Digging deep to overcome challenges and build a new home for CFS St. John’s

On a large construction project, it is not unusual for there to be some unexpected challenges along the way. With the $117.8-million Pleasantville Consolidation Project (PCP), some of the biggest challenges came from things the contractors with the big shovels literally bumped into underground.

Right from the moment they started digging, the contractors ran into concrete at every turn, recalls Jeff Hopkins, Site Manager, DCC St. John’s, who has been on the project since before it went to tender in 2008. “Finding one huge tank was fine. We could deal with it. But then we found a bunch of things all at once, including foundations and concreted-encased storm and sanitary sewers. As soon as we’d conquered one, we’d find another. It never seemed to end.”

These early obstacles put the human relations and communications skills of the DCC project team members to the test, as they worked with increasingly frustrated contractors.

Besides having Hopkins and his colleague Colin Sullivan, Program Leader, Construction Services on site every day personally directing the work and dealing with problems as they came up, the project team held a full-day partnering session with DCC, DND and contractors in attendance. “It was very productive,” Hopkins says. “It really took a team effort from all sides to keep us all working in the same direction.”

It also helped, despite having to contend with a significant labour shortage over the life of the project, that everyone had a common goal: building a brand-new 32,000-m2 structure to replace multiple aging buildings and be the new home for CFS St. John’s. The overall effort also involved considerable road and municipal services upgrades, along with the construction of the new Military Family Resource Centre, which opened in May 2013.

At the time it was awarded, the $117.8-million construction contract was the largest in DCC history. In fact, everything about the project is big. Contractors removed 3,000 m3 of concrete and 22,000+ tons of contaminated material, and took that much again in demolition debris to the landfill. The new building required 25,000 m3 of concrete to construct. The HVAC system is “huge and complicated” Hopkins notes, given the size of the facility. There are also two enormous generators, one to power the fire and life safety systems, and one that can run the whole facility in the case of an outage.

The project is nearing completion, with handover expected in March 2014. After that, DCC will help DND move in, having already furnished the building. Spring will also bring deficiency clean up, demolition of some temporary buildings associated with the PCP, and a list of other standard contract closure tasks, while ongoing work on the HVAC system will take place as the seasons change and the system requires rebalancing.

Hopkins credits the strength of the project team—and their mix of skills and experience—for the success of the project. Reflecting on their work, Jeff is excited about the challenges to come (DCC will be responsible for facilities maintenance) and takes pride in past accomplishments. “We talk about how challenging it was, but it’s better to think about how we found solutions to those challenges—and how we’re better for having done it.”