Home Month and Year February 2021 Innovation in Construction Leading the Way to Economic Recovery

Innovation in Construction Leading the Way to Economic Recovery

Citizen Care Pod. Credit: PCL

The world may have changed in the last year with the outbreak of COVID-19, but as always, business must continue in order to keep the world going. Industries have adjusted, and innovation has been at the forefront to adapt to the new situations, whether it is ensuring the safety of employees and implementing remote work, to being able to cope with changes in operational techniques and streamlining to handle less employees in one place.

Edmonton has always been at the forefront of innovation in many industries, and during the COVID-19 era it has stepped up to the plate in a strong way. Many construction companies within Edmonton have developed new innovative techniques or have taken existing techniques and deployed them to improve efficiencies, reduce costs and better manage assets and time. As well, companies within Edmonton, the government of Alberta, and the government of Canada have all invested in diversifying and renewing Canada’s facilities and industries in a significant manner.

The government of Canada recently awarded a contract to the joint venture of Canadian design firms Stantec, Merrick Architecture and DIALOG known as FRAMEWORK Design Partners (FRAMEWORK) in order to ensure support for the renewal of government research facilities across the country. The potentially CAD$100 million contract will assist in designing architecture, engineering and laboratories. As well, over the next five years FRAMEWORK will help develop functional programming, develop laboratory standards and concept designs for federal research and laboratory facilities.

Speaking on the new contract Leonard Castro, Stantec’s executive vice president for buildings said in a recent press release, “As a global leader committed to sustainable design that positively impacts the communities around us, this transformational program allows our team to support the evolution of science for the next generation. This team of design partners has previously collaborated on 25 projects and brings an extensive pool of resources to achieve Canada’s goals.”

This funding for FRAMEWORK is just a small portion of the CA$2.8 billion commitment by the government for an enterprise-wide portfolio to reinvigorate federal science in Canada through Laboratories Canada. The goal of the funding is to renew aging science infrastructure through innovative delivery models to create modern platforms supporting sustainable scientific and research program delivery.

PCL Construction, working in concert with WZMH Architects and Citizen Care Pods Corporation, have been collaborating with Insight Enterprises and Microsoft to create a new, innovative project that allows for fast and remote deployment of COVID-19 testing pods. The project, called Citizen Care Pods, retrofits 20-foot by 40-foot shipping containers and outfits them with customizable health care modules in order to create a pod that is capable of rapid delivery and installation for testing for COVID-19 practically anywhere. Each container includes four to 10 testing stations for healthcare workers to administer testing to patients with proper distancing protocols in place. Testing can be done on patients outside of the pod, while the test interpretation work is done within the pod. Each pod is equipped with hand sanitizer for those outside and inside.

Through the use of advanced technologies such as PCL’s Job Site Insights™ platform (powered by Microsoft Azure) healthcare workers can monitor wait times and ensure proper distancing among patients waiting in line, as well as monitor climate conditions within the pod such as temperature, pressure and humidity.

From PCL Construction, Kelly Wallace, vice president and district manager explains, “At PCL, we anticipate challenges and are proactive in developing solutions that make construction safer, more efficient and more sustainable. The Citizen Care Pod’s modular construction and integrated technology make it a sustainable, plug-and-play solution that can be rapidly deployed to support the safe reopening of our economy.”

Citizen Care Pods can be deployed on any job site easily, and one of the key innovations in Edmonton that is helping keep the construction industry on track, while ensuring the health safety of essential workers. The pods can be customized to the needs of the company deploying them, with additional intelligent technologies available, such as AI-powered cameras that ensure distancing and mask policies are being followed, and minimize contact between health care workers and patients for minimum transmission potential and maximum peace of mind. Eventually Citizen Care Pods are expected to be deployed for vaccination purposes at a massive scale.

In the city of Edmonton, throughout the pandemic construction has still been going strong, and a building project by the Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB) has been showing how recent innovations even before the pandemic have been essential for the continued progress of the industry. Beginning in 2019, the EPSB started construction on a new facility, Dr. Anne Anderson School, for grade 10 to 12 students. The school is named after a well-known linguist, teacher and writer of the Cree language. The school is expected to be completed in early 2021 and ready for opening in the fall 2021 school year, and because of its deployment of the Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) model, it was able to overcome the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic without affecting the construction timeframe; in fact, the project is a few months ahead of schedule.

The IPD model* is an innovative new way to deliver construction projects that is beneficial to all those involved. Darryl Wiebe, president of KERR Interior Systems Ltd., the drywall and steel-stud acoustic ceiling contractors on the project said, “At a normal job, where you bid on the project, everybody and every subtrade in general are butting heads because we want to protect our own profit and we want to be as fast as we can be.”

Wiebe continues, “In an IPD project, it’s just a very different approach where we do what is best for the project. It might cost me more money, but it might save somebody else more than what it is costing me. It’s better for the project, and at the end of the day we are all going to make more money.”

The IPD method has been heavily used in the US but is relatively new to the Canadian construction scene. Aaron Corser, senior project manager with Clark Builders, mentions that it’s highly collaborative, and requires a lot of trust among all the companies and contractors involved on the project, and must be embraced by the owner in full.

“It’s fun. As a team, you consult the team’s problems,” says Corser. “People quite often will say ‘we did it this way once and it worked, or we tried this on another project.’ It’s quite a lot of fun; very little of the command-and-control type of approach to either solving problems or just purely managing and executing the work.”

While on the administrative side, IPD results in a lot of extra time consuming management with everybody sharing all their information at the same time, but as companies get used to this new style through experience the shortfalls will quickly fade away.

Innovation has always been the key to advancing in all industries, and while the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into a lot of business forecasts, innovation from many Edmonton companies ensures that economic recovery is around the corner, leading to stronger and more resilient industries for tomorrow.

*Information and quotes regarding the IPD provided by Edmonton Construction Association.