushing for one form to have many functions.

In modern infrastructure design, any multi-function asset becomes a multi-disciplinary project, and the pump station team included landscape and building architects in addition to mechanical, electrical, structural, environmental, civil and geotechnical engineers.

The roof of the pumping station was crafted to create a plaza and viewing platform for passers-by. Two heavy cedar timber benches provide a place to rest, and a water fountain with a bottle filling station encourages people to stop and enjoy the stunning views. The decking was designed with thin profile grating sections, which means vegetation can continue to grow as it still receives sunlight.

Education

In addition to providing a resting and recreational space, the station has an educational component, allowing the public to see and appreciate both the purpose and the function of the pumping system. Strip windows at street level mean the public can see the rooms housing the pump controls and generator, and the flood box is covered by grating, allowing people to see it working.

Assistant Project Engineer Simon Kras says some of the best feedback they’ve had is seeing schools take trips to the station as a way to teach children about tides and the hydrological cycle.

“A great deal of money is spent on these structures,” he says. “As engineers, we’re trying to demonstrate the value it provides. When there’s no problem, we all notice, but it’s important to highlight this important infrastructure to the people of Richmond when it’s working well, too. The Number One pumping station is an important part their everyday lives, and the design has made it both accessible and inviting to the people who live here. We think that’s a great outcome.”