While the St. Albert Gazette looks to the past to celebrate its 50th anniversary, the organization is also keeping an eye toward the future, as plans are well underway for a move into a brand new building in early 2012.
Currently located at 25 Chisholm Ave., the current Gazette offices are being squeezed, driven mainly by the enormous printing press operation located in the building. The tight squeeze has prompted the development of a new $25 million facility that is now under construction at 340 Carleton Dr.
This new building will almost double the operation’s current space. It will house the offices of the St. Albert Gazette plus a new state-of-the art printing press that will print the Gazette and the other 19 papers in the Great West Newspapers chain. The facility will also be home to Gazette Press, a commercial printing business that is run alongside the newspaper business.
It may surprise some to see such an investment in a business that’s based on printing and newspapers, which many believe are dying industries, but president and CEO Duff Jamison sees it differently.
“The metro dailies have obviously had their challenges … but the community newspapers have not experienced that same sort of revenue decline,” he explained.
“From where we sit as community newspaper publishers, the future looks bright.”
Assistant plant manager Evan Jamison — Duff’s son — says the move has been in the works for several years. The impetus for the new construction was definitely the printing side of the business.
“We’re pretty tight on space,” he said. “This building’s pretty old and falling apart.”
When you weigh the cost of upgrading the current building’s insulation and roof, it’s more economical to build a new building, he said.
“Originally we were looking at it a few years ago but construction costs were so high during the boom that, when we got some of the budgetary pricing back, it was just ridiculously expensive to build,” Evan says.
So the printing presses were rearranged in the existing space, but the operation eventually reached a breaking point and the new building became a necessity.
“We have very little room to expand the press in this building,” Evan says.
The new plant will be much better organized, Evan says, to more closely mirror the production process.
“We’ve spent so much time coming up with different designs, different shapes of buildings fitting on the site and figuring out the flow of material through the shop,” he said.
The end result is a design that will see raw newsprint enter one end of the building, get stored in a warehouse, proceed through the press hall and into the mailroom where the paper gets married up with flyers and inserts and moved out the door on the other end.
The new building will have better climate control, daylight and automation, which will make for a nicer work environment, Evan said.
“It’s going to be nice to have a building that doesn’t leak when it rains,” he said with a laugh.
He hopes that the features of the new building and the upgraded presses will be significant enough that readers will be able to notice when they get their newspapers in hand.
“The equipment we’re going to put in will allow us to have better and more consistent colour,” he said, “and to [enable us]to put more colour into the paper, so readers may notice from that aspect.”
Evan used to work in the geothermal energy field, but despite that experience, he says the new building won’t feature much of that alternative technology, mainly due to cost.
“It’s not all it’s made about to be,” he said. “In Alberta, if you want to talk about geothermal in particular, we have low natural gas prices and high electricity prices. So it’s going to be a fairly expensive system to install, and then you’re going to use a fair bit more electricity, so the payoffs for stuff like geothermal tend to take a long, long time. And, in a shop like ours where you have doors opening and closing all the time, you have to have some kind of forced air heating anyway.”
Front office staff will move to their new digs in March or April 2012 but the old press will keep running in the old building while equipment is installed in the new building. It will take some months to get the new press up and running.
“We still haven’t [signed]contracts and selected some equipment yet, and it takes time for it to be manufactured, shipped and installed,” Evan said.
“Hopefully, a year after, everyone will be moved in and we’ll be all set up and ready to roll.”