Modern Niagara Alberta Inc.: Bringing a Total Planning Process to Calgary's Skyline

The Eight Avenue Place (EAP) building is a multi-use development situated in the heart of downtown Calgary, Alberta. EAP is Canada’s only office building to achieve LEED pre-certification Gold, in addition to being LEED Core and Shell certified, a certification used to determine sustainability when a building’s interior is controlled by a tenant, instead of an owner. Though downtown Calgary has been under-occupied in recent years, the demand for the type of space provided by the EAP drew so much attention to the site that it caused the project to extend to a second tower. Such an extensive, innovative project required an equally experienced contracting and service company, one known for providing prime services for the institutional, commercial and industrial sectors, and that's what it got.

Modern Niagara Alberta Inc. (MNA) was contracted to handle the mechanical end of things, with Honeywell International overseeing control systems. The project’s LEED status and impressive 50 stories of office space presented MNA with a variety of scheduling and material challenges. Doug MacDonald, MNA’s general manager, has been with the firm for over 10 years and explains that “working vertically at that kind of height is incredibly challenging, and as a result of the building’s LEED pre-certification we had to really plan ahead because of limits placed on materials and packaging brought on site.”

A Forward-thinking Family

MNA operates as an independent entity within the Modern Niagara Group of companies, a mechanical contracting group that has designed, installed, and maintained plumbing, heating, air conditioning, refrigeration and process systems across the country since 1959. MNA functions as its own team on everything from small tenant work to complicated capital improvements in existing buildings, while still maintaining access to all of the family’s resources. “We don’t have a big CAD department or sheet metal facilities here in the Alberta office, but we have access to the extensive CAD department in the Toronto office and the sheet metal facilities in Ottawa,” explains MacDonald. “It’s a very forward-thinking company and we’re always looking to improve efficiency and practicality.”

Indeed, utilizing pre-construction consideration was the order of the day for the EAP project. MNA established a specific method to facilitate transporting materials with as little waste as possible. “We custom-built crates and sent them to our suppliers to fill with all the materials necessary for our work on just one floor,” explain MacDonald. “For our suppliers, this meant pre-cutting pipe, counting out fittings and hardware, and having it all pre-bundled before even being brought on site.

“We at Modern Niagara are huge proponents of prefabrication,” continues MacDonald. “So weeks ahead of our scheduled start time we were getting things rolling with our suppliers. We always had a line of crates in the wings in case there was ever an opportunity for us to send the crates up ahead of schedule.”

Though Modern Niagara had employed this method in previous projects, its application to the EAP building was unparalleled in intricacy. “We had many, many meetings with our suppliers,” laughs MacDonald. “We had to make sure that they understood exactly what we needed, because it was the first time we were incorporating our suppliers into the process.” Once bundled, the material packages could be placed in the crates MNA sent and either wheeled up through the elevator or hoisted up with the crane.

Because MNA’s work on each floor was in essence pretty repetitive, the piping and airshafts on all of the floors were almost identical, this method of bundling and packing was particularly well-suited to the construction of a 49-story office building. An addition bonus of MNA's efforts before breaking ground was that the firm was able to isolate a problem in the air circulation and alter plans without altering costs.

“We had the curtain wall system tested in Houston ahead of time to make sure it lived up to the manufacturer’s guarantee,” explains MacDonald. Essentially the testing process involved creating a mockup at full scale and subjecting the curtain wall to extreme temperatures. “We noticed there was still room for improvement, so we made some alterations to the design before even ordering our materials, saving the client a significant amount of money,” reveals MacDonald.

Simply Sustainable

Ultimately, what inspired MacDonald the most is the combination of high and low technology elements that the building employed to achieve LEED Certification. “What we saw on this project was a true combination of really simple efforts made in the design stage that were then modeled and tested using high-tech software to monitor the overall effect,” states MacDonald.

“The design of this building really aimed to be as straightforward as possible,” asserts MacDonald. “We really tried to limit the pieces of equipment involved on our end and thereby limit the man hours needed to install, monitor and maintain those systems over time. The whole building uses just one common intake airshaft with highly efficient motors, instead of using every technology available to us.”

Moving forward, MacDonald will bring MNA’s expertise gained from the EAP building to a project it recently secured as the primary mechanical contractor with Shaw Communications (SC). SC will begin construction on a new data center, and though MNA has not worked on any data centers to date, it will draw upon the expertise of the Modern Niagara family. “Data centers can be very tricky and Modern Niagara as a group has done very many data centers,” affirms MacDonald. “One of the advantages of being part of the Modern Niagara Group is that we don’t necessarily have to be specialists in everything, but we do have access to those areas of expertise.”

With its core of value engineering and installation prowess reinforced by a decentralized network of resources, Modern Niagara Alberta Inc. will continue to deliver in terms of growth, customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction throughout its region.