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Halifax’s Nova Centre begins its rise

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Billed as the largest commercial construction project-ever in downtown Halifax, the $550 million, mixed-use Nova Centre is rising out of the ground over a two-square city block area on prime real estate in the busy core.

When built-out in early 2016, it will add more than one million square feet in a hotel, two office towers and a convention centre.

For local area construction workers, it is a windfall. And right from the start, the site has presented challenges for those workers.

The excavation of the 80-foot deep foundation earlier this year is an example. The work required blasting through black shale. Doing that without disrupting business in the busy downtown heart involved information sessions with the development’s neighbours, keeping them up-to-date on progress and work coming, says Bradley Gregus, senior superintendent, EllisDon Construction Ltd., construction manager for the development.

The blasting and excavation was performed by Dexter Construction Ltd.

Concrete foundations are now well under way on the union job, which has a crew of about 125 workers – 40 of whom are formwork carpenters. LEAD Structural Formwork Ltd. is the forming contractor.

"They are a top quality formwork company" according to Gregus.

The number of carpenters and other tradespeople will grow as foundations are completed and a second shift begins, set to happen once architectural and structural design progresses on the development, says Gregus, noting that at peak construction there will be 250-300 workers on site.

Targeted for a LEED Gold certification, the project is comprised of two 17-storey office towers, a 19 -storey hotel, a two-floor convention centre and a two-level parkade. The developer is Halifax-based Rank Inc. The complex will be clad in a glass curtainwall with brick accents. Structures will be comprised of reinforced concrete with about 10 per cent structural steel.

Gregus says as the projects kicks into higher gear, one of the challenges will be scheduling deliveries of materials and equipment, because all of the buildings are being constructed to the sidewalks, leaving no lay-down area for materials and equipment.

"It requires tightly controlled delivery scheduling, with extra caution and attention paid to minimizing impact on surrounding businesses, restaurants and taverns. Every contractor is involved in creating systematic and efficient solutions to the challenges.

"The contractors will be organizing ‘just-in-time deliveries that will get installed as soon as it hits the floor," adds Gregus.

The "very aggressive schedule" has become the norm in an industry that Gregus has seen change significantly in his 43 years in the business.

"There have always been incremental advances and changes in material types and applications throughout time, but nothing has advanced faster than the way we process information. We can now deliver projects quicker, safer, and with higher quality than ever before."

The EllisDon superintendant, who has managed projects in 12 countries on four continents, says the crew at the Nova Centre is up to the challenge. "These tradesmen are the best I’ve had anywhere."

He says the Nova Centre, like other major tight-time projects, requires owners, consultants, subs and even financiers to work in partnership to meet deadlines.

"Everyone has to buy into the sharing of information at warp-speed, and be committed to performance driven schedules."

Much of the responsibility for keeping things running smoothly at the downtown Halifax project goes to EllisDon’s construction manager David Rock,  who started in the industry as a carpenter, then went back to college, and has spent the last 25 years as a structural engineering consultant and a mechanical and electrical consultant.

"I will never find someone again with that kind of expertise and experience," says Gregus, though EllisDon has "become a magnet for top talent."

Gregus adds that he sees a new generation of young people taking employment at EllisDon and other top construction companies.

"They are brilliant and they’re savvy. It points to a very exciting future for us."

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