Alpha Masonry Ltd.: Preserving Heritage One Brick at a Time

Konstantinos Kotoulas started his masonry career while still living in Greece, learning the trade firsthand from his father, and he was already well experienced by the time he “officially” entered the workforce in 1971. He founded his company 16 years later, in 1987, first operating as Copetti Masonry Contractors Ltd. before later changed the name to Alpha Masonry Ltd. (AML) in 1993. Since its founding, the company has been a tangible driving force behind the development and research of new masonry techniques, and AML remains actively involved in research. Based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the company has become known for its intense precision and its intricate restoration work, having won numerous awards and distinctions.

Additionally, the company’s extensive portfolio has seen it recognized as an authority on masonry, and the firm offers consultation services in addition to construction and architectural restoration. The firm is experienced in both structural and veneer masonry, building envelope installation for air and vapour barrier systems, as well as scaffolding services, as outlined on the firm’s web site. For example, one of the earliest projects on which AML applied its innovative, detailed air tight wall systems was the Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health (Virology lab), a Biological Safety Level (BSL 4) containment laboratory where ebola and other dangerous viruses are contained in pressure tested masonry air tight spaces.

AML can also design veneer anchoring systems for seismic code compliance. The company’s restoration services include non-abrasive cleaning techniques, stipple poulticing stain removal, retrofitting/repointing of masonry, and the capability to replicate architectural details identical to the original artifacts. “We really don’t sub anything out,” Kotoulas notes.

A Solid Reputation

The company operates within all parts of Canada and into the United States and is a member of the Manitoba Construction Association, the Manitoba Masonry Institute and the National Air Barrier Association. In the past, AML has built skate parks, commercial buildings, museums, parks and residential developments. The company was even contracted to help restore an important UNESCO-designated World Heritage site at Red River College’s Exchange District Campus in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

For the Red River College restoration, AML was contracted to preserve and restore the campus’s five storefront façades that date to the 19th century. Portions of the façades were so badly in need of repair that the bricks had to be individually removed and archived for reference. The façades were then pressure-washed and the metal cornices were restored to their original states.

Another notable job was when the firm won a Masonry Design Award in 2000 for its work on the Manitoba Legislative Building. The original structure was built between 1913 and 1920. As outlined on AML’s projects page, the restoration involved a total removal and repointing of all mortar joints and major repairs to damaged stone pieces. The building’s ledges were in need of new weatherproofing and were “capped and sealed using lead flashing and the dome was sealed and reclad with new copper.”

The building’s iconic Golden Boy statue had to be removed from its perch and completely restored by the city’s archivists and experts while its original support structure was updated and replaced with a stainless steel system. The statue itself had to be cleaned very skillfully, and according to the company, the team used the “JOS [non-abrasive slurry] system and crushed walnut shells to remove impurities and debris from the bronze surface.” The building is a landmark of Winnipeg architecture, and the firm employed every innovative technique in the book to ensure the proper restoration of the building’s façade.

Façade-Lifts

The firm’s most celebrated project to date, however, has been the restoration of the University of Winnipeg’s Wesley Hall. Kotoulas asserts that his primary concern is “restoring old buildings to perfection.” He jokes, “It’s like performing cosmetic surgery to buildings.” Like surgeons, Kotoulas’ team took on the job of painstakingly removing the building’s 1898 sandstone façade. Once removed, the exterior was carefully measured and rebuilt using stones recut to the original dimensions, block for block. For the façade, AML used Wallace stone from Nova Scotia as a more durable alternative. The firm also updated and installed a new air and vapour barrier system and insulation.

In addition to updating and restoring the building’s exterior, AML oversaw the restoration of its Convocation Hall ceiling, which had been badly damaged and improperly insulated. Working from plaster casts and moulds made from just a few surviving fragments, the firm was able to reconstruct the ceiling to its original coffered magnificence, finishing work by September 2007.

Ultimately, the firm was awarded three separate prizes for its work on the building: the 2006 Masonry Design Award presented by Heritage Winnipeg, the 2006 Award of Merit and Innovation in Renovation, and the 2007 Preservation Award for Excellence in Institutional Conservation, also presented by Heritage Winnipeg.

AML is also equally experienced in new construction, applying its structural and veneer capabilities to the advanced housings of such structures in progress as the new Winnipeg Blue Bombers Football Stadium and the University of Manitoba’s Pembina Hall Student Residency.

AML's work has garnered accolades for using cross-disciplinary collaborative experiments to aid, inform and promote the use of sustainable building techniques and details addressing specific climates, material behavior and cultural contexts. There's one additional bit of recognition for which AML is proud, however, and that is the company being COR Certified for Safety. Kotoulas understands that there's no element of the job more potentially fragile and in need of proper consideration than his crew, so he stresses the need to have proper safety procedures in place on all sites.

In the coming years, Kotoulas hopes to continue to grow the business, stating, “That’s all we can pray for. If the economy keeps up, hopefully we will stay up.” This year, the firm will be wrapping up work on a number of projects, including the restoration of a terra cotta balcony in an old bank and the construction of a new hydro dam. With Alpha Masonry Ltd.’s five decades of expertise and its commitment to implementing innovative construction and restoration techniques in its quest to both beautify and reinforce the communities in which it works, the company will have a solid foundation upon which to grow in any economy.