Tonda Construction Ltd.

Expert Project Management Supporting Research and Development
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
John Carioti

After many years with one of Canada’s largest contractors, four once co-workers turned owners decided it was the right time to start up a company of their own, creating Tonda Construction Ltd. (Tonda). By combining backgrounds in commercial construction, Tom Head, Dave Grant and Tom Weller – now sole owner and president – founded the company in 1978, with the help of Nick Spivak for a short time.
“The name Tonda comes from the founders’ names,” explains Darrin Weller, second-generation vice president of Tonda. “T for the two Toms, N for Nick and D for Dave.”
Darrin, an industry veteran of nearly 26 years, followed his father Thomas’ footsteps. “Like my father, I’ve always been interested in building and doing hands-on work,” Darrin shares. “Growing up with my father in the business led me down the same path.”
Darrin explains that after leaving Ellis-Don in Alberta, his father and the co-founders relocated. “They relocated to Ontario where they focused on building clients in the institutional and health care sector,” he continues. “Early on, Tonda focused on university and hospital campuses and that has remained one of our specialties.”
Tonda remains grounded in the founders’ founding principles today. The company continues to offer general contracting and project management for institutional and commercial clients throughout the province from its home base in London, Ontario.
“We have a great deal of experience with higher education, hospitals and commercial buildings,” details Darrin. “One of our biggest clients is Western University [WU].”
In early 2012, Tonda broke ground on one of the company’s most sizable jobs to-date. In collaboration with UWO, Tonda tackled the $12 million Hangan and Western’s WindEEE (Wind Engineering Energy and Environment Research Institute (WindEEE).
The London, Ontario-based research facility simulates the swirling, multidirectional winds of severe storms, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, microbursts and downbursts. The need for such a facility was becoming more and more apparent after facing local storms, such as the tornado that devastated Goderich, Ontario, in 2011.
Making it Rain
The WindEEE facility is the world’s first large-scale six-sided wind dome comprised of half-a-million pounds of steel. The building’s dome exterior is 40 metres in diameter and the hexagonal testing chamber is 25 metres in diameter; 106 fans positioned around the test chamber simulate winds, ranging from severe hurricanes to tornadoes and smaller storms like microbursts. Each fan can be manipulated individually and accelerated within a split second.
“It’s a totally new type of facility,” says Horia M. Hangan, director and professor of WindEEE. “For the first five years, we will be conducting research with the facility, but after that it will be available for commercial consulting.”
Horia explains that the dome’s potential uses range from evaluating wind impact on building designs to wind farms and power transmission lines. The institute developed the concept for WindEEE and Toronto-based wind tunnel specialists Aiolos developed the facility’s design.
Tonda broke ground on the multimillion-dollar job in 2012 and recently finished WindEEE in May 2013. “We were the general contractor on site,” notes Darrin. “The majority of the building is within the wind tunnel. The dome exterior is 40-metres in diameter and the testing chamber is 25-metres. The space between is used to recirculate air and elements, such as piping and ducting, create air blockage so the right location for each install had to be precise.”
Tom describes the project as one-of-a-kind and great for the university and London; however, he is quick to note that the construction wasn’t easy. “Everything had to be dead on,” the company president reveals. “The tolerances they have had to work to are unbelievable. Even with pouring concrete, the tolerances were very, very high.”
Managing Relationships & Building Satisfaction
Overall, WindEEE is a big investment for Canada and there has already been international interest in the project. “The institute is much more than a lab,” adds Horia. “Any type of wind or even energy-related problem, related to the building industry, we’d be able to help.”
According to Tom – though he is more than proud of his team – Tonda would not be able to carry out significant jobs, such as WindEEE, without the help of trusted subcontractors and trades. “We subcontract 95 percent of our work so managing relationships and depending on sub trades is absolutely key,” Tom explains.
Nonetheless, Tonda’s expert management has earned the company a $13 million project at the Schulich Medical and Education Building in London, as well as another significant $19 million addition to UWO’s music facility. “The music building is a cumbersome job, because we have to focus on acoustics and it involves specialty trades,” details Tom.
No matter the facility the team tackles, Tom expresses that Tonda takes great pride in each project. “It’s rewarding when we do our job well, the facility looks great and everyone is satisfied,” Tom adds with a smile. After 35 years in business, Tonda Construction Ltd. continues to build satisfaction in support of some of southwestern Ontario’s largest developments.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Wayne and Harold Smith Construction