Construction Services with Honesty and Integrity

n. Wallace & Company Ltd.

Since 1985, n. Wallace & Company Ltd. has successfully completed construction and renovation projects throughout British Columbia. A dedication to honesty and serving the client has ensured that the company is here to stay. Construction Manager Richard Baumgartel and Managing Partners Brent Baxter and Kelly Klassen discussed the company’s history and projects over the years.

Although the company has seen some recent changes in leadership, Messrs. Baumgartel, Baxter and Klassen all credit company founder Norm Wallace for the company’s approach toward its clients.

Mr. Wallace got his start in Saskatchewan estimating for general contractor Bird Construction. He transferred to Vancouver in the 1970s, becoming chief estimator and working on such projects as Pacific Centre. In 1985, he and business partner John Lawrie started Lawrie Management; by 1994 Mr. Wallace had started his own company, n. Wallace & Company Ltd.

Mr. Wallace has recently retired from the business, taking time off after many years of hard work. His reputation for delivering customer satisfaction over the years, as well as meticulous attention to cost and design details, however, will live on as all of the managers plan to continue his legacy.

“He’s been around Vancouver for many years in the local construction industry, as well as an active participant in the community, and through that, has had a high regard for honesty and a common sense approach to construction. The success of our business is due to Norm’s approach and reputation,” Mr. Klassen shares. He adds that the company’s long-standing reputation enables it to get repeat business from clients to this day. “Seventy to ninety percent of our business is repeat business from past clients. That speaks to the stability of our company.”

Even though Vancouver was relatively immune from the recent economic downturn, the company had to adapt to the changes that impacted the construction industry. “We weren’t quite as affected by the downturn,” Mr. Baxter says, “but it did change our focus from eighty percent construction management and twenty percent general contracting to eighty percent general contracting, twenty percent construction management. Now, we’re about fifty-fifty in those sectors.

“The economic downturn actually made us a stronger company; we marketed ourselves more effectively and broadened our client base,” he explains. “We survived the storm and got stronger. We didn’t have to lay anyone off.” Indeed, the challenges of the downturn gave the company the chance to find new clients.

n. Wallace & Company Ltd.’s managers acknowledge that finding continuous work is a challenge that they must constantly address. “Once you build the building, it’s done; then you have to find something else to build,” Mr. Klassen says. “It’s like a funnel; you can fill it up for a bit and relax, but it will eventually empty again.”

The company is growing, and Mr. Baxter says that retaining the family atmosphere is another challenge, but one being addressed with comprehensive training. “Our culture is fairness and integrity; we hire people with a high moral code,” Mr. Baumgartel adds. “We have a good name in the industry and we want to maintain and protect that.”

The company’s reputation has enabled it to build and maintain solid relationships with its clients. “I needed one of our subcontractors to install new door hardware for a client,” Mr. Klassen shares. “He said he was pretty busy, and he charges a set amount, but because he knows we pay our bills, he charged us less and got the project done on time.”

“Our subcontractors, vendors and suppliers are the backbone of our company,” Mr. Baxter agrees. “Without them, you can’t do anything. We treat them fairly and make sure they get paid on time. I’ll actually phone subtrades to see if they got their invoices in on time to make sure we’re paying them on time.”

This relationship with its partners in industry has even given n. Wallace & Company Ltd. the opportunity to find out about new projects. “Earlier this year, we were invited by Sysco to put together a design / build proposal to develop a produce production facility in Richmond, BC. They talked to subcontractors in the area who gave our company a glowing reference. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the work, but it shows how a multi-billion dollar company knocked on our door because we got references from our subtrades.”

Safety is also key, of course, and the company recently hired a fulltime corporate safety coordinator to oversee its construction sites. The company now has a Certificate of Recognition (COR) from the BC Construction Safety Alliance. “We want to make sure our employees are safe on our sites; we want healthy, safety-conscious workers,” says Mr. Klassen.

“Meeting COR requirements gives us a chance to show how much we value safety on our sites,” Mr. Baxter explains. “Currently, we’re working on the remodelling of a shopping center, and it’s critical we keep the public safe. We must ensure public and worker safety and a COR certification helps keep our employees informed about the guidelines they have to follow. Hiring a corporate safety coordinator allows an additional set of eyes on our sites and gives our superintendents the chance to focus on their other duties.”

The work provided by the company is far more multifaceted than that of the typical competition, Mr. Baxter says. “Our competitors typically specialize in one sector or work as general contractors. We perform everything from construction management, general contracting, and design / build and build everything from Intermodal Yards to Art Galleries; we go from one extreme to another.” Mr. Baumgartel agrees that the company is quite varied in its talent pool, with a broad spectrum of completed projects. “The reason we’re diverse is because we’re client focused. If a client has a need, we will work with them to ensure they get what they want.”

The remodelling of a historical building for Vancouver’s ‘Condo King’, real estate developer Bob Rennie, was one of the company’s more notable projects. Located in Vancouver’s Chinatown, n. Wallace & Company Ltd. remodelled the Wing Sang Heritage building, converting it into a space housing the corporate offices for Rennie and a private art gallery.

The Wing Sang building is one of the oldest in Chinatown and was completed in 1889 by Chinese entrepreneur Yip Sang. Sang operated an import / export business, a bank and a travel agency and sold everything from Chinese silks and curios to opium – which was legal until 1908 in Canada. In 1901, a third storey was added to the original structure and, and in 1912, a six-story building that included a warehouse, meeting place and three floors of residential space for his three wives (and their twenty-three children) was built across an alley and connected by an elevated passageway.

When the buildings were purchased by Rennie in 2004, they were dilapidated and condemned. “Before we could even renovate the building, it took three months to clean it up,” Mr. Klassen shares. “The renovation was very methodical due to the complexity and age of the additions to the structure.” The company took on the challenge of renovating it into a state-of-the-art building while retaining the original heritage of Wing Sang. The project took about four years to renovate in order to meet modern day seismic and safety standards and building codes.

The outside still retains the original exterior, but the inside was extensively gutted for the art gallery space. The process involved carefully going through the shoring that held up the walls from the additions and renovations of the early twentieth century. “The inside of the building looked like an old picture of an old gold mine, with timbers holding everything up all over the place from all the shoring.”

Indeed, the renovation of the building also involved adapting construction techniques that hadn’t necessarily been used before. “The foundation was made out of rocks that were just poured into place and they built the building over it. So we had to shoot shotcrete (concrete sprayed at high velocity through a hose onto a surface) into the foundation instead of cast-in-place concrete. That had never been done before.”

The project was successfully implemented, and the Rennie Collection now features artwork from about two hundred artists.

Another complex project involved the addition of four NHL-regulation ice rinks, refrigeration infrastructure, change rooms and a new restaurant to the Burnaby 8 Rinks Hockey Facility. The work had to be done while the rinks were operating, so access to the existing facility had to be maintained. The owner sought out Wallace when needing to get work done due to his sterling reputation and recognized expertise in this area. Mr. Klassen was assigned to the project and worked with the owners in 1995 to add the four additional rinks and renovate the older rinks. A new office and sports medicine facility were also added.

“The rink renovations were required because the methods of keeping the ice cold have evolved over the years. We had to place timber piles of eighteen to twenty feet into frozen ground while maintaining the existing foundation. The existing foundation was built on a bog. There was a significant amount of coordination working with the engineers and owner to keep the facility operating and ensure the structural integrity of the building was maintained because we had to melt the bog the existing foundation was resting on. We were on a race against time due to the melt cycle.”

Just this past year, 8Rinks owner, Canlan Ice, again approached n. Wallace & Company Ltd. about replacing an additional two ice rink slabs. Due to the company’s familiarity with the site, Wallace’s recognized expertise in renovating ice rinks and the successful earlier renovation, n. Wallace & Company Ltd. was asked to replace two slabs this past summer. The company brought a complex and demanding project in on time and on budget, all while keeping the facility open to the public.

Another recent project was the conversion of a trade shop at Kwantlen Polytechnic University into a teaching facility and lab for the nursing program, including new foundations, second floor structure and exterior envelope upgrades – essentially building a building within a building. The project added offices, classrooms and simulated hospital rooms and services. New building systems were installed, including air and vacuum lines, hot water, HVAC, direct digital control of lighting and HVAC, technical and audio video systems. This LEED certified project is now in use training the next generation of nurses.

Current projects for the company include renovating the Four Points Sheraton Hotel near Vancouver Airport. As a testament to Norm Wallace’s reputation, the hotel construction was initially overseen by him when he was the project manager for the owner. “The owner is a repeat client who owns a number of businesses throughout Vancouver,” Mr. Baxter says.

Other current projects include a chain restaurant tenant improvement nearing completion, while a wood frame professional building in Fort Langley and major grocery store are just getting underway. Future projects include servicing repeat clients who own shopping centres as well as chain stores. “And, of course, we are looking to expand our client roster by the traditional method of tendering general contracts,” states Mr. Klassen, “as well as introduce our company and services to new clients at trade shows and other networking functions.”

For almost thirty years, n. Wallace & Company Ltd. has earned its reputation for honesty, integrity and the ability to tackle complex construction and renovation projects. The managers of the company all agree that has driven the success of the company. “We’re not yes men,” says Mr. Baxter. “If we think there’s a problem, we’re going to let our clients know that there are better approaches to getting things done for the betterment of the project.”

June 22, 2018, 6:44 PM EDT

A Proactive Approach to Resolving a Longstanding Debate

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