Looking at masonry in Manitoba

December 1, 2011

Photo courtesy Alpha Masonry
Photo courtesy Alpha Masonry

By Gervin L. Greasley, CSO
Although contractors and designers have separate functions in the construction process, it is important that each understand the role of the other to ensure the timely completion of work. This is especially true when industry volumes increase and designs become more complex, as they have in Manitoba in recent years.

During the past three years, Manitoba’s masonry industry has experienced a strong demand for its services in both the industrial/commercial sectors and in multi-family dwelling construction.

In 2010, the overall construction volume in the province was $1.7 billion––a 12 per cent increase over the previous year. Member firms of the Manitoba Masonry Contractors Association (MMCA) collectively performed the majority of masonry work in the commercial and educational sectors and shared in the volume growth. By year’s end, the group expects numbers to reach the peak set in 2009.

From the supply side, members of the Manitoba Masonry Institute (MMI) also experienced the same success—manufacturers and distributors of masonry-related materials and services had three good sales years in a row. Representatives of brick and block suppliers indicated they expect the demand to continue into 2012. Additionally, masonry contractors have also received an increasing number of invitations to bid on projects in Northwest Ontario, from Kenora to Thunder Bay, and have been awarded many of them.

Challenging masonry projects
While construction has been active, it has also provided some challenges for masonry contractors. Projects incorporating unique designs, constructing above existing buildings, melding new masonry into existing facilities, and tight deadlines required creative planning. Four of these projects include a museum, student residence, school football stadium, and a rural school.

Winnipeg’s Canadian Museum for Human Rights will be 91 m (300 ft) high, towering over the Forks Market area. Photos © Ray MacDuff
Winnipeg’s Canadian Museum for Human Rights will be 91 m (300 ft) high, towering over the Forks Market area.
Photos © Ray MacDuff

Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Designed by Antoine Predock, with architect of record Smith Carter Architects and Engineers, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights involves undulating shapes to create the impression of a building wrapped in the wings of a dove––the symbol of peace. (See “Form Works for Canadian Museum for Human Rights” in the January 2011 issue of Construction Canada. Visit www.constructioncanada.net[1] and select “Archives.”) The majority of external walls are not vertical, and some are also rounded, requiring special application techniques, especially for glass and masonry components.

Sited on 24,619 m2 (265,000 sf), the building will rise 61 m (200 ft) above its base. On the exterior walls, the glass and stone have to be manoeuvered into varying sloped sections. Owing to the non-vertical walls, the building had to be developed using building information modelling (BIM)––the first project in Manitoba to be done in this manner. Three types of stone are being used, including Manitoba Tyndall stone, Spanish alabaster, and Mongolian basalt. The translucent alabaster will be used to cover the walls of the ramp systems. Its application will have to allow for some future flexibility of the ramps. The Mongolian basalt will be used in decorative sections of the building.

The $310-million museum is the first national museum built since 1967, and the first one ever constructed outside of Ottawa. Scheduled for completion in the fall of 2013, the unique building and its intended programs have attracted interest––and financial donations––from around the world.

Pembina Hall
Building a new facility as a freestanding structure beside and above an existing and active facility required extra planning and scheduling. The University of Manitoba’s (U of M’s) $40-million Pembina Hall Student Residence required Bird Construction to build three floors of the hall at opposite ends of the existing student cafeteria, while allowing the facility to continue operating.

Manitoba has been experiencing an increased demand for the use of masonry block for condominiums and apartment buildings.
Manitoba has been experiencing an increased demand for the use of masonry block for condominiums and apartment buildings.

The two tower sections are joined by a 61-m (200-ft) span to support the addition of 10 floors of student resident apartments above the original Mary Speechly Hall. Designed by Raymond S. C. Wan Architect, the new U of M building was constructed over an existing building, in part, due to the lack of available land in the centre of the campus.

The masonry contract included 3400 m2 (36,597 sf) of stone and brick veneer. The project was completed in September 2011.

Blue Bombers Stadium
Next summer, Winnipeg will have a new 33,500-seat football stadium, located on U of M grounds. Also designed by Raymond S. C. Wan Architect, the $190-million stadium is expected to involve 500 workers at the peak of the construction cycle. The original concept of building a stadium became more complex when the site chosen was the location of the university soccer fields. The final plans included developing replacement soccer facilities west of the stadium site, and refurbishing part of the athletic-oriented Frank Kennedy Centre. The projected completion date for the stadium is late spring 2012.

The masonry portion, which began in August, calls for 320,000 concrete masonry units (CMUs) and 3600 m2 (38,750 sf) of brick veneer.

Clearspring Middle School
Few schools have been built in Manitoba in recent years, and none were total ‘block’ construction. Designed by Stantec Consulting, the $27-million Clearspring Middle School in Steinbach, Manitoba, is being constructed with CMUs, including the interior walls. The 14,900-m2 (160,382-sf) building’s content involves 130,000 blocks and 6000 m2 (64,583 sf) of brick veneer.

Brick is used in many of the recently developed Winnipeg condominiums and apartment blocks. Photo courtesy Euro-Enterprises
Brick is used in many of the recently developed Winnipeg condominiums and apartment blocks.
Photo courtesy Euro-Enterprises

The project involves building masonry block exterior walls for the gymnasium while constructing the remaining school building several metres away. Eventually, the two structures will be joined by masonry block corridors. The project is scheduled for completion next spring.

Multiple-residence construction
The building sector for construction of multiple-family apartments and condominiums has also experienced strong activity during the past three years. Typical of the sector is the River Creek Estates condominium complex in Lockport. Overlooking the Red River, the current phase requires 55,000 masonry blocks. The facility is being developed and built by Red Lake Construction of Winnipeg. The fifth tower is currently under construction and will be ready for occupancy in the spring of 2012.

A growing number of multi-family developments are concrete and steel construction.

“We emphasize the safety aspects of masonry buildings,” said Mark Laarveld of Euro-Can Enterprises. “From the point-of-view of the tenants and owners, the fire protection aspect, the reduced potential for bug infestations, as well as the decreased maintenance costs over the lifespan of the building make masonry buildings a good investment.”

The east portion of the University of Manitoba’s (U of M’s) Pembina Hall does not rest on the existing building over which it towers. Photo © Ray MacDuff
The east portion of the University of Manitoba’s (U of M’s) Pembina Hall does not rest on the existing building over which it towers.
Photo © Ray MacDuff

Contractors review applications
Manitoba Masonry Contractors Association members have a growing concern regarding a product that is enjoying a wider use in the construction industry. The increasing trend of adhered veneer product application by non-masonry firms and untrained individuals has resulted in many application failures.

Gus Kotoulas, MMCA president, explained the industry’s concerns.

“The public perception is the product is stone and, therefore, the responsibility of masons. Any failures are the fault of the masonry industry no matter who applied it,” he said. “This problem should also be of concern to designers as the long-term problems created also reflect on the original design and specifications, and create the possibility of legal claims.”

In general, MMCA members agree that having designers specify that the product has to be applied by qualified masonry contractors
would go a long way toward resolving this problem. However, the National Building Code of Canada (NBC) is not specific with respect to the application process, and specifications vary among product manufacturers.

As a result, the Manitoba Masonry Institute presented a seminar in Winnipeg in November to identify common elements among products in the market, and plan to eventually develop an adhered veneer application guideline for designers and the industry.

This initiative involves MMI and MMCA partnering with the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Manitoba to conduct assembly tests covering product applications in extreme temperatures and under various conditions.

The west tower of the U of M student residence will be joined to the east tower by a 61-m (200-ft) span. Photo courtesy Alpha Masonry
The west tower of the U of M student residence will be joined to the east tower by a 61-m (200-ft) span.
Photo courtesy Alpha Masonry

Industry supports research
Concerned with the quality of design and work being performed, members firms of MMCA pledged in 2009 to support a project at U of M to teach masonry construction design to structural engineering students. For many years before, there had been no research on masonry at the university.

The pledge involved providing $50,000 each year for five years, payable through the Canadian Concrete Masonry Producers Association (CCMPA). Some of the funds were also designated for masonry research. The faculty is now examining the requirements necessary to draw matching grants from the province of Manitoba.

Since then, a joint MMCA/MMI committee has been meeting with the faculty regarding course development and industry needs. As a result, the university has now approved an undergraduate course in masonry construction design which will be implemented in the 2011–13 course year.

“It is important for students to realize masonry’s load-bearing characteristics have been used for centuries on major structures, many of which still stand today,” explained Fariborz Hashemian, an assistant professor.

The primary focus of the future course will be to introduce the design and building codes that govern masonry design, and teach students the advanced design procedures of masonry members and structures.

Bricklayer apprentice training classes at Red River College have been filled at all levels since 2009. Photo courtesy Euro-Can Enterprises
Bricklayer apprentice training classes at Red River College have been filled at all levels since 2009.
Photo courtesy Euro-Can Enterprises

In the meantime, the structural engineering graduates are being offered an advanced course in structural masonry materials and design. This course includes load-bearing wall design, shear walls, single and multi-storey building design, and the fundamentals of building science.

In October, the engineering students experienced ‘hands-on’ masonry by building a curved brick wall section in the faculty building. They then issued a comprehensive group report to be published in engineering and architectural magazines.

Students and skill training
A pilot project initiated by Hashemian in the spring of 2011 resulted in masonry contractors hiring second- and third-year structural engineering students for the summer. While the numbers employed were low, the results were encouraging. Students were involved in estimating and field projects and they took part in various masonry procedures.

Industry workers also require more training and experience in masonry to ensure projects are completed on schedule with good quality standards. MMCA has been giving added emphasis to apprenticeship training for the past four years, and the results are evident today.

The Clearspring Middle School in Steinbach is being constructed with CMUs, including the interior walls. The 14,900-m2 (160,382-sf) building’s content involves 130,000 blocks and 6000 m2 (64,583 sf) of brick veneer. Photos by Gervin L. Greasley
The Clearspring Middle School in Steinbach is being constructed with CMUs, including the interior walls. The 14,900-m2 (160,382-sf) building’s content involves 130,000 blocks and 6000 m2 (64,583 sf) of brick veneer.
Photos by Gervin L. Greasley

In reporting that classes continue to be filled at all levels, Harry Laarveld, MMI president, explained the average age of apprentices is now in the low 20s compared to being in the low 30s, such as 10 years ago. He said Manitoba has one of the highest pass rates graduating in Canada. The shortage of skilled workers that has hampered the work progress of some trade sectors has been less of a problem in the masonry sector as retiring journeymen have been easier to replace with new ones.

MMI and MMCA member firms also provide strong promotional efforts during the annual career day in Winnipeg. The event, organized by the Winnipeg Construction Association (WCA), draws 900 selected high school students who are given opportunities to try some trade tasks, including laying block and brick. The event has become popular among schools, and many are attempting to have their students accepted within the attendance limit.

Manitoba recently issued a policy that all contractors bidding on provincially funded projects must be active in apprenticeship training by January 1, 2014. Part of the policy will be phased in during 2012 and 2013, depending on the project’s value.

The L-shaped standalone wall is the free-standing gymnasium wall awaiting completion.
The L-shaped standalone wall is the free-standing gymnasium wall awaiting completion.

Conclusion
New technology and application techniques, improved training methods, presentation of technical sessions for the industry, increased masonry research, and the need for greater liaison between designers and the masonry industry have become key factors in how Manitoba’s contractors will be planning for the future.

Gervin L. Greasley, CSO, is the business consultant to Manitoba Masonry Contractors Association (MMCA) and Manitoba Masonry Institute (MMI). Owner of LeeCom Management Services, he has been involved in the construction industry for 40 year and is an honourary life member of the Winnipeg Construction Association (WCA). Greasley’s firm also conducts independent construction safety audits for the Construction Safety Association of Manitoba (CSAM). He can be contacted via e-mail at leecom@mymts.net.

Endnotes:
  1. www.constructioncanada.net: http://www.constructioncanada.net

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