On the job: Maintaining history for the future

Tracy Wylie standing on the roof of Heritage Hall
Tracy Wylie, Project Manager with SAIT's Facilities Management department, on the rooftop of Heritage Hall during scheduled repairs and maintenance.

After working her way up the administrative ranks at Shell to a position as a project analyst supporting a large scale renovation of its Calgary-based offices, Tracy Wylie (Civil Engineer Technology ’12) realized three things: she loved facilities management, she wanted to work as a construction project manager for an organization she cared about, and the only way to advance in the field was to pursue higher education at SAIT.

Today, Wylie is a Project Manager with SAIT’s Facilities Management department, part of a team working on two different maintenance projects on Heritage Hall. Not only is Heritage Hall a designated National and Provincial Historic Resource, but it is also celebrating its 100th birthday in 2022.

As Wylie told LINK writer Keane Straub (JAPO '20), heritage projects bring their own challenges, from keeping out of sight while The Last of Us was filming on campus to dealing with freezing temperatures. It takes time and consideration to find a balance between maintaining a building's historic integrity and ensuring it is both functional and accessible to everyone. In the end, however, Wylie says seeing the completed restoration work, and knowing it will be around for future generations makes all the hard work worthwhile. 

Tracy Wylie on rooftop of Heritage Hall with hand on hip

What’s a typical day on the job like for you?

Every day can bring something different.

Currently, we're working on repairing Heritage Hall's entry stairs. I needed to let the greater SAIT populace know what’s happening and why it’s important. A considerable amount of my time is spent communicating with various stakeholders and experts, depending on the situation. If we need to close an exit during the repairs, I need to contact the Calgary Fire Department and discuss the requirements surrounding that.

When SAIT held the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association Men’s Soccer National Championship this past November, it meant liaising with Commercial Services to ensure that there was an unobstructed view of Heritage Hall as it overlooks the soccer field. While film crews arrived to shoot scenes for The Last of Us, we got a call letting us know that our workers could be seen in the shot, so that meant halting work for a day, all of which was worth it to share that beautiful view of Heritage Hall more widely.

Why are the current projects important, and what challenges have been involved?

As stewards of Heritage Hall, it’s SAIT’s duty to care for it. It’s a long-standing testament to SAIT’s historical contribution to education, and it’s a unique building, in terms of its architecture. There are far fewer jewels to be seen locally in Alberta because we’re a younger province, so it’s important to maintain this building. Coming to campus and seeing this piece of history in our midst just makes each day special.

A lot of challenges that come are tied to the fact that it is a heritage building, and we want to maintain as much of its historical integrity as we can. For example, when we were working on the parapets, we discovered that some of the blocks there were fractured. To replace them, we rely on guidance from the Heritage Conservation Advisor and from our consultant at RJC Engineering, because both have experience in historic masonry.

The extreme cold we experienced over the winter created its own challenge. Not only could we not allow people to work outside in those conditions, but for the mortar to cure properly, it requires a consistent temperature of no less than 5 degrees Celsius, which we could not maintain even with heating and hoarding on the site.

What does it mean to you as a SAIT graduate to be a part of this project during Heritage Hall’s centennial year, and how has it helped you develop personally and professionally?

It’s been very gratifying to be working at SAIT right now on this project. It feels special to be part of maintaining an important part of our history and my history. And it’s been inspiring, so much so that whenever a project in Heritage Hall comes up, I jump at the chance to be a part of it. It’s also motivated me to look at educational opportunities to support further learning in heritage conservation. Before this project, I never thought about working on heritage buildings. As we grow and change over the years, we notice there are lots of things that make us say, “Wow, this is awesome!” I’m glad I found this now rather than never.