Agenda Index City of Vancouver



Standing Committee on Planning and Environment


General Manager of Engineering Services


Gastown Steam Clock Proposed Improvements and Increased Maintenance





Council has in the past supported projects promoting and preserving heritage and tourism in Vancouver.


This report submits for Council consideration a request from the Gastown Business Improvement Society (GBIS) for matching City funds to improve the Gastown Steam Clock and enhance the level of maintenance. The report also recommends an increase in basic clock maintenance.


The Gastown Steam Clock was designed and built by Mr. Ray Saunders in 1977 as a means of masking Central Heat's sidewalk steam vent at the corner of Water Street and Cambie Street. Originally estimated to cost $25,000, the budget was later revised to $42,000 which was accepted by the Gastown Steam Clock Fund-Raising Committee, the body responsible for paying for the clock. When the clock was unveiled on September 24, 1977, and given to the City, the total cost had risen to $58,000 not including any labour and profit for the designer/builder. It was an anonymous contributor who eventually paid off the overrun.

Due to the cost overrun, the Clock was never completed. Items such as a contributors recognition plaque, a quick release lever system for access to the clock, engraved interior brass plates for small donors, and brass corner covers and accent lighting in the clock were not done.

On May 12, 1978, the City entered into an Agreement with Mr. Saunders and Central Heat for the maintenance of the Steam Clock. Central Heat Distribution Ltd. agreed to supply continuous steam for the clock and Mr. Saunders agreed to maintain the clock at the City's cost which was originally estimated to be about $850 per year plus special maintenance of $650 every two or three years. It has increased to the current budgeted amount of $1,900 per year. This amount includes the routine maintenance of cleaning the exterior of the clock once a month in the winter and every two weeks in the summer, maintaining and cleaning the interior components (clock movement, winding devices, tune playing machine), and any miscellaneous trouble or clock failure throughout the year.

Besides the routine maintenance, additional work to improve the clock and/or to reduce maintenance costs has been scheduled over the past several years including: overhauling the tune playing machine and replacing the motor; installing a filtered air intake system with a heat source in the base of the clock for ventilation; re-machining the steam whistles for a lower steam pressure; altering the miniature steam engine to rotate by an auxiliary electric motor; refurbishing the exterior trim of the clock; replacing the winding transmission and preparing a brief maintenance manual.

In 1993 extra funding of about $5,000 was budgeted and the clock's electrical wiring and components were upgraded to current standards. In 1998 due to water damage caused by vandalism to the top dial cube of the clock, the clock required a major overhaul to the top dial cube, cube frame, and internal components. This work will cost about $11,000 when completed. This $11,000 has been accepted by Risk Management as an insurance claim under the City's self insurance. It is still however a direct cost to the City.

Totalling the above costs for maintenance and repairs over the 21 years the City has maintained the clock, the City has been paying an average of about $2,500 per year for basic maintenance, and as the clock ages the costs are increasing.


Mr. Saunders has approached the GBIS with a proposal that the Steam Clock be completed as was originally intended. As outlined in their December 30, 1998 letter to Mayor and Council (copy attached), the GBIS feels the clock plays a major role in the image of Gastown and Vancouver, and has proposed a cost sharing arrangement with the City for the desired work. The GBIS agree to pay for 50% of the costs for the proposed improvements. They also request that the annual maintenance be increased to $6,000 and agree to fund 50% of the enhanced maintenance costs, and they request the City of Vancouver match the GBIS contribution.


The estimated total cost for the proposed improvements to complete the clock is about $18,000 (City's share would be $9,000). Of the $18,000 amount, about $12,500 is for actual improvements to the clock and about $5,500 is for contributor's recognition.

Engineering Services has felt that these proposed improvements including the contributor's recognition should be funded by Gastown fund raising as they were items which were originally intended to be funded by the Gastown Steam Clock Fund-Raising Committee when the clock was built. In light of the City funds already being spent and ongoing budget reductions, it seemed inappropriate to pay for these improvements as the clock was enjoyed by millions the way it was. Engineering has suggested private donations for this work for several years and the GBIS has taken an interest in contributing.

The request by the GBIS for the City to match the 50% GBIS contribution for the proposed improvements and increased maintenance is submitted for consideration by Council.


In the GBIS proposal, Ray Saunders requests that the yearly maintenance budget be increased to $6,000 of which the City's share would be $3,000. Mr. Saunders' justification for the increase is that he has been charging far below market value for his unique services, and that an enhanced level of service is recommended to extend the life of the clock components. Engineering Services feel that this $6,000 fee would provide a much more comprehensive level of maintenance than the basic maintenance performed now. The proposal would keep the Steam Clock in optimum condition. Although the increase is substantial, with a 50% contribution from the GBIS, the City's maintenance obligation would be $3,000 per year which is an increase of $1,100 over the current budget.

The GBIS proposal of $6,000 for maintenance would be a higher level of maintenance than the City could justify funding. However, given that the GBIS will pay 50%, the General Manager of Engineering Services can support the increased maintenance level. If Council do not support the GBIS, it is felt that an increase in the total City maintenance cost from $1,900 to $3,000 would provide for a basic standard of maintenance for the clock consistent with previous years but not the optimum treatment suggested in the GBIS proposal. It is therefore recommended that the maintenance budget be increased to $3,000 per year.

If Council agrees to the 50/50 cost sharing for the proposed improvements and the increased maintenance, it would be appropriate for the City to enter into a maintenance agreement with the GBIS. The terms of the agreement should include among other things that the City provide $3,000 per year for five years at which time the fee can be reviewed, and that the City shall approve, in advance, all maintenance work that is proposed to be performed.


The issue of the registered trademark of the Gastown Steam Clock which was raised by the GBIS will be reviewed and the implications may be reported back to Council, if necessary.


The GBIS and Ray Saunders have reviewed this report and their comments have been incorporated.


Submitted for Council's consideration is the GBIS proposal that the City contribute $9,000 to match the GBIS funding for the proposed improvements to the Steam Clock, and that the City agree to a 50/50 cost sharing of the $6,000 for the proposed enhanced maintenance.
The General Manager of Engineering Services recommends that Council approve the increase to the City's basic clock maintenance budget by $1,100 without offset, to $3,000 per year, independent of Council's decision on the proposed 50/50 cost sharing with the GBIS for the proposed improvements and enhanced maintenance.

If the GBIS cost sharing proposal is approved by Council, funding for the City's share of the proposed improvements, being $9,000, is available in Streets Capital Order Number 10001381 - "City Clocks Rehabilitation".

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