Sixth Blackcomb staff building opens New suites are model for future By Chris Woodall Whistler/Blackcomb opened its newest staff housing complex last Friday, opening, too, an enhanced policy for employee accommodation. The 127 bedrooms in 43 units will give each person his or her own room. "We have the feeling that anyone over 19 should have their own space that they can lock," says Kirby Brown, manager of employee services and housing. To that end, Whistler/Blackcomb will be constructing more buildings on the same pattern as the one just completed. "What excites me is that this building sets the standard for how the rest of our housing will go," Brown says. The ski company will also revamp its older buildings over spring and autumn shoulder seasons until 1999 to return the bedrooms to single-person units. Because of Whistler's housing crunch, bedrooms in its suites were converted more than 18 months ago to bunk bed situations. It was a mighty challenge to get the new building ready for the Dec. 19 opening. "We had to go through 20 months of approvals to July 7 and then we built it in five and a half months," explains Paul Stashick, development manager for Intrawest. Part of the problem was that the building lies across Blackcomb land and Crown land. "It's pretty miraculous," that the building went up so quickly, Stashick says. It helped that the new building's design is similar to the older buildings. "Amako Construction Ltd., the contractor, did a superb job. The sub-trades really busted their butts," Stashick says. "The plumbers were working around the clock to put in all 43 sinks when I came in one night and one of the plumbers was asleep under the 41st sink." The timing is perfect. "It wouldn't have been any good for us to have the building ready for January/February when we're cutting back on staff," Stashick says of the need for employee housing at the doorstep of Whistler's so-busy Christmas season. Whistler/Blackcomb is aiming to have employee housing for all its staff. "The buildings will be similar in style to this one, but they'll be in different locations," Brown says of future construction projects. Having its own accommodation will help to ease the housing situation for other Whistler workers. "We are renting 37 houses right now in Whistler," Brown says. At between three and five persons per house, that could translate in up to 180 beds on the rental market. As it is, even the new building means Whistler/Blackcomb has stopped competing against the rest of the world for rental houses. "As soon as we had an indication that we would have sufficient housing for staff, we stopped renting community houses and even returned some of them to the rental market," Brown says. The new units are quite appealing. The bedrooms are more spacious than in the older buildings and come with "captain's" bed units (clothes drawers under the bed) and a roomy closet area. The kitchenettes are fully equipped right down to cutlery, dishes, pots ’n pans and even a cheese grater to make those all-important late-night nachos. The fridges are bigger and the stove is a full-on item with oven. Residents of Blackcomb's older suites are lucky to have a hot plate in a dinky kitchen area, or they can share an oven in a common room. The new suites even come with coffee makers and snazzy wall brackets to stand up your skis. "As a traveller coming to work for a season, you check in for your job and walk into your home," Brown says. One of the new suites is designed for the wheelchair bound. Whistler/Blackcomb doesn't have an employee in that situation, but it is there if needed, complete with handicapped-size washroom equipped with stainless steel tub railings, wider doors and a bigger bedroom for wheelchair manoeuvrability. The new building, like five of the other six, is non-smoking housing.