Taking on the Tough Projects

Eastern Construction Company

Since 1951, Eastern Construction Company has earned a reputation in the field for never shying away from the tougher projects. Bryan Arnold, President and CEO at Eastern Construction, has built a career at the company, working his way up over 41 years. In January of this year, he was appointed as the new CEO. He was moved to stay with the company for so long due to its positive values.
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“This may sound cliché, but we really truly live and breathe them,” he says. “Our core values are so important to me as a person. They are safety, integrity, innovation, teamwork and open communication. We truly walk and talk our core values.”

Quality is also a trademark of Eastern Construction Co., as are accountability and collaborative problem solving. The company’s desire to reach for the challenging projects that may intimidate newer firms comes from its experience.

“We tend to gravitate toward what we believe are savvy and experienced clients, because we look for a partnership. We are not in this industry to do the one job; we look for long-term relationships. A lot of that goes back to our core values and respecting what we bring to the table,” Arnold elaborates.

Of particular note is the expertise that Eastern Construction has honed in the adaptive reuse of Toronto the Good’s heritage structures. An example is the recent $88 million-dollar Queen Richmond Centre West Project, which integrated an 1880 heritage structure into a new LEED Gold office complex at 134 Peter Street in Toronto.

“We have also amassed a portfolio and expertise in mass timber structures in low carbon buildings,” adds Arnold. “This comes with working with visionary clients who are on the leading edge of this movement. This sets us apart from many of our competitors.”

Eastern is currently underway building 80 Atlantic Avenue, the first heavy timber commercial building constructed in Ontario in nearly a century. Utilizing nail-laminated timber (NLT) construction, the five-storey Toronto office building will reflect the character of the surrounding architectural heritage. The project includes both commercial office and retail components, set atop a two-level underground parking garage. Eastern is working with a zero-lot-line in a historically significant part of Liberty Village, taking into account the surrounding adjacencies and community. It is scheduled for completion this summer.

Eastern is also the Construction Manager for the new Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) Headquarters, a high-performance facility envisioned to be carbon-neutral. The building will be located at 5 Shoreham Drive, west of York University. The project is targeting LEED Platinum, Toronto Green Standard Tier 2 (or higher), and WELL Building Silver Certification. Further, TRCA will strive to meet zero-carbon status for the building, with the project approved by the Canada Green Building Council as a pilot study participant under their Zero Carbon Building Immersion Program. Eastern is currently providing preconstruction services, as the architect works on finalizing construction drawings for tender. The intention is to break ground in June.

There are another three unique projects that Eastern Construction is working on: it recently started construction of the Bessarion Community Centre in North York, the largest recreation facility ever undertaken by the City of Toronto. Meanwhile, interior finishes are underway at The Ryerson Daphne Cockwell Health Sciences Complex, a vertical campus building consisting of a student residence tower set upon a podium comprising underground parking, student space, lecture theatres, and administrative offices. The facility has three levels below ground and 29 storeys above ground. Eastern is also moving forward with the TTC McNicoll Bus Garage design-build project. This is the first design-build project the TTC has ever undertaken.

These three projects represent a construction value exceeding $350 million. All three projects were challenging to design and build.

“The Bessarion Community Centre was a lump-sum bid project. They are very unique. Construction is a challenge for anything in the Toronto downtown core. The Ryerson University project is also an extremely complex structure, and being in the middle downtown core of Toronto creates several challenges along with the TTC, the City of Toronto, and their requirements – it requires highly skilled personnel that understand and are very good at planning and communication because of all the interaction with city, waterworks, TTC, and road allowances,” Arnold describes.

In terms of past projects, an assignment Eastern is particularly proud of is its work with Waterfront Toronto, completing the largest waterfront redevelopment project of its kind in North America at the time. The project included the locally renowned Sugar Beach, the Queens Quay Central Waterfront, and a soil recycling facility that remediated 8.2 hectares of contaminated soil on Unwin Avenue. Eastern laid the groundwork for all the future development we are currently seeing along this vibrant section of the city. The $225 million-dollar project was completed as scheduled, in time for the 2015 Pan Am Games.

With an impressive portfolio under its belt, it comes as no surprise that this year, Eastern Construction was awarded two Ontario Builder Awards from the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA). The projects were a design-build for the Durham College Centre for Collaborative Education, and a construction management project for the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto.

Eastern’s safety metrics have also been recognized by industry peers, receiving the OGCA Zero Injury Frequency Award. The award-winning company is currently working toward 2,000,000 hours without a lost time injury.

“We have an excellent safety program,” says Arnold. “We’ve got great people that deliver that program, but it really starts at the top. It is a part of our culture, having our people understand how important working safely is to all of us. Just as an example, this year we were fortunate because of our safety record to receive a rebate from WSIB because of no lost time accidents. The senior management in the company decided to take that rebate and share it with all the workers, because it was really them that got us that rebate.”

Projects constructed by Eastern have a soul. Future projects in the core of the city will need a builder who appreciates the heritage fabric of their surroundings and works with it. The confidence that enables efficient, effective construction methodologies in this context comes with experience, and Eastern has that experience. Smart owners and experienced developers can decipher who possesses this experience, and Eastern is drawn to experienced, savvy clients who seek an effective, committed, collaborative partner.

The employee-owned company of 120 is one where each and every person works together to solve the unique challenges it faces, constructing one-of-a-kind facilities that shape Ontario’s capital. “The size of Eastern construction allows our senior management to be directly involved with all our projects in a tangible hands-on way, which allows the firm to tap into that knowledge of 40-plus years of construction Bedouins like myself. It is very important. We look for people who reflect our core values, and we empower our project managers and superintendents to be accountable to those values,” states Arnold.

Moreover, all senior management is involved in a mentoring program, which is focused on developing employees to be the best they can be. In addition to Bryan Arnold’s recent appointment to President and CEO effective January 1, 2019, a number of other new leadership positions have been assumed by the experienced team. Frank DeCaria has transitioned into the role of Chairman of the Board, Jim Broom¬field has assumed the role of Vice President Operations, Steve Gray has succeeded Jim as the new Director of Operations, Dean Walker has taken on the new position of Director of Design-Build, and Renato Tacconelli will continue as Vice President of Strategic Projects.

Eastern Construction’s work has helped to shape the City of Toronto in more ways than one. The business engages both the community and the industry through a number of active initiatives:

• City of Toronto’s Partnership to Advance Youth Employment
• United Way Career Navigator Program, Toronto & York Region
• Hammerheads at At-Risk Youth and Under-Resourced Communities
• Social Purchasing Project, a public-private program supported by the United Way
• OGCA (Ontario General Contractors Association) and TCA (Toronto Construction Association) participant
• Platinum Supporter of Building Equality in Architecture Toronto (BEAT), an organization supporting equality and diversity in architecture

“It is important to Eastern that we are out there giving back to the community and the industry to make it better for everyone at the end of the day,” adds Arnold.

To keep the business growing, engagement with project stakeholders (both new and existing) is an ongoing process. Senior management is involved in every single project Eastern Construction completes, and because it seeks long-term, repeat clients, Eastern works with renowned, award-winning architects, and is known for being well-informed and forward-thinking with the owners.

“Eastern has built a reputation for taking on and successfully delivering the difficult projects,” says Arnold. “This reputation is paramount and inescapable. We view each project meeting with owners and architects as a touch point back to the reputation of the firm. Our project managers are our ambassadors, and are reminded constantly that they are the face of our company by our clients and architects. No amount of advertising or social media can recreate these touch points, and we strive to do our utmost on each project, putting the business needs of our clients first.”

Over the years, Eastern has quietly amassed an award-winning portfolio of unique, complex projects which enables the team to take on nearly any assignment, resulting in Eastern building a number of ‘firsts’ in the industry. Eastern is a company of life-long learners, like Bryan Arnold, with many of its team possessing their P. Eng. designation in addition to an MBA for some and a GSC for most. The company is adept at forging new paths, leveraging new technology, and welcoming innovation, equally from project partners and its own people.

In the past few years, the company has developed expertise in three exciting areas: adaptive re-use of heritage structures, high-performance low-carbon buildings, and mass timber structures.

“This is important to grow our business,” says Arnold. “Automated construction management processes at Eastern are enabled by tools such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) as well as the use of field-hardened mobile devices by our project personnel to utilize project management apps in real time. As for the future, we are looking to Artificial Intelligence as the next disruptor in the construction industry, and are looking to place greater emphasis on our use of off-site fabrication. We look forward to these challenges and again, the unique and difficult projects that our reputation has been built on,” he concludes.

Eastern Construction is the partner that clients and architects trust when they set out to accomplish something truly unique. As Toronto grows ever more dense, people will look to the highly developed capabilities of Eastern to fulfill the ever-evolving vision that is urban intensification.

Industry Changemakers

The construction industry has historically been slow to evolve, drawn to tradition over technology. As the industry is in a state of rapid innovation and advancement, organizations like the Toronto Construction Association (TCA) are working tirelessly to build strong member businesses that won’t fall behind.

June 24, 2019, 2:38 PM EDT