Vestacon V - A Quarterly Newsletter - September 2021
Meet the newest additions to Team Vestacon, read about how we managed to combine our first social team activity in 18 months with a good cause. Get insights into how we ran our business during a pandemic, find out what became of a Toronto downtown auto garage and get to know our new Project Manager in Vancouver. Vestacon's 6th edition of the Newsletter is finally out!
Growing Vestacon: Our Latest Staff Addition
Vestacon is growing in all departments, and we are excited to introduce you to the latest additions to the team. Some you'll meet in Toronto, some in Vancouver, some on-site and others when you get the chance to visit our offices. These new faces of Vestacon join us on our journey as we continue offering clients and partners project management excellence on a larger scale as we continue to grow. They join various departments, come from different backgrounds, and offer services that, in one way or more, will affect existing and future projects from start to finish.
Vestacon welcomes talented and motivated professionals who are committed to teamwork both in the office and on-site. If you are interested in joining our team please see our current job postings or submit a resume along with the desired position to email@example.com
Want to get in touch with a member of Team Vestacon?
Call 416 440 7970 or email us.
Auto to Art - Building A Gallery out of a Garage
For this downtown Toronto project, building a gallery out of a garage proved to have its own unique challenges. Alongside McTernan Design Associates, Vestacon converted a former autobody garage into what is now the exquisite Nicholas Metivier Gallery.
Scope of work included modifications to the structure of existing garage bays to accommodate larger openings for greater flow of gallery guests, garage doors replaced with new windows, polished concrete floors, high impact lighting with optimal colour rendering capabilities, and extensive reworking and upgrades of the HVAC system to maximize functionality while blending seamlessly into the space.
For what appears at first glance to be a simple space there were many challenges that had to be resolved to transform a garage into a gallery space suitable to display artwork.
The condition of this old building required extensive repairs including infill of exterior brick and shoring. Inside there were issues with existing HVAC and structural to be addressed as well. Achieving a consistent polished concrete look on the floors in an existing timeworn building was also a challenge. The flooring contractor tested multiple grit levels until the client and designer were satisfied that the outcome would be as envisioned. Finally, careful and strategic planning of lighting placement was a significant priority on this project requiring precise coordination between designers and trades.
Don’t Take for Granted the Abilities of our Western Team
We are always excited about new additions to Team Vestacon, and as seen by viewing the many new names and faces highlighted at the top of this newsletter, we have lots to be excited about! Here we will shine the spotlight on our new Project Manager in Vancouver, Grant Morrow. With over 25 years of Construction Management experience, Grant has numerous Canada-wide projects on his resume. We sat down with Grant to get to know him better.
You have completed multiple Canada-wide projects for various clients, what have you found to be similarities, and differences, when working in different Provinces?
I have been fortunate to work in numerous Provinces, and I truly appreciated meeting the various crews and creating the teams that made projects successful. A similarity is in the people, there is always going to be a cross-connect in construction across Canada and with our counterparts in the USA. In saying this, one can always expect to work and communicate with clients, suppliers, and trades who are stationed across North America and who work in different time zones. The main differences are the technical specifications within construction codes and municipalities' requirements. For example, seismic specifications requirements in BC, and people in Ontario wondering “what is that” on a drawing. For a typical TI project in BC, seismic has a costing difference that could be attributed to as much as 10% in trades pricing. Based on the required seismic engineer, seismic design and bracing, documentation, and sign-off. Another major difference is all the engineering requirements and documentation for starting and closing projects. The engineering paperwork and liability are not standard across Canada.
The pandemic has affected a lot of what we do and know, and even if it looks brighter than it has in a long time, we continue to adapt how we work on projects to ensure we can deliver projects safely and timely. In your opinion, what are some of the most important steps a Project Manager should take when preparing for a Construction Management project in the “new normal”?
We have all felt the impact this last year and then I believe the “New Normal” is still taking shape. Some of the most important steps to consider would be based on an impact and workflow analysis. Being able to identify and document all potential impacts and workflow on projects, which contributes to creating an impact strategy. Overview of an impact strategy would consist of communication, coordinating and scheduling of construction tasks. Potential attributes in creating a procurement strategy are also identified by analyzing and adopting a supply chain management system. Creating a procurement strategy aims to create efficiency in scheduling and preplanning for sites and trades. The focal point would be scheduling and sequencing sub-trades and their crew sizes, making trades accountable for their time and crews and allowing them to complete their task effectively. Best advice: to create long-term goals that are written and manageable. Have written project control procedures, plus document and analyze everything!
Tell us about your most memorable project! What made it special and what did you learn from working on it?
Every project is different, unique, and has challenges, but some of my most memorable projects are not about the physical project itself, it was more about the team that worked on that project. I have had a few projects that were entertaining to work on, carried risk, and had technical challenges, including a 24-hour schedule. One of the projects that comes to the forefront of my mind, was a major HVAC replacement, with a complete, plumbing, electrical and operational upgrade. We had an extremely short time frame of 48 hours (continuous) to complete the project, and we had to finish, test, and balance the system before building the opening bell on Monday morning. No room for failure! This project was three months of planning and procurement, including additional equipment on standby in case of failure. We had to sequence the trades to start at various hours, including cranes and lifts, and the 10-man crew completed the project in 36 hours. It is not always a marquee project that stands out, but a project with a lot of risks, having people saying that it couldn’t be done and then completing it. This project was a reference point for other upgrades, and I received numerous calls from other contractors about our process and schedule.
You started out as a Site Supervisor, have you found that the experience from working on-site has been helpful when you approach a project from the Project Management side?
I started out as a labourer/trade apprentice then moved to a site supervisor. In that experience, what I found was how to link construction tasks with scheduling. The experience of watching and participating gave me an understanding of sequencing and the real timetable of completing various construction tasks and the art of cycling in trades when needed. In a been there done that experience as a PM, it does create some comradery on site. Also, the experience provided insight into all the little things that could happen on a site, good and bad. Ultimately my role as a PM with site experience will assist and help the site function properly. Sometimes it is also good to work on-site, show others that you understand what is going on, and sometimes just to prove a point! Another big perception I brought to the PM side from working on-site is “listening and watching”. Listening to the workers and trades and watching their work process. You would be surprised by what one sees in just watching.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do outside of work.
I tend to be very active and somewhat comedic. My family and I love the outdoors; we camp, hike, and explore as often as we can. I have two young boys, Tristan, and Lachlan, who are very sports-minded with a ton of energy and I am trying to keep myself in shape in order to keep up with them. Which I admit is getting harder to do, especially when they are very competitive and active in lots of sports. I am an enthusiastic hockey and lacrosse coach, have been for many years, to which I have received a few accolades. Giving back to the community has always been a focal point of my life, from foster parenting to volunteering in youth activities. It is about giving back to the community and making a positive and meaningful difference for someone who you may not even be aware of.
Top 5 Lessons Learned Running a Business in a Pandemic
I The Importance of a Comprehensive Benefits Plan
Six months prior to the onset of the Pandemic, we at Vestaconupdated our company benefits offering to include an EmployeeAssistance Plan (EAP). We had no idea how timely the addition of this upgrade would be. Nina Falzone, CFO at Vestacon said“while people were navigating the pandemic before vaccines, and were fearful for their physical health, it was my hope from an HR perspective that they were taking care of their mental well-being also – and really utilizing all the tools at their disposal (EAP, Paramedical etc.). I wanted to make sure that as an employer, we did everything we could to set our team up with the resources if they needed it.” It might seem obvious, but the pandemic has reminded us how vital responsibility it is to provide a holistic plan that supports the health and wellbeing of our staff and their families to arm them with the protection they need in times of crisis, be it on a personal or global scale.
II Embrace New Technology or Get Left Behind
Every company that was forced to move to remote work can attest to the critical role technology played in their ability to maintain productivity. At Vestacon we were fortunate that all staff are equipped with laptops and the Team’s application which made staying connected remotely an easy (enough) transition. But it didn’t stop there. Once construction sites re-opened after the first provincially mandated shutdown the question arose: how do we keep the site personnel who physically must be on-site to carry out the work safe and productive while ensuring the client and consultants are able to verify, monitor and track progress? As soon as we saw the need, and learned about the options, we invested in Holo Builder which is a 360-degree software system that incorporates cameras to capture video and live still images on the job site. This tool effectively provides a window into the construction site from the safety of the viewer's home office – whether it be down the street or across the country! A few months later we learned about and implemented Salus which is a software that digitizes health and safety paperwork and has proven to be an invaluable tool with increasing potential to change the way we work for the better, forever. Read about how these new platforms integrate to complete the robust technology system at Vestacon on our website.
III Health & Safety is A Full-Time Job
One of the most fundamental aspects of construction is health and safety. We could never have anticipated how significantly this complex and highly regulated division would need to evolve when protecting workers and their families from a rampant deadly virus were added to the daily checklist of responsibilities for a business owner. Almost overnight we went from ensuring staff were versed in the company policies and demonstrating industry-standard safety measures to sending out daily bulletins on the ever-evolving government-mandated protocols, establishing rules for essential office staff, ordering PPE and fielding calls about virus exposure. We quickly saw that this was not a role for someone to do part-time with other competing responsibilities and it wasn’t long after we allocated a dedicated resource that we realized we needed to build a whole team. Recognizing the need and quickly acting to designate appropriate resources has been a key factor in our ability to remain operational and as safe as possible.
IV There’s More to Client Relationship Building Than Cocktails and Hockey Games
There came a point quite early in the pandemic where it became painfully clear that the last thing our clients and industry partners wanted was to be hounded about what they're working on or when they’re going to get that project off the ground. All design planning was stopped, RFP’s retracted, lease negotiations halted and many projects cancelled altogether indefinitely. It was safe to assume that everyone was struggling with something serious be it family dynamics, financial challenges, illness, or all the above because we were too. How do you call on your roster of contacts to chase leads amid a global crisis without coming off as a monster? You don’t. What we did was maintain the lines of communication with our friends (who are also our clients and partners), be it by phone, text, email or Zoom, comparing bad hairstyles and sweats and vent about what it's like working beside a 7-year-old all day long. We let them know we were still here and ready to continue work on their project when sites reopened or to help them with planning when they were ready. We weathered the worst of the storm together - while apart - and now, months later, our relationships are stronger than ever, projects are coming back to life, and we are collectively optimistic about the opportunities to come.
V Through Upheaval Comes Opportunity
Although no one in their right mind would ever claim to be happy about the pandemic, many would concur that there have been some positive outcomes that have been revealed over the last year and a half. Most people would agree that there is a newfound appreciation for the simple things in life – things we once took for granted, we have a better grasp of what work-life balance means (and doesn’t mean) and perhaps we have learned we’re more resilient than we thought. From a business perspective, we have learned that construction is an essential service and that no matter what the new hybrid office looks like, whether companies need more space to social distance or less when staff move to remote work permanently or if it's one large office in the city or five hubs in the suburbs, there will always be work for us to do. It is our responsibility as essential service workers to be here for our clients and to keep doing what we do best: building quality space to support the needs of their staff and business, pandemic or not.
Team Vestacon's Summer Social 2021
Being the first in-person organized event in 18 months, Vestacon's Summer Social was special in so many ways. On a hot and humid August day, approximately 40 office and site staff members gathered at our Toronto office parking lot to enjoy each other's company and some tasty lunch all while supporting a worthy charity.
Organizers Kim Van Leeuwen and Julie Zabizewski share their thoughts on the success of our Summer Social:
"Being our first social event in person since March 2020 it was going to be special no matter what, but we thought we would make it even more meaningful by adding an element of charity. In a typical year, Vestacon has lots of opportunities to contribute to a number of important charitable causes but as many of the associated events have been cancelled due to COVID, we decided to make this occasion an opportunity to donate. Choosing which charity to support came at a time when the indigenous people were front and centre in our minds. We did some research and found lots of local organizations to support but finally selected the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund. Proceeds from this fund are aimed at improving the lives of Indigenous people by building awareness, education, and connections between all Canadians. We were thrilled to see that our staff were more than happy to contribute to the cause and in the end, we were able to make a donation of $380. Seeing how successful this occasion was, we do plan to incorporate a fundraising aspect into all of our social events going forward."
Members of Team Vestacon who attended the Summer Social truly appreciated an opportunity to reconnect with their co-workers and meet new staff all while enjoying the amazing food provided by Gourmet Guyz and Toronto Softee.
"The event was a huge success! Our team needed something special to help boost morale and we were thrilled to see such a great turnout. As can be seen from all the smiling faces in the photos (visible as we were outdoors and mask-free!) everyone was happy and really enjoyed themselves. Over the last few months, we welcomed several new staff members and therefore it was especially important to have this opportunity to get to know them and help make them feel integrated into the team".
Support the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund.