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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Building on success

By Linda White
Special to the Toronto Sun

When PCL Construction was established in Saskatchewan in 1906, it made its name building four-room brick schoolhouses, banks and town halls across the prairies. Today, it's better known for projects like the Air Canada Centre, BCE Place and the huge redevelopment of the Toronto airport.
PCL constructed the Ontario College of Art & Design's new and innovative Sharpe Centre for Design in Toronto.

The PCL family of companies is the largest general contracting organization in Canada and one of the largest in the United States. Its corporate headquarters is located in Edmonton, Alta.

PCL specializes in the commercial, institutional, multi-family residential, industrial, agri-business and civil construction sectors. In 2002, it completed more than 3,700 projects of varying sizes throughout North America. Annual billings regularly exceed $3.1 billion (Cdn.).

It's been employee-owned since 1977, a factor that contributes to the company's success. "It's one of the ways in which we attract the best," says project manager Neil Barrows. "It makes for pride of ownership."

Recent trends in construction include a renewed focus on the arts. "There's been a real push for the arts in Toronto," Barrows says. "We're seeing a lot of interesting designs."

PCL constructed the Ontario College of Art & Design's new Sharpe Centre for Design. The renowned box-shaped building is several stories off the ground and is supported by various coloured pillars at different angles.

Current projects include the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on the southeast corner of Queen and University Streets. The 2,000-seat theatre is designed specifically for opera and ballet.

PCL is also constructing the Accolade at York University. That project includes two buildings, one containing a 325-seat theatre hall and music, theatre and dance studios.

Other local projects include the Leslie L. Dan School of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto and Harbour View Estates high-rise condominium towers on the lakefront.

PCL recently renovated the atrium and lower two levels at the Yonge and Dundas Streets entrance to the Toronto Eaton Centre. That project was completed using multiple phasing in order to maintain public access to the subway and the shopping centre.

Top 50 R&D Performers and Funders

Technology continues to drive the industry. PCL has embraced programs like e-builder. In 1999, the National Research Council named PCL one of the Top 50 Research and Development Performers and Funders in Canada.

Design-build has been another important advancement. "It has many benefits. You can start construction without finalized drawings ... and can get a project done faster," Barrows says.

"We're seeing more partnerships doing larger complex jobs," he says, pointing to the cargo buildings at Lester B. Pearson International Airport as an example. "It was the largest design-build project in Canada."

Protecting buildings from mould is another key issue facing the industry. "The emergence of mould has been a real problem," says Barrows. "We're seeing a shift to making sure a building envelope is done correctly to prevent the growth of mould ... You have to keep moisture out."

But commitment to safety is perhaps the biggest driver of change. "One of the biggest changes in the industry is the sheer safety factor," Barrows says. "There's a real push to make sure -- and rightfully so -- that everyone goes home safe at night."

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