Thursday, June 27, 2013

Keeping Time from Stopping at Historic City Hall

At the height of the flood when efforts were focused on pumping out flooded buildings and restoring power, City staff Greg Uffelman wound City Hall clock with Greg Sarahs looking on.
Time stops for no one. It continues to move forward, through emergencies, flooded homes and waterlogged workplaces, washed-out highways and mass evacuations. No matter what, time marches on.

Except, that is, at Calgary’s historic City Hall if someone forgets to wind the clock.

On Tuesday, June 25, with City employees in evacuation mode and Corporate Properties & Buildings (CPB) maintenance staff dealing with crises at flooding buildings in every quadrant, CPB’s Greg Uffelman suddenly realized that the weekly winding of the tower clock had been forgotten.

In the thick of unprecedented turmoil and emotions running high for both citizens and City staff, Uffelman and his maintenance crew decided that Calgarians might be soothed by the simple normalcy of the clock tower’s ticking hands.

 “It might not seem important at a time when there is an emergency going on,” says Uffelman, “but it’s about symbolism. It just makes everybody’s job more effective if the public knows we’re in operation and they feel just a bit more comfortable. It lessens the chance of a panicked reaction.”

With the sanction of his manager and with his maintenance crew at his side, Uffelman trekked to the top of the tower 30.5 metres above street level and wound the clock.

“It was very important to me to send a signal to the public that our ship did not go down here,” he says laughing. “ Time moves forward and you can’t have city hall time stopping, you know!”

Uffelman has been with The City for 26 years and works with CPB as a building maintenance worker. He’s part of a team that is always behind the scenes.

“We’re the underground crew that kind of props it all up,” he says. “You don’t see us or hear about us but we put a lot of stuff together.”

The crew is currently pulling out all the stops to help get The City’s buildings ready for City workforces to move back in as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible. “They’ve all been working so selflessly. You wouldn’t believe the amount of work that has gone into getting the Municipal Building to the point that it’s at right now.”

A visual beacon of downtown Calgary, the clock tower of Old City Hall is original to the historic sandstone building. Purchased in 1910, the clock is a stately and gracious mainstay of Calgary’s municipal heart, one of the last true clock towers left in North America. While similar clocks have long ago gone digital or are now run by electrical systems, Calgary’s clock is still in its original condition, with winding mechanisms that must be lovingly tended to by hand.

It is a source of pride for Calgarians, and particularly for the CPB staff members who maintain it and ensure that its familiar, constant movement remains in operation.

“I’m just really proud and glad that I was able to go up there and create that scenario that the public knows we’re in action, to give a little hope.”