What podcasts are construction leaders listening to?

It’s hard to imagine what we did on long drives or flights before podcasts. They can be informative, entertaining, funny, short, long and everything in between. Here’s a quick list of some of the podcasts people in our sector are listening to.

Rory Kulmala, Vancouver Island Construction Association CEO

The Way I heard It – Mike Rowe

He tells some great stories that include unknown facts and some surprising endings in a way that only Mike can do!

– Kulmala

Michael Scott, building division vice president, Impact Recruitment

Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People – Earwolf and Chris Gethard

Every human has a story and people have some really ‘odd’ things happen in life. By being able to talk about your life things anonymously for an hour and not be judged is a great healing thing and helps us all to realize that weird stuff happens all around us and to all of us.

– Scott

Yasir Ali, Self Perform Operations at Turner Construction Company

Acquired – Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal

This podcast is a long format episode ~3 hours each compared to the traditional 30-40min episodes of most podcasts. It does a really good job doing a deep dive behind the inception of a business/start up to where it is today with a focus on the people behind it. Would really recommend for an in-depth understanding and behind the scenes decision making that happens when businesses get acquired to also understanding multiple pivots that businesses make in being sustainable and relevant in an ever-evolving market.

– Ali

Shane McKernan, director of construction at Chard Development

Vancouver Real Estate Podcast – Matt and Adam Scalena

This podcast has had great insight to local market conditions and forecasts. They have some really good guests on too that’s worth a listen.

– McKernan

Erik Backstrom, Senior Planner for City of Edmonton

The Ezra Klein Show – Ezra Klein

A podcast with deep, insightful conversations about a wide variety of meaningful issues. 

– Backstrom

Nicholas Tountas, sheet metal worker at Orzech Heating and Cooling

Spitten Chiclets – Barstool Sports

As a huge sports fan I love the Spitting Chiclets Podcast. I love the other side of sports commentary (the absence of cookie cutter responses) and enjoy personal recollections of athlete’s journeys. Dark Topic is a podcast my girlfriend recently got me into. It’s a true crime genre where the hosts cover 911 calls and provide humour to obviously unsettling circumstances.  The banter is great, the stories are often quite disturbing, and the delivery of the show itself always keeps me wanting to hear the next episode.

– Tountas

Thomas Bamber, Air + Light technical lead, Integral Group

Crackdown – Crackdown Productions

It’s a podcast made by and about people in the downtown east side. I have lost track of how many people I’ve recommended this too. I just really admire the people who’ve made it. It has generated a lot of momentum towards helping people like me be less ignorant about the downtown east side community.

– Bamber

Sebastien de Ghellinck, SkillSignal founder and owner

Business Wars – Wondery

I love Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, but you never know when the next series will come out… so I’ll also mention Business Wars. It makes business history accessible and we can even listen to it as a family on road trips.

– de Ghellinck

Mary Van Buren, Canadian Construction Association president

How to speak so that people want to listen – Julian Treasure

We are all bombarded with communications and much of it is ignored.  In this TED Talk, the speaker points out some simple ways to be more effective.

– Van Buren

Russell Hixson, SiteNews Editor

More Perfect – WNYC Studios

If not for Sebastien mentioning it, I would have chosen Hardcore History which is far and away the greatest podcast of all time, in my opinion. However, as a former crime journalist who spent countless hours in courtrooms, I have a soft spot for anything that digs into the legal system. More Perfect does this.

– Hixson

Bird Construction Inc. has agreed to acquire Trinity Communication Services Ltd., a diversified telecommunication and utility infrastructure contractor.

Based in Ontario, Trinity provides services to major national and regional telecommunication, utilities, power, and internet service providers. The total consideration for the transaction is being funded 90 per cent through cash on hand, with the balance coming from Bird common shares. The transaction is expected to be accretive to earnings per share in 2023. All transaction agreements have been completed, and the transaction will be effective at 12:01 a.m. on February 1.

Trinity specializes in underground, aerial, commercial inside plant, and multi-dwelling unit installations. According to Bird, these self-perform capabilities enable cross-selling opportunities to Bird’s national client base across multiple sectors.

The company said vertical integration in its buildings business is achieved with Trinity’s commercial inside plant and multi-dwelling telecom, fibre, and security expertise. Together with Bird’s Centre for Building Performance, Bird will be equipped to provide a comprehensive, integrated suite of smart and sustainable building services for major developers across sectors.

The company added that Trinity’s capabilities complement Bird’s electrical service offering and serve as a growth catalyst for Bird’s utilities portfolio, currently active across Canada and in select U.S. states. 

“Trinity’s scalable operations align with our tuck-in M&A strategy to seek out high growth potential businesses with strong margin and cashflow profiles. To that end, we will progressively grow the business throughout our core markets, consistent with our successful track record on recent acquisitions,” said Teri McKibbon, president and CEO of Bird. “We are pleased to welcome Trinity’s team of industry experts to Bird and are excited to work closely as we continue to grow our portfolio of high-demand specialty services.”

Key Takeaways:

  • SNC-Lavalin is partnering with Ontario Power Generation to build Canada’s first grid-scale small modular reactor. 
  • The project will be built using an alliance contracting model that includes Aecon and GE-Hitachi.
  • Officials say projects like this are critical for reaching Ontario’s zero-emission power goals. 
  • It will be Canada’s first new nuclear reactor in 30 years. 

The Whole Story:

Candu Energy Inc. a member of the SNC-Lavalin Group has entered into an agreement with Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to deliver the Darlington New Nuclear Project.

The project is spearheading the deployment of the GEH BWRX-300 Small Modular Reactor (SMR) before the end of the decade. It will be the first grid-scale SMR deployed in Canada.

“SNC-Lavalin is a strong proponent for the necessary role of nuclear power in the Net Zero energy mix,” said Ian L. Edwards, president and CEO, SNC-Lavalin. “As we’ve laid out in our Engineering Net Zero report, Canada’s 2050 Net Zero commitments will require large-scale electrification of transportation, buildings and heavy industrial processes. That electricity needs to be generated from clean, reliable, and cost-efficient sources, whose employment in the energy mix will not weaken energy security. Our involvement in what will be Canada’s first SMR to come to market, and its first nuclear new build in roughly 30 years, reaffirms SNC-Lavalin’s leading position in the nuclear energy market, for both existing and new nuclear technologies.”

The project will be delivered using a six-year alliance agreement approach. SNC-Lavalin said this in itself is an innovation for a nuclear project in North America. As part of an alliance with Aecon and GE-Hitachi, SNC-Lavalin will provide OPG with a diverse range of expertise for the engineering and build of the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station’s SMR. This is expected to include deploying project management, licensing, engineering, design, procurement, construction support and commissioning, as well as digital delivery capabilities in both the nuclear island and balance of plant scopes for the project.

Darlington Nuclear Generating Station
Darlington Nuclear Generating Station. – Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission

“Following our on-time, on-budget success working with OPG on the refurbishment of Darlington’s existing CANDU reactors, we are very pleased to contribute our expertise with our alliance partners on this exciting new build,” said Joe St. Julian, president, nuclear, SNC-Lavalin. “Canada was the second country in the world to ever generate commercial nuclear power. Together with our alliance partners, we will ensure Canada again leads the way to advance an exciting new frontier in nuclear energy. We continue to work with SMR vendors in Canada and around the world to bring more of these reactors online, coinciding with a rise in interest from jurisdictions looking to use nuclear power to decarbonize their energy mix, while maintaining their energy self-sufficiency.”

SNC-Lavalin says it plans to leverage its Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission licensing expertise and experience as a reactor developer. As the original equipment manufacturer of CANDU reactors, SNC-Lavalin is the only company to have a technology pass all three phases of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s pre-project design review, and will leverage its extensive nuclear new build expertise to drive a successful outcome for this first of a kind project.

“SMRs will play a key role in helping to reinvigorate Ontario’s economy and further support the province and Canada as we work toward meeting our climate change targets of zero-emission electricity,” said Ken Hartwick, president and CEO of OPG. “Canada’s ability to lead in global SMR deployment is enabled by our strong nuclear supply chain, as evidenced by the on time, on budget delivery of the existing Darlington Refurbishment Project. Building on our relationship as part of that refurbishment, we are pleased to welcome SNC-Lavalin and its expertise to the team that is deploying the BWRX-300 as the first SMR to be commissioned in North America.”

Canadian Solar Inc. announced that a wholly-owned subsidiary of its majority-owned subsidiary CSI Solar Co., Ltd. has entered into a multi-year investment agreement with the municipal government of Yangzhou City in Jiangsu Province, China. Under the Agreement, CSI Solar plans to add vertically integrated high efficiency wafer, cell, and module capacity, as well as battery system manufacturing capacity, in Yangzhou’s clean energy manufacturing industrial park.

The project plan will be carried out in three phases, with phase I being 14 GW of wafer and cell capacity. 

Phase I is expected to commence production in the second half of 2023, while the implementation of phase II and III is subject to change, at the company’s discretion, based on market conditions and the company’s assessments.  With this announcement and considering the solar supply chain‘s demand and supply backdrop, the Canadian Solar updated its 2023 year-end capacities to 20 GW of ingot, 35 GW of wafer, and 50 GW of cell and modules.

Canadian Solar was founded in 2001 in Canada and is one of the world’s largest solar technology and renewable energy companies. It is a leading manufacturer of solar photovoltaic modules, provider of solar energy and battery storage solutions, and developer of utility-scale solar power and battery storage projects with a geographically diversified pipeline in various stages of development. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Plantd creates carbon-negative building products out of fast-growing grass.
  • Plantd plans to establish their agriculture supply chain and build a modular automated continuous press for engineered building materials.
  • They are currently working with U.S. builders and architects to integrate their materials into projects.

The Whole Story:

There’s a new player in the sustainable building materials market.

Plantd out of North Carolina has announced its $10 million Series A funding round. Led by American Family Ventures, the funding supports Plantd’s work on carbon-negative building materials.

“We are thrilled to back this exceptional and visionary team,” said Kyle Beatty, managing director at American Family Ventures. “Plantd is creating fundamentally better construction materials that are cost-effective and truly carbon negative. We have been impressed by how they have reinvented every step of the production process from first principles, all the way from input material to logistics.”

Plantd’s production team is led by co-founders and engineers Huade Tan and Nathan Silvernail, who worked together for years at SpaceX designing and building key systems and components of the Dragon cargo and crew spacecraft. Together with co-founder and CEO Josh Dorfman, Plantd is is looking to redefine the value chain for engineered building materials.

Plantd’s proprietary low carbon-emissions production technology uses fast-growing perennial grass to create durable, carbon-negative building materials. The company says its products can outperform competitive products on key attributes, including strength and moisture resistance. 

Starting with structural panel products for walls and roofs, Plantd will fabricate building materials that are a direct substitute for traditional home construction products and require no alternative installation techniques. 

The company explained that by cultivating fast-growing perennial grass instead of cutting down trees and pioneering novel production technology to minimize carbon emissions, Plantd’s structural panels retain 80 per cent of the atmospheric carbon dioxide captured in the field, which is then locked away inside the walls and roofs of new homes. 

“We can’t move quickly enough to solve climate change unless we develop profitable methods to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere,” said Dorfman. “We’re going to change an industry by offering builders a better product at the same price and, in the process, scale a business that can help save the planet.”

Plantd plans to use this round of funding to establish their agriculture supply chain and build the first-of-its-kind, modular automated continuous press for engineered building materials. The company says it is currently working with the nation’s largest builders and architects to integrate these materials into their projects and quickly make them a standard in the industry.

Plantd officials stated that their ultimate vision is to build the factory of the future, ensuring that new homes and buildings contribute to reversing the effects of climate change.

Exxon Mobil announced on Thursday that it will invest roughly $560 million in a new Canadian renewable-diesel facility through its majority-owned affiliate, Imperial Oil Ltd. The move is the latest in Exxon’s efforts to boost biofuel production and curb greenhouse gas emissions. 

The facility, which will be located next to the Strathcona refinery near Edmonton, Alta., is now expected to start production in 2025, later than the original target of 2024. The facility is projected to produce 20,000 barrels of fuel daily, utilizing primarily local feedstocks and incorporating hydrogen and carbon capture and storage.

We are making strategic investments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our own operations and to help customers in vital sectors of the economy reduce their emissions.

–Brad Corson, CEO of Imperial

According to Exxon, renewable diesel has the same chemical make-up as conventional diesel but is considered a more environmentally friendly fuel source. Produced from feedstocks such as vegetable oil, it can be seamlessly used in regular engines compared to biodiesel.

“The Strathcona project is another example of how we are investing in advantaged facilities and applying our leading technology and decades of experience to develop lower-emission solutions for customers. We continue to focus investments on markets like Canada, where well-designed policies support technologies that reduce life-cycle emissions,” said Karen McKee, president of ExxonMobil Product Solutions.

Long approval times, high costs and confusing systems have long plagued developers trying to get projects off the ground. The latest municipal benchmarking report from the Canadian Home Builders’ Association shows which major markets are getting better and which ones still need improvement. From their list of 21, here are top five jurisdictions to build housing in Canada.

5. Regina, Saskatchewan

While a fifth place finish is commendable, it’s important to note that Regina was in first place the last time this study was done. The city boasted a 4.2-month approval time. However, cities higher up on the list have begun modernizing their systems significantly. 

Regina has numerous features enabled including the ability to appeal land use decisions, mandated timelines for appeal decisions to be rendered and others. However, many municipalities bolstered their rankings by offering additional features. 

The study gave strong praise to the city for its Development Standards Manual which offers a comprehensive, digestible guide to the city’s application process and procedures. According to the study, the manual is written in well-structured language and uses flow charts that provide the reader with a clear sense of the stages and processes. In addition, it covers a range of topics that are pertinent to the development process, such as land-use policy considerations and report requirements.

4. London, Ontario

At ten months, London had the shortest average approval period of any Ontario city in the study. This is making it a popular spot for homebuyers looking to leave larger cities. 

London has been growing at record pace over the last five years, with the population rising by 10 per cent between 2016-2021. This is led by an influx of residents leaving the Greater Toronto Area to make their money go further. Recent census data shows the London CMA is the fastest growing region in Ontario and the fourth-fastest growing nation-wide only behind Kelowna, Chilliwack and Kamloops. 

As a result, its labour market is booming. Statistics Canada data shows employment in the region has gone up 20 per cent since 2018. 

3. Calgary, Alberta

2021 view of downtown Calgary from Centre Street Bridge

One of the big reasons people are leaving other major metro areas for Alberta is affordable housing. The city saw an average approval time of 5.4 months. The study noted that Calgary has one of the fairest ratios of charges imposed on low-rise development and high-rise development at $19 per square foot and $21 per square foot, respectively. On average, high-rise charges in the study municipalities are 80 per cent higher per square foot than for low-rise.

The study noted that Calgary has seen significant improvement since the last time cities were ranked. Approval times were down from 12 months in 2020. The city improved its ranking in this area from 9th to 5th place since the 2020 Study. 

The city also took the unique step of committing a $100 million in incentives for converting vacant office space to residential uses.

2. Charlottetown, P.E.I

This island town’s high level of accountability earned it second place in the rankings. It had an average approval time of 3.4 months – the lowest of all the cities in the study. 

The city also benefited from provincial action which requires municipalities to think carefully about how they grow. The Prince Edward Island Planning Act requires that all municipal official plans contain policies on future land use, management and development for a time horizon of no more than 15 years. As well, the PEI Planning Act requires that all land-use bylaws be reviewed every 5 years.

1. Edmonton, Alberta

When it comes to developing housing in Canada, Edmonton is king. 

The CHBA gave them a score of 91 per cent, earning them the top spot on the list. While its average approval time wasn’t the best (7.2 months), other strong features boosted its ranking. 

City officials say they have spent a great deal of effort making home-building rules easy to navigate, automating most development permits and banning single-family-home only zones.  The city’s online portal services have advanced functionality – it is possible to apply for pre-application meetings for rezoning, subdivision and development permits. There are also online services for submitting various actual planning applications, in addition to building permits. They were also the first jurisdiction in Canada to cut minimum parking requirements. 

And they aren’t done yet. The city is in the middle of the first major overhaul of its zoning bylaws in sixty years. The goal is to reduce the number of zones and land uses to make the development process even clearer and easier. 

These changes come at the perfect time. From 2016 to 2021, Edmonton saw its population grow from 964,000 to more than a million.

Key Takeaways:

  • A new pilot project will provide heavy equipment operator training in Tahltan Territory.
  • The training will include other qualifications necessary to work on B.C. mining projects. 
  • The program will receive support from the province, local officials and the mining industry. 
  • Tahltan Territory is home to approximately 70 per cent of B.C.’s resource rich Golden Triangle, including two of the 10 operating metal mines in the province (Red Chris and Brucejack).

The Whole Story:

Tahltan Nation Development Corporation (TNDC) has partnered with the Tahltan Central Government (TCG), Government of British Columbia, and several industry partners to create a pilot Tahltan Nation Heavy Equipment Operator Training Program. 

The Tahltan Heavy Equipment Operator (HEO) Training Program will prepare local workers for mining careers by combining equipment training in Tahltan Territory with on-the-job practical operating work experience and camp life exposure. In addition to building capacity within the Tahltan community, the training program will integrate Tahltan regional and traditional knowledge on local projects while tapping into senior experienced Tahltan operators. 

The project’s industry partners include the Centre of Training Excellence in Mining, Coast Mountain College, Contact North BC, Finning, Mining in HR Council, Newcrest Mining Limited, and SkilledTradesBC.

Acquiring heavy equipment skills

The program aims to align with SkilledTradesBC (formerly Industry Training Authority) learning outcomes as well as the Mining in HR Council common competencies. TNDC officials said it will provide a mixture of workplace safety training, underground miner fundamentals, HEO simulator training, and at least 140 hours of hands-on training, focussed on a progressive approach to learning heavy equipment operation over three years. Additional pieces of equipment will be added each year. 

Participants will receive four weeks of hands-on heavy equipment operator training, followed by job placement as an apprentice with an industry partner in Tahltan Territory, focussing on the relevant pieces of equipment they learn each year, to build up their hours that season, and complete their SkilledTradesBC certification. 

Officials say that at the outset, the program will also support Tahltans in acquiring their Class 4, 5 and 7 drivers’ licenses in territory, and provide a one-week camp life orientation at the Red Chris Mine. Travel, accommodation, meals, and a training stipend will be provided during training while full apprenticeship wages will be paid during the job placement.

During the training and work season, participants will also receive support from senior Tahltan heavy equipment operators, who will be supported in challenging the SkilledTradesBC HEO Certification, as well as building skills as mentors through additional ongoing training with the Mining in HR Council and Coast Mountain College. 

Major mining opportunities

Tahltan Territory, located in remote northwest British Columbia, is home to approximately 70 per cent of B.C.’s resource rich Golden Triangle, including two of the 10 operating metal mines in BC (Red Chris and Brucejack). Tahltan Territory is also home to approximately 14 per cent of Canada’s exploration expenditures, approximately 3 per cent of the global exploration budget, approximately $295 million of mineral exploration expenditure, and $1.05 billion of total projected mining production values. Demand for skilled, experienced and certified HEOs will continue to grow in the decades to come.

“Despite global financial headwinds, there is and will continue to be a significant need for experienced Heavy Equipment Operators with TNDC and in Tahltan Territory,” said Colleen Cashin, vice president of people & corporate culture at TNDC. “TNDC saw an opportunity to tap into new funding opportunities and partner with TCG, the province and industry to create a program that is more cost effective and Tahltan oriented, and that will provide the certification skills and training TNDC and our industry partners need.”

She noted that TNDC frequently receives resumes from new Tahltan operators who have spent several weeks outside territory attending a heavy equipment operator program, returning without complete qualifications to work on an active mine site and operate heavy equipment. 

“I am thrilled at the opportunity this course will create for Tahltans wishing to pursue a career that allows them to be trained in Tahltan Territory and encourages them to use their skills in our communities after completion,” said Chad Norman Day, President of the Tahltan Central Government. 

Supporting local workers

Chad Norman, president of the Tahltan Central Government said that they are looking to support members in finding careers and employment opportunities, including through the use of OnTrack, a Tahltan exclusive job site. 

“I have repeatedly emphasized that for there to be world-class mining in our territory, there is a need for world-class wildlife stewardship, but in addition to this, world-class mining cannot exist in Tahltan Territory without Tahltans being included in the workforce,” said Norman. “We support breaking down any barriers that have traditionally prevented our members from accessing  employment opportunities. Tahltans must benefit from preferential hire by those operating in our territory. I am excited to see the doors that this program and partnership will open for Tahltans.” 

Key Takeaways:

  • The first phase includes 18 km of track and 13 stations.
  • SNC-Lavalin stated it has extensive global experience acting as the delivery partner to various levels of governments on complex transportation projects.
  • It has an estimated budget of $5.5 billion and is expected to wrap up in 2026.

The Whole Story:

SNC-Lavalin has been appointed the delivery partner for the city of Calgary’s Green Line LRT, the largest infrastructure investment in the city’s history.

SNC-Lavalin stated that it will leverage its technical and commercial expertise in complex megaprojects to support the delivery of Phase 1 of the Calgary Green Line LRT Project.

The 18 km transit system will connect the existing Red and Blue LRT lines and four MAX BRT routes. SNC-Lavalin, along with its partners, will support the city in delivering project functions such as commercial management, technical support, project controls, and construction management.

“It is a privilege for us to have been chosen by the City of Calgary to support them in the delivery of this project,” said Ian L. Edwards, president and CEO of SNC-Lavalin. “As a leader in the field, we have extensive global experience acting as the delivery partner to various levels of governments on complex transportation projects.”

A rendering shows one of the future Green Line LRT vehicles. – City of Calgary

Edwards called the project a continuation of a long tradition of excellence in the rail industry where SNC-Lavalin has deep expertise in the design, build, operation and maintenance of the integrated systems that are required to deliver smarter cities and better transportation. He added that the project supports the company’s commitment to developing well-engineered and prosperous communities that perfectly align with our purpose.

“The Green Line LRT is a historical project that will change the face of transit in Calgary. Not only will it connect entire communities and improve mobility for people, organizations, businesses and future investors, it will also unlock vital transit oriented development, thus contributing to the city’s economic growth,” said Ben Almond, CEO of engineering services Canada at SNC-Lavalin. “Together with our partners, we bring strong, local teams with in-depth understanding of the project, proven skills and decades of knowledge. We look forward to delivering a safe and reliable infrastructure to the City of Calgary and its citizens.”

Phase one of the project includes:

  • 13 stations
  • 18 km of LRT track
  • 3 park and ride facilities at Shepard, Douglas Glen and Lynnwood/Millican stations
  • 1 km of elevated track between 26 Avenue S.E. station and Ramsay/Inglewood station
  • 3 km of tunnel under Beltline and Downtown
  • 4 LRT bridge structures that span across the Elbow River, Bow River, Deerfoot Trail and Blackfoot Trail
  • 1 LRV maintenance and storage facility

Key Takeaways:

  • Turner Construction and Clark Builders have be selected for the project.
  • They plan to use integrated project delivery, prefabrication, modular construction and mass timber.
  • The building is expected to be completed for the University of Fraser Valley in 2024.

The Whole Story:

Turner Construction Company and Clark Builders have been selected to build student housing at the University of Fraser Valley (UFV) in B.C.. The six-storey, $73 million mass timber building will provide 398 beds on the university’s Abbotsford campus.

The student housing facility will provide lounges, shared kitchens, study, and mixed-use and cultural space. The project will integrate Passive House Building Certification standards.

Turner stated that the building will be constructed using the integrated project delivery (IPD) model. The project team added that this approach will result in increased efficiency and engagement of all project participants through all phases of design, fabrication and construction. The construction team plans to include modularization and pre-fabrication in the building program.

Construction will begin this year and the building is expected to be ready for occupancy in the fall of 2024.

“We are extremely excited to begin work on this housing project,” said Amit Patel, vice president and general manager of Turner Construction Company. “It is great to be part of an extremely collaborative process that will result in environmentally friendly housing for students attending the University of Fraser Valley.”

Some of the project details include:

  • Six-storey building, built with hybrid construction method, using reinforced concrete, mass timber, and light wood framing.
  • 398 new beds: most units will be triple-occupancy units that include private bedrooms with shared living area and bathroom.
  • Both single and triple accessible units will be available on every floor.
  • Mixed-use amenity spaces, including a student lounge, shared kitchens, study spaces, student programming space, a retail unity with a food vendor, and a cultural space.

SiteNews’ very own editor Russell Hixson joined The Site Visit podcast to talk about his background in investigative journalism, joining the publication and his forecast for the 2023 construction season. 

Before reporting on Canada’s construction sector, Hixson spent years in the U.S. as an investigative crime reporter, writing about murder, drugs and disasters. 

“I just got burnt out,” he told hosts James Faulkner and Christian Hamm. “I didn’t know anybody here in terms of the industry. I applied for everything and a construction publication called the Journal of Commerce were the only ones who wanted to hire me.”

After covering Western Canada for the publication for over eight years, he was given the opportunity to help lead SiteNews.

“Over the past nine years I have grown to love it,” he said. “I have met so many cool people, I have learned so much about how the machinery of how the nation works and how the economy works, and about all the wonderful people who build our country and keep it running.” 

Having written at daily, print publications for years, Hixson noted that it was excited to try something new with a completely digital offering.

“Every other publication I’ve worked for has always had one foot in traditional journalism,” he said. “When I heard [SiteNews] was going to build a digital publication from scratch for a more modern consumer, I was really excited to be a part of that.”

Hixson also spoke about his reporting on what industry leaders are thinking going into 2023.

“Despite a lot of the doom and gloom in the general media space around the country, our industry is optimistic,” he said. “Maybe you could couch that as ‘cautious optimism’ but everyone I am talking to is busy. They are still going through backlogs of work and they have lots of work booked for 2023.” 

The conversation also touched on the labour shortage and technology trends. He even shared his experience restarting someone’s heart while writing a story about a paramedic in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Listen below to get the whole conversation.

Key Takeaways:

  • German construction tech company KEWAZO has raised roughly $20 million total in funding.
  • KEWAZO’s vision is to automate and digitize the entire on-site logistics — from the arrival of materials at the construction site to their utilization.
  • A dozen of the company’s initial product, LIFTBOT, have been working on European sites since 2021. 
  • LIFTBOT’s tasks initially focused on scaffolding assembly, but the team believes it could be used for insulation, painting and other on-site material transport. 
  • The company noted that this technology not only helps ease labour crunch pressure, it reduces the risk of accidents. 

The Whole Story:

Construction robotics firm KEWAZO announced the closing of its $10 million Series A funding round, bringing the total funds raised to-date to approximately $20 million. The round was led by Fifth Wall, with notable participation from Cybernetix Ventures, Unorthodox Ventures as well as the construction software company Nemetschek. 

Existing investors True Ventures and MIG Capital AG also participated in the round. This round comes on the heels of Kewazo’s $5 million Pre-Series A that closed in September 2021.   

“We have an excellent group of partners coming together that will enable us to keep building a leading company in construction robotics,” stated Artem Kuchukov, CEO and co-founder of KEWAZO. “This influx of capital will propel us to expand our sophisticated robotic fleet across Europe and North America, in tandem with enabling us to build out our additional digital services.”

KEWAZO both automates and digitizes the on-site material flow via state-of-the-art robotics and data analytics. The company’s initial product LIFTBOT, an intelligent robotic hoist for construction and industrial sites, is empowered by data analytics platform ONSITE. Since 2021, a dozen LIFTBOTs have been active on European construction sites and leading industrial plants in the oil, gas, energy and chemical industries, including with key industry names like Bilfinger and Altrad

KEWAZO’s LIFTBOT demonstrates its ability to construction scaffolding. – KEWAZO

“Labor shortage continues to be the most acute challenge facing the construction industry today,” said Miguel Nigorra Esteban, partner at Fifth Wall. “Artem and his entire team at Kewazo are laser-focused on solving this head-on, bringing much needed automation and robotics to the trillion dollar construction industry. We’re thrilled to be a part of their category-defining growth.”

Upon inception, KEWAZO initially honed in on scaffolding assembly, a $50 billion industry in which more than 80 per cent of projects are still undertaken completely manually. 

According to KEWAZO, their robotics can save 70 per cent of man hours for these tasks. Their team believes this approach not only addresses construction’s critical labor-shortage, but reduces the risk of accidents and improves overall working conditions on-site.

By being involved in critical on-site activities, LIFTBOT collects key operational data. This data is then processed and provided to customers as actionable insights via the data analytics platform. This enhances transparency of what happens on-site at construction sites and industrial plants, leading to a multitude of advantages, including data-driven and proactive project management.

With minor adjustments, the technology may be applied to allied activities such as insulation, painting and other on-site material transport. KEWAZO’s vision is to automate and digitize the entire on-site logistics — from the arrival of materials at the construction site to their utilization.

“I think it is very useful that companies like KEWAZO are disrupting our business. We will have problems in finding and keeping good personnel – this will be our main focus in the coming years and decades. These innovations are very helpful in attracting and motivating our coworkers and help us to provide our customers with cost-effective and safe services, ” said Bart Gyssels, chief innovation officer at Altrad Services Benelux.

You can’t celebrate someone’s promotion, retirement or major career change if you don’t know about it.

That’s why SiteNews is introducing ‘People Moves‘. On the third week of every month, we are rounding up all the career announcements we can find and putting them in our newsletter. The inaugural installment of People Moves features announcements from Bird Construction, Infrastructure BC, Kinetic Construction, Tahltan Nation Development Corporation, Wales McLelland, DIALOG, Gensler, COWI North America, Revay and Associates, the British Columbia Institute of Technology and the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance.

This month’s moves:

Dom Costantini, vice president of operations for Bird Construction’s buildings division, announced he is leaving the company. He wrote that he plans to take some time to reset and begin searching for a new career opportunity. He joined Bird in 2004 as a project coordinator. His role focused on strategic initiatives for the company, particularly leading its special projects division and deep energy retrofits.

Mindy Henyu, Brianna Quock and Edward Van Mierlo have all been appointed to the The Tahltan Nation Development Corporation (TNDC) board of directors. TNDC is one of the biggest Indigenous companies in B.C. It provides heavy construction, earthworks, camp services, air support, aviation, forestry, transportation and fibre-optic communications services.

George Kyriakelis has been promoted to assistant vice president, transportation at Infrastructure BC. He previously was project director, focusing on the health, transportation, and energy sectors. George has been involved in the planning, procurement, and implementation of several health, education, transportation, and energy projects, in various roles.Infrastructure BC supports the public sector by providing leadership in the procurement of complex capital projects.  Before joining Infrastructure BC, Kyriakelis worked with Peter Kiewit Infrastructure Group in various management capacities. 

Mark Liudzius, executive vice president at Kinetic Construction, is retiring after 25 years at the company. He joined Kinetic in 1988 and worked his way through several positions including branch manager and director of operations. Mark also sat as board chair for four years. His retirement is effective Jan. 31. Kinetic was founded in 1894. It employs close to 200 people across three branch offices in B.C. and has over 40 active construction projects in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island

John Surabathula has been promoted to senior consultant at construction consulting firm Revay and Associates. He has amassed more than 25 years experience in construction, construction management, and program management in LNG, transportation, mining, transmission, hydro and building projects

Ash Kumar has joined Wales McLelland as director of operations. Kumar has more than 25 years of experience in project management, operational efficiency, and business development. He has led teams for work in the commercial, retail, education, healthcare, industrial, hospitality, and institutional sectors. Wales has been operating in the Vancouver area for more than 50 years as a general contractor. 

Sanja Boskovic is the new associate dean of industrial and mechanical trades at the School of Energy at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). She not only holds a PhD in engineering, she also has a Phd in educational technology and learning design. Programs at the School of Energy range from machinist to telecommunications, and chemical and environmental technology to mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and smart grid systems and technologies master program.

Steven Crombie has been appointed chair of the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance (OSTA). Crombie stated that with Ontario’s labour shortage at an all-time high, it’s more important than ever to break down every barrier that prevents workers from achieving their career goals. Crombie has extensive government relations experience at organizations like the GreaterToronto Sewer and Watermain Contractors Association and the Ontario General Contractors Association.  

14 new associates have joined DIALOG, a Vancouver-based architecture firm: Kyle Auch, Karel Brozik, Gerard Dourado, Amrinder Gill, Mania Javadipour, Rachele Gunderson, Michael Mochulski, Kimberly Russell, Mike Torjan, Mona Lemoine, Edel Naughton, André O’Neill, Steven Prozniak, Holly Shandruk.

John Westphal has joined COWI North America as head of section/associate project director to support the growing southeast transportation team. Westphal has more than 18 years of experience in engineering design, construction, contract administration and construction materials testing. 

Bob Weis, former president of Walt Disney Imagineering, has joined global design and architecture firm Gensler as global immersive experience design leader. Genlser stated in an announcement that Weis’ experience in pioneering large-scale groundbreaking and story-driven experiences further expands its ability to drive design innovation.

*Editors note: do you have a hiring, promotion or retirement announcement you want to make? Let us know at hello@readsitenews.com. Be the first to get People Moves by subscribing to our newsletter below.

Orion Construction is growing – a lot. 

In the past three years they have seen revenue growth of more than 12,000 per cent. This earned the full-service contractor for light industrial and commercial developments the number one spot on the Globe and Mail’s Top Growing Companies list in 2022.

What’s in the secret sauce? Orion says a lot of its success has to do with mastering the design-build model. They explained that the model is an efficient in-house system where all team members collaboratively work together to design and build the project. This helps to manage cost uncertainty and provide efficient delivery to clients.

Laying the foundation

“Design-build has been the foundation of Orion,” said Cameron Archer, Orion’s director of sales and marketing. “It’s where we started and the model we felt would be most supportive to the industry. There are a lot of things that it provides that more traditional models don’t.”

Archer explained that the model removes much of the conflict that can arise between parties in more traditional models where owners, managers, consultants and contractors are separated. 

“What design-build does is it brings a single source of accountability to a complex process. With that single source of accountability, it becomes incredibly collaborative and offers a very team-based approach,” said Archer. “It puts everyone on the same page to get a desired result.”

He noted that this team-based approach means faster designs and higher quality drawings. This all leads to fewer change orders.  

Orion says building a collaborative team is key to making design-build work. – Orion

Early engagement 

Archer explained that another huge advantage of design-build is the inclusion of construction and development experts from the very beginning. This is particularly important to succeed in the highly complex and competitive Lower Mainland industrial market. 

“We are in a situation where the land product available is becoming increasingly more complex to navigate,” he said, noting that this includes sites with waterways, wetlands, difficult topography and environmental concerns. 

He explained that having the whole team on board from the beginning allows good data to be gathered and more informed decisions to be made on what solution to implement for a site. 

“We are really having to think outside the box for solutions that better support projects,” said Archer. 

One of the early conversations that happens is around a risk matrix that can be forecasted for a project. For Orion and its market, the risk matrix often includes long lead times on materials due to supply chain constraints. Mitigating that means working closely with clients so there is a high level of trust. 

“When they are seeing it work right in front of them, it allows us to push the envelope even further,” he said.

This trust means Orion has been able to purchase materials earlier than usual to ensure the overall health of a project.

Putting the pieces together

The design-build approach paid off in spades during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Orion was working at the Pacific Corporate centre, a large format project that anchors the north east corner of the Campbell Heights business park in Surrey. 

With intense pressure on supply chains, the design-build approach enabled the team to purchase steel, roofing materials, drywall and mechanical units in advance to store near the site. 

“That gave us the opportunity to ensure that our schedule and budgets were going to be met in such an uncertain time,” said Archer. 

In September of last year, years of effort was put into perspective when the company found out they had topped the Globe and Mail’s list of fastest growing companies for 2022. 

“It was an amazing feeling being recognized for a tremendous amount of work that had been put in four years prior,” said Archer. “We worked diligently and stayed focused through COVID – the most uncertain of times. The foundation of Orion is staying focused and accountable to what we say and what we can deliver and I believe those are the two main reasons for that success.”

Pacific Corporate Centre
Trust helped Orion built successful projects like Pacific Corporate Centre during the height of COVID-19. – Orion

Assembling a successful team

Archer said these values have been adopted by Orion’s staff. He noted that this is critical for a successful design-build approach. 

“There must be a strong sense of teamwork and collaboration to be successful in a design-build process,” he said. “Because collaboration is so important, all team members must work together to reach a collective project goal. Everyone has to have the ability to do their best work without relying on gatekeepers for information and pool expertise instead. This allows us to priortize meeting those project goals.”

Archer explained that putting together the right team has been important from the beginning of Orion and few have left the company. 

“We have incredible employee retention,” he said. “In five years we haven’t been faced with the loss of a project manager mid-stream on a project which can be so detrimental. You have to have a team of experts who enjoy what they do and that’s what we facilitate here.”

A backhoe operator works at an Orion jobsite. – Orion

Key Takeaways:

  • The 12-foot diameter tunnel will run from Esplanade to Bay and Dundas.
  • It will house new power infrastructure to replace cables that were installed in the 1950s.
  • The tunnel boring is expected to be completed by early 2024 and the installation of the new cables is expected to be completed by 2026.

The Whole Story:

Ladies and gentlemen, we have liftoff. 

Hydro One has launched construction on a new tunnel that will run 85 feet below ground in downtown Toronto, from the Esplanade to Bay and Dundas. 

The tunnel will be 12 feet in diameter, approximately the size of three park benches, and will house new transmission cables, replacing cables that have served Toronto’s downtown core since the 1950s. Hydro One is investing approximately $120 million dollars in this infrastructure renewal project in the downtown core to ensure the company can continue to provide clean and reliable energy to some of Toronto’s most critical institutions, including Hospital Row, City Hall and the Financial District.

“Hydro One plays an important role in supplying power to Toronto Hydro and its customers in the downtown core. The new tunnel we are building underneath the city will house our critical, upgraded power lines and improve reliability for customers,” said Andrew Spencer, vice president, transmission and stations for Hydro One. “We’re steadfast in our commitment to making strategic investments in our aging infrastructure to prepare the grid for the impacts of climate change.”

Hydro One said it is working closely with the city of Toronto and Toronto Hydro to coordinate construction needs and the use of a tunnel boring machine, minimizing disruptions to residents and local businesses by allowing for most of the required construction to take place underground. The tunnel boring is expected to be completed by early 2024 and the installation of the new cables is expected to be completed by 2026.

Much of Ontario’s electricity system was built in the 1950s. Over the next five years, Hydro One plans to undertake projects that will reduce the impacts of power outages, renew and replace critical transmission and distribution infrastructure, enable economic growth and prepare for climate change in almost every community across Ontario. 

Once complete, the underground tunnel housing the new power cables will run between Esplanade TS and Terauley TS.

A map shows the route the tunnel will take. – Hydro One

Key Takeaways:

  • Indigenous people are far more impacted by the lack of affordable housing in Surrey than non-Indigenous people.
  • At least 635 Indigenous individuals are estimated to have experienced homelessness in Surrey in the 2020 regional count.
  • The city is calling for immediate coordinated action by the federal, provincial, and municipal governments to create deeply affordable housing.

The Whole Story:

Indigenous people urgently need affordable housing in Surrey, a new report shows. 

According to research by the Surrey Urban Indigenous Leadership Committee (SUILC), at least 635 Indigenous individuals are estimated to have experienced homelessness in Surrey in the 2020 regional count, a rate of 1 in 26 Indigenous people compared to 1 in 239 non-Indigenous people.

“Surrey has one of the largest and fastest growing Indigenous populations in B.C. and I commend the Committee for its meaningful work in identifying priorities to help address the urgent housing need,” said Mayor Brenda Locke. “This information supports our collective efforts to create affordable and appropriate housing for Indigenous people in our City. The City is a proud partner of the Surrey Urban Indigenous Leadership Committee and looks forward to continuing to work together to find solutions.”

City officials noted that housing is an urgent and immediate need for many Indigenous people living in Surrey, but Indigenous homelessness goes beyond being housed. The report, titled “Finding Our Way Home”, noted that the issue is an experience of isolation and interruption from their spiritual, relational, and cultural Indigenous ways of being, including access to land, community, Elders and Knowledge Keepers.

City officials stated that they support SUILC’s two priority recommendations:

  • Priority 1: Immediate coordinated action by the federal, provincial, and municipal governments to create deeply affordable housing, with and without supports, in Surrey to offer an exit strategy for Indigenous people experiencing homelessness and to prevent individuals and households from falling into homelessness. Housing is needed for single Indigenous men and women, and low-income families in crisis, especially single-parent families.
  • Priority 2: Create and implement a strategy to increase local Indigenous capacity to develop affordable housing in Surrey.

“Finding Our Way Home acknowledges that preventing homelessness is more than helping Indigenous people through individual circumstances, but also addressing societal systems including education,” said Lyn Daniels, co-chair of SUILC. “Indigenous people leave their communities and come to urban centers for educational reasons, however, the desire for education can lead to homelessness because of the lack of affordability and support within Surrey. As an educator, I am committed to working with the city of Surrey and all levels of government to advocate to prevent Indigenous homelessness.”

Samantha Jack, co-chair of SUILC explained that Canada has a long history of apprehending children and placing them in care with non-Indigenous families and disconnecting them from community, culture and language.

“Once they age out of care, our youth experience housing insecurity and are at risk of homelessness. Finding Our Way Home is a great report that addresses the immediate priorities of helping our homeless youth in Surrey,” said Jack. “I am committed to working with the City of Surrey to support our urban Indigenous youth in accessing culturally safe housing to combat Indigenous homelessness.”

The Surrey Urban Indigenous Leadership Committee (SUILC) is a coalition of organizations that have come together to advocate for the urban Indigenous people living in Surrey. 

Digital tools are helping the industry not only save time and money – they are enabling teams to come up with even better building solutions. 

Duanne Render, a senior associate and design manager at global design and architecture firm Gensler, has been using data crunching tools to great success. He was part of a team that developed a tool capable of identifying vacant office buildings that have a high likelihood of being successfully converted into housing. What normally takes weeks can be done in minutes. 

While it started as an effort to identify suitable buildings in Calgary, where office vacancy rates have reached as high as 32 per cent, the tool has since expanded and Gensler’s team continues to make improvements. 

“We’ve made various advancements in terms of accuracy and fine tuning based on the data we’ve got from locations in North America,” said Render. “ We have analyzed around 500 properties in different cities from the west coast, east coast and central areas. We are even looking at European and UK properties.”

Failing fast

Render said the tool’s  success in Calgary has spurred a lot of interest in cities who want to do something similar to address office vacancies.

“Because of all the work we have been doing with cities and developers to look at properties and portfolios and assist them, we have all this data and information that has assisted us in fine-tuning how the tool works and it is getting more accurate over time,” he said.  

Render noted that Gensler tells its clients that the tool is not a silver bullet, it just gives a good indication of whether or not something is worth looking into further and if there is a high likelihood of a building succeeding as a conversion.

Render explained the typical process for identifying suitable projects often takes months. It involves a developer working with an architect on a feasibility study that investigates the floor plan, layouts, essentially conducts a conceptual design phase that would then go to a cost consultant. Then it would be determined if it’s financially viable and a decision is made to proceed or not. 

“What this process does is it helps us fail fast. If we get raw data we can give you a good indication of if it is likely to succeed or not. Let’s say you are looking at ten properties and want to get it down to the two best ones for development, this gives an opportunity to put a better product out there because energy can be focused into the right places.”

Duanne Render

Addressing the housing crisis

Digital tools like this can be particularly useful when applied to problems like housing. 

“If you look at the housing crisis you can break it down into a couple of different challenges,” said Render. “One is the amount of housing we need to provide in a period. To build ground-up residential condos or rental is going to take significantly longer than converting an existing office building. The second thing is, if you convert in downtown areas, you’re also looking at improving the quality of cities by adding vibrancy, activity and creating that 24-hour space. By converting, you assist in doing that.” 

He added that not only can you get to market fast, you can utilize office building characteristics that are less common in the residential sector. 

“Floor heights are generally higher in offices, which gives you the opportunity to get natural light deeper and in some cases provide larger, better quality units,” he said.

Encouraging development 

Render notes that despite the benefits, many cities have room for improvement when it comes to incentivizing this type of work. Gensler offered examples of how some progressive cities are tackling it: 

  • The city of Calgary has made $100 million available to assist property owners to convert offices to residential through a grant funding mechanism that made $75/sf available to eligible projects. This scheme is set to increase the downtown population by 23 per cent, increasing the tax base and injecting new life into the city, improving activity, vibrancy, and safety.
  • The city of Chicago is focusing its efforts on the LaSalle Street corridor making state and federal tax credits and Cook County Tax incentives available to the selected properties. Further financial assistance may be available through Tax Increment Finance for projects that meet specific criteria such as a minimum of 30 per cent affordable housing.
  • The city of Portland has also started looking into this concept and are considering a broad incentive package which may include, among others, exemption of system development charges (SDC’s) within a centralized geographic boundary, property tax exemption for seismic upgrade costs, fast-tracking tenant improvement permitting, and expanding a floor area ratio (FAR) density bonus for certain projects where it would be of value.
  • Following a task force report, New York mayor Eric Adams announced his plans to make it easier to convert offices to residential use. The report focuses on relaxing planning and zoning regulations making it easier for conversions to take place.
Gensler office conversion to residential.
Franklin Tower in Philadelphia was converted from offices to residential by Gensler. – Gensler

Reducing friction for better solutions

The conversion tool isn’t the only one Gensler has developed. They have found the method is applicable in a variety of situations. 

“It’s about removing friction to make processes easier in order to allow it to happen faster and with more accuracy,” said Render. “It’s so we can cut out a lot of the back and forth and the uncertainty.”

Gensler developed gblox and gfloorz to carry out test fits with real-time participation and feedback from clients. This is done in a simulated, data-rich environment where teams can envision, implement, and evaluate the implications of design decisions instantly.

“You understand what the developable area is – the area you can fit on a site within the zoning parameters,” said Render. “That generally needs to go to clients and get comments and go through cost consultants and more. What we did with gblox is automate that process to a large degree. You enter your parameters and then there is another level of customization.”

For example, if a client needs to hit a certain metric to achieve a project’s financial goals, that can be put into the toll and a dashboard will show how close or far certain approaches are from it. 

“That gave us the opportunity to get to a solution in a few days with some live sessions,” said Render. “I also believe it gave us the opportunity to come up with a much better product. You can get there so much faster and give a much better quality design, not just for the client but for the urban environment and the users.”

Needing answers quickly

Render believes data crunching tools like these are just one part of how construction is changing to an accelerating world. 

“If you look at society generally, people are needing answers quickly,” he said. “That in itself almost is a driver to develop tools like this. Everything is moving faster and faster and everybody needs to keep up with the pace at which things are happening. In some ways, construction is being forced to advance and I think it’s going to accelerate due to external factors like sustainability”

Render added that various levels of government are implementing more stringent sustainability requirements and have carbon-neutral commitments. 

“I think those external factors will force the industry to advance,” he said. “If you look at conventional construction, does this mean we need to do more modular construction, mass timber construction and other things in order to deal with sustainability? Does that become more commonplace? From my perspective, yes, it has to.” 

Key Takeaways:

  • The machine will increase the supply and availability of soil erosion control blankets for Western Canada and parts of the U.S.
  • BMP Supplies is setting up the machine in an Alberta warehouse with ample supply to hay.
  • The machine is set to be up and running sometime next month.

The Whole Story:

A million dollar machine in an Alberta warehouse is poised to upend a commonly overlooked corner of Canada’s construction sector. 

Paul Lindemulder, who works in sales and marketing for his family business, BMP Supplies, explained that his father started the company 20 years ago with one of its most popular products, a catch basin protector. The orange, donut-shaped devices prevent unwanted sediment from going into catch basins. He soon began creating other devices, like turbidity curtains that prevent runoff into bodies of water like lakes.

But one sought after product remained elusive for decades: soil erosion control blankets. 

“That was always the dream,” said Lindemulder. “In this industry it’s kind of the big product that is most common because it is used in so many applications. It does a lot more than other products. It’s a dream product to release for a company like ours.”

The blanket is a fabric roll made with jute or plastic netting filled with straw or coconut to protect soil from wind and water erosion. It is typically used to protect slopes and embankments and can help to reduce runoff and help promote the growth of vegetation.

This is what one of the erosion control blanket weaving machines looks like. – AH Meyer

The process to get the product is complex and expensive. You need three things – an expensive and rare machine that weaves the blankets, a large warehouse to store it and a nearby supply of high-quality hay. Only one other machine exists in Canada and it’s far from many parts of Western Canada. This causes long lead times for orders and high shipping costs. Lindemulder said this has caused many projects in the west that would have liked to use erosion control blankets to forgo them.

BMP is primarily based out of Calgary with two warehouses. Its head administrative office is in Surrey, B.C. As leadership of the company started to transfer over to Jim’s four sons, the company decided it was time for a major play. 

First they secured a 12,000 square-foot building on a five acre site in Brooks, Alta. close to a nearly endless supply of straw. Then they ordered the machine that weaves the blankets. It’s made in Germany by AH Meyer and costs roughly $1 million. The 80-foot long and 20-foot wide machine recently arrived in seven boxes and a team of experts from Europe will help assemble it in Brooks.  

“It’s a game changer,” said Lindemulder, who noted that the Brooks location sets BMP up to supply projects in western North America. “It’s something everyone wants in their jobs but getting it is difficult. That motivated us to get it in the hands of construction companies. It’s great for the environment as it protects sensitive areas and now sites can be specced for this product.” 

Lindemulder anticipates erosion blanket product could begin as early as next month.

“We are getting the word out and letting customers know,” said Lindemulder. “It’s about getting the whole industry to change focus, especially in Western Canada.”

Victoria, B.C. is stepping up its underground infrastructure.

Crews have started work on water main upgrades on Blanshard Street in what is the second year of a decade-long $53.8 million renewal of critical underground infrastructure. The project, which is receiving support from the Government of Canada’s Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund (DMAF), stretches between Caledonia Avenue through to Fort Street and will continue through summer 2023. 

“Reliable water and wastewater treatment systems protect communities and the environment,” said Dominic LeBlanc, minister of intergovernmental affairs, infrastructure and communities. “We will continue to work collaboratively with local governments to build resilient communities, in British Columbia and across Canada.” 

Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto noted that resilient cities have resilient underground systems. “Renewing and upgrading our underground infrastructure is critical to protect our communities and ensure our core water, sewer and stormwater services can be maintained in the event of an earthquake or a climate change event,” said Alto.

In addition to the water main work on Blanshard Street, other large city projects this year include upgrading the Chatham Street Sewer Pump Station, replacing sanitary sewers on a portion of Cook Street and the rehabilitation of a sanitary sewer on Store Street. 

“Strengthening and renewing our underground infrastructure is not only key to protecting the high quality water, sewer and stormwater services everyone relies on every day, it is vital to ensuring the health and resiliency of Victoria for years to come,” said Philip Bellefontaine, director of engineering and public works. “Major projects such as these will minimize future infrastructure costs, serve our growing community and help keep us safe during climate and seismic events.” 

Officials noted that these projects are in addition to the four already completed in 2021 and 2022 to replace or upgrade aging infrastructure, some more than 100 years old, to support growing neighbourhoods. Over the next decade, the city plans to invest nearly $54 million in 78 capital infrastructure projects, a 40 per cent increase in capital infrastructure investments compared to the past 10 years. 

To minimize disruption and maximize public benefit, the City is coordinating the Blanshard Street water main works with other improvements which will include new road paving, replacement of old traffic signal equipment and new road markings to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists and easier for traffic to circulate in the downtown. Staff are working with the contractor to minimize traffic impacts where possible, however the public should plan for travel delays resulting from this construction. 

Key Takeaways:

  • The University of Toronto is putting researchers and construction industry leaders together to come up with innovative solutions for sustainable infrastructure.
  • The team plans to address issues well beyond the traditional bounds of engineering, including explore legal frameworks around housing rights.
  • The school believes that by including the industry in the process, the insights gained through their research can more easily be applied.

The Whole Story:

The newest research centre at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering will develop innovative ways to meet the urgent and growing need for infrastructure – without further exacerbating the climate crisis.

The Centre for the Sustainable Built Environment brings together seven researchers from across U of T, as well as a dozen companies in construction and related industries. 

The research collaboration includes Colliers, the Cement Association of Canada, Chandos Construction, Mattamy Homes, Northcrest, Pomerleau, Purpose Building Inc., ZGF Architects, Arup, SvN Architects + Planners, Entuitive and KPMB Architects.

The goal is to identify strategies that will lower the environmental footprint by reimagining how new infrastructure is designed, where it is built and what materials are used in its construction.

“In Canada and around the world, we have a huge housing and infrastructure deficit – there’s a big social need to build much more than we have right now,” said Shoshanna Saxe, associate professor in the department of civil and mineral engineering and Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Infrastructure.

“At the same time, construction resource use accounts for up to a third of total global greenhouse gas emissions each year, a problem that is getting worse. It’s been estimated that if we continue current ways of construction, by 2050 the emissions due to new housing alone will cause us to blow past two degrees of global warming,” she adds. “If we want to avoid that, let alone reach net zero by 2050, we need to find ways to do more with less.”

Saxe and her collaborators – Evan Bentz, Chris Essert, Elias Khalil, Heather MacLean, Daman Panesar and Daniel Posen, all fellow U of T researchers – plan to approach the complex challenge from several different angles. They believe some efficiencies can be found by looking at where new housing is built, as well as what it looks like.

“The average person living in a city consumes fewer resources than the average person living in a suburb, because in a city you have more people per kilometre of sewer, road or electrical infrastructure. There are big rewards for well-designed cities,” Saxe said. “The shape and types of buildings we build is also important. For example, Toronto has a lot of long skinny apartments, where a lot of the space is in the hallway. If we design differently, we can better use that space to provide more housing, or avoid [extra space] all together and save materials, emissions and cost.”

Saxe and her team have also shown that large concrete basements account for a high proportion of the emissions due to construction – building more of the structure above ground could improve the environmental bottom line. Other potential solutions involve alternative building materials, such as new types of concrete that are less carbon-intensive.

The multidisciplinary team – whose researchers cover a wide range of expertise, from carrying out life-cycle analysis of construction projects to defining national carbon budgets – will address issues well beyond the traditional bounds of engineering. For example, the group plans to explore the legal frameworks that translate established housing rights into practical built spaces.

“It’s absurd to say that the right to housing means that everyone has to live in a space the size of a closet,” Saxe said. “But it’s also absurd to expect everyone to have their own 3,500-square-foot house. Can we find a middle ground where everyone can live in dignity, without consuming in a way that threatens the planet?”

By working closely with a core group of construction leaders, Saxe and her collaborators aim to speed up knowledge translation, ensuring that the insights gained through their research can be applied in industry.

“The conversations we have with our partners can inform their design and construction, as well as the conversations they then have with their clients, raising everyone’s level of knowledge and awareness,” she says.

“We hope that by giving people – policymakers, designers and builders – the tools they need to address these challenges of building more with fewer emissions, we can improve outcomes across the built environment and create a more sustainable future for everyone.”