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Modular building expedites affordable housing and long-term care construction during the pandemic

Angela Gismondi
Modular building expedites affordable housing and long-term care construction during the pandemic
MODULAR BUILDING INSTITUTE — The Aqsarniit Hotel and Conference Centre in Iqaluit, Nunavut, a partnership between Stack Modular and Bird Construction, was awarded the Modular Building Institute’s Award of Distinction 2021 in the permanent hotel category. In the year since the pandemic hit, the Stack Modular and Bird Construction teams have built components for a number of affordable housing units and long-term care facilities.

While many sectors have experienced significant slowdowns during COVID-19, for Stack Modular and Bird Construction, the pandemic has created opportunities.

“COVID, as bad as it was, it turned out in specific sectors to be somewhat of a turning point and made it more busy for us,” said Andy Berube, vice-president of Stack Modular, a manufacturer of large-scale, steel frame modular construction projects across North America which works in partnership with Bird to deliver projects.

“It highlighted the importance of housing and affordability. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) put on the rapid housing initiative and that really highlighted modular construction as a method for rapid deployment of affordable homes.”

The pandemic has created a need to focus on multi-family affordable housing and long-term care projects across the country.

In contrast, hospitality, which was one of the hardest hit sectors during the pandemic, some of those projects in the pipeline have been put on the back burner.

Stack Modular and Bird are pursuing a number of long-term care projects in Ontario and across Canada.

“The rapid delivery is significant and COVID kind of highlighted the need for this and it perpetuated an existing problem,” said Berube. “Everybody is in a hurry to get it done and with modular or off-site construction essentially what you are doing is combining two methods of construction to expedite a project.”

The team also recently won a 2021 Award of Distinction from the Modular Building Institute for the Aqsarniit Hotel and Conference Centre in Iqaluit, Nunavut.

Off-site construction is an effective way to expedite challenging projects.

“The key is understanding that when you are leveraging modular construction you are essentially expediting the schedule and with the reduced schedule you are reducing risk associated with time at the construction site…As a developer you are turning capital quicker,” said Berube. “Conventional construction in its current state, the challenges are having enough labour and labour disruption, weather delays, especially in Canada…supply issues, lumber prices. What we are able to deliver is essentially a shortened schedule that reduces risk and provides cost certainty.”

Bird Construction was recently awarded a contract to build expansions at the Kenora Jail and the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre in Ontario to address capacity and provide additional space for programming and services. The accelerated builds will be delivered through Bird’s partnership with Stack Modular.

“It’s in planning and design right now,” said Berube. “It really is the combination of conventional and modular construction to execute the projects rapidly.

“It’s a turnkey solution.”

Most projects are not all modular, they are a combination of modular and conventional construction. The project team examines the project to see which components are best suited for which method, Berube said.

“There is a perception in the market that if you go modular you are getting rid of conventional construction which is wrong,” he explained.

“Modular construction is typically where your bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens are, whereas common areas such as restaurants, entryways, first floor podiums, that’s typically conventional construction.

“If you think about a hotel or a long-term care facility your entranceway is very grand, wide open spaces that typically is site built. When you get into your corridor, hallways, that’s really the sweet spot for modular construction is building the accommodation portion of a building.”

Modular is especially good for long-term care and multi-family apartments or condos because there is a sense of repeatability.

“That’s really where modular shines,” said Berube. “But you still certainly have the flexibility within the units to have multiple styles and it doesn’t have to be that every box is the same.”

Stack Modular is also working on other projects around the globe. Units are designed locally and manufactured to local code requirements in one of Stack Modular’s wholly owned facilities near Shanghai.

“Because of our unique position and our ability to deliver to unique geographies, we have a couple projects in the Bahamas, Africa, the Philippines,” said Berube.


Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.

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