Edmonton’s construction industry is moving past a year of pandemic challenges and the outlook is strong. Projects and initiatives are bettering the future for the industry whether it be revitalizing the city’s communities, environmental sustainability or more inclusivity. Builders pride themselves on working in an adaptive industry, coming through safely and relatively uninterrupted.
“We were successful and didn’t have any problems on the social distancing and safety side of things,” says Ken Toews, Strategic Group’s senior vice president of development. “I was afraid at first at what might happen, if construction might shut right down. Fortunately, everything worked out really well and the developing industry did a really good job.”
Jayman BUILT was also quick to adapt. “We were lucky going through all of this that construction was deemed an essential service,” says Charles Fay, vice president at Jayman BUILT, Edmonton. “This saved our industry. Through the whole thing we’ve continued to keep our salesrooms, construction sites and offices open. Anything Alberta Health has put in place, we’ve been able to adopt it quickly.”
Showcasing their agility, both companies have worked on projects they’re proud to deliver to communities around the city.
Strategic Group has been making great strides to energize downtown cores in Calgary and Edmonton by converting vacant office spaces into rental residential buildings. When they designed Capital, it was with the lifestyles of their urban tenants in mind. Set right in Edmonton’s government district, the community offers history, art and the delights of pedestrian-friendly living.
Conversion projects align with Strategic Group’s commitment to environmental sustainability, but the massive scope of these projects, 18,000 square feet at Capital, is challenging. However, they offer bonuses too, such as air conditioning, larger than normal suites including oversized kitchens and islands, smart phone-operated entry systems and electric car charging stations.
When seeking out good conversion projects, location is the ultimate deal maker. Resident surveys indicate nearby grocery stores and transit as key amenities. “We’re across the street from the subway station and just a little over a block from the grocery store and shopping center,” says Toews. “It makes things easy for people with active lives [who might be] more spontaneous. They can be that way here.”
There are a number of educational institutions nearby, so Capital has many student tenants. The building’s amenities are designed with the needs of these busy people in mind. “We built a sky lounge and deck here and rearranged the mechanical on the rooftop to allow for this,” says Toews. “It was an economical way to have this great feature that can typically be an expensive addition. We want our residents to have a lounge they can go to at all times even if the main lounge is booked.”
The company is also interested in the growing popularity of co-working today. “We think this is a great concept that’s going to continue to grow so we’ve already set up spaces in Capital for this,” says Toews. “We have a free cappuccino bar, lounge and party room for our tenants to go hang out and collaborate. We have a meeting room available for them to book out as well.”
While these amenities add some expense to the company, Toews believes they’re worth it. “It’s really important to build community. We know people like to work in coffee shops and this space brings them together,” he says, recalling a tenant he chatted with who met three new friends within her first six weeks of living there. “I really loved to hear this, and I like that attitude. It made me feel good about what we are doing.”
Getting materials, fixtures and appliances on time turned out to be the biggest pandemic-related challenge. “We only just finally got the last of our appliances in March,” says Toews. “They were supposed to be in six months prior to that, so it caused some headaches.”
Having less people on site for proper social distancing also meant things took longer in some cases, costing more money than normal. With factories and plants at limited capacity, production of some materials, especially lumber, has decreased and prices are up. “We’re seeing lumber pricing going sky high, and everything’s going up,” says Toews. “We’ve seen product shortages before, and this will sort out, but it’s going to cause some short-term issues for sure.”
It won’t stop their mission to recharge downtown communities for the health of residents, businesses and the entire city, though. “Capital is our second conversion project we’ve done in downtown Edmonton, adding about 400 new residential units,” says Toews. “That has an impact. It’s so good for the downtown, and for Edmonton in general. The city really is evolving and they’re seeing a lot more residential development down in the core. I’m really hopeful for downtown Edmonton; I’m a big believer.”
Striving to stay ahead of the industry, Jayman BUILT has much for Edmonton to be excited about. Their Quantum Performance Ultra E-Homes are the net zero option of the future. The product offering is the culmination of 15 years’ research, development and launch specification. “We’re pretty excited to let everyone know that these homes actually meet the 2050 climate change targets already today, and they’re affordable,” says Fay.
The homes produce as much energy as they consume through features including Jayman’s proprietary wall and insulating system, solar panels and ultra-efficient windows. Their basements are equipped with air source heat pumps for heating and cooling. “We offer this option on any model we sell right now, it’s not plan specific,” says Fay. “Our show home here is in the Hills of Charlesworth. Traffic has been really good and there’s a lot of interest.”
Edmonton can also look forward to two upcoming communities: Brenton at Glenridding Ravine in the scenic southwest, and Hawks Ridge at Big Lake in the nature surrounded northwest. “Both communities are set in beautiful, amenity rich areas. We’re excited to bring a cache of larger product to each of these communities.” says Fay. “We’re still fairly early into development so our buyers have the opportunity to personalize their own homes. There’s a great selection in lot sizes, houses and styles that fit all lifestyles and budgets.”
Feedback has been incredible as the Brenton show home, backing onto Whitemud Creek, opened in mid-March. This community has an exclusive limited opportunity for buyers with approximately 150 homes. Hawks Ridge, a longer-term project building out over the next 10 years, offers a balance of city convenience with nature’s calm. The show home opened in early April to reveal all the community has to offer.
Despite reduced capacity in sales centres and onsite trades people, sales have remained strong. “We saw a slowdown at the start of the pandemic, but it picked back up and continued to be steady. We’re seeing a pretty strong real estate market as we’ve started into this year,” says Fay. “We have an unbelievably diverse customer base. For us to provide them homes and the level of service we do, it’s pretty incredible when we get to turn their home over to them.”
While builders are excited about the opportunities Edmonton has to offer, the construction sector as a whole is striving to improve, be more inclusive and lead the industry towards better overall outcomes. If the pandemic has taught Albertans anything it’s that we’re stronger together. The Edmonton Construction Association shared a recent report on the subject with Business in Edmonton Magazine. A more detailed look into this topic is available through Aniela Alexander’s article Breaking Ground in ECA’s publication.
Alexander’s article highlights organizations like Canada’s Building Trades Union (CBTU), an alliance of 14 building and construction unions representing over 500,000 skilled tradespeople in Canada. They’ve created Building Together, Women of the Building Trades to support and mentor women in skilled construction trades. “Construction is seen as the last frontier in terms of increasing numbers of female representation,” says the CBTU. “Other industries and sectors [like] the military, law enforcement, etc. have surpassed 15 per cent female representation. The number of women in construction has remained unchanged for years.”
Local non-profit Women Building Futures (WBF) is also working to empower women for economic prosperity. Their mission is to remove barriers and provide industry-recognized training in the construction trades, maintenance and transportation industries. “We know COVID-19 has disproportionately affected women across our communities,” says Carol Moen, president of Women Building Futures. “We’re in the process of launching a collection of employment express programs which have been designed to get unemployed women back to work.”
As Alberta looks forward, the outlook is optimistic. “We’re looking forward to doing more business here in Edmonton,” says Toews. “We love the city and we’re excited to see it grow. We get through these things, and in Alberta, we’re going to be strong getting out of all of this.”