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Centre highlights contractor and First Nation partnership

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Syncra Construction's first-ever entry in the Vancouver Regional Construction Association's 2012 Awards of Excellence paid off for the seven-year-old company.
Centre highlights contractor and First Nation partnership

Syncra Construction's first-ever entry in the Vancouver Regional Construction Association's 2012 Awards of Excellence paid off for the seven-year-old company.

Syncra has snagged one of three Silver Awards for its Musqueam Community Centre in the General Contractor Under $15 Million category.

John Polglase, one of three principal owners at Syncra, said it was quite a surprise to be recognized, particularly since he didn’t think his presentation was as polished as his competitors.

“(It was) very rewarding to see the project turn out the way it was envisioned by the design team and ultimately the community,” he said.

A design-build project for the Musqueam First Nation and Aquilini Development, the recreation complex is 31,000 square feet and includes a gymnasium, fitness centre, change rooms, lounge, youth centre, commercial kitchen, classrooms and administration offices.

The design was by Burrowes Huggins Architects.

Musqueam councillor Wade Grant likes the facility.

“(It is) truly a site all members can be proud of,” he said.

“Two years ago, it was a pile of dirt and now it’s the heart of our community.”

While not a LEED project, the Musqueam identified certain elements that it wanted done in a sustainable fashion.

Such green aspects included energy efficient lighting, plumbing fixtures, mechanical systems and daylighting.

The centre may qualify for LEED Silver certification, said Polglase, who has 20 years of construction management experience.

Using wood was also a priority for the Musqueam.

“The Musqueam are part of the Coast Salish and the forest is a big part of who we are,” said Grant, who is also the First Nation’s economic development co-ordinator.

“We wanted to make it modern, but also include traditional aspects.”

The centre was built with glulam Douglas fir, steel and concrete.

Wood also figures prominently in the interior.

Running down the centre of the building is a two-storey atrium with skylights and glass railings.

Eventually the atrium will showcase traditional carved poles.

This was Syncra’s first project for a First Nation.

Before tackling the community centre, Syncra built the Musqueam’s cultural centre across the street.

As the company discovered, working on First Nations land requires different protocols than exist at conventional worksites.

“Old school ways of running a jobsite were discarded in favour of a more respectful and collaborative tone,” Polglase said.

Typically, the order of business at a construction site can be hierarchical with the supervisor barking at people, sometimes using rather colourful language.

The Musqueam worksite was right in the centre of the community and Syncra’s crews had to remember that they were guests.

“We had to keep the language clean,” Polglase said.

Grant said the workers were respectful and there were no complaints.

“There were elders and children around. We all have great things to say about Syncra,” he said.

The Musqueam also requested that band members be employed on the project.

Syncra paid the band, which hired Musqueam residents.

“Over the course of the project, we had 15 community workers on site for differing durations,” Polglase said.

They included the site safety officer, a carpenter and several other workers employed at all stages of the project. One of the band members continues to work on another Syncra build at UBC, noted Polglase.

The $7.8 million project got its start in August 2010 and was complete in March.

Plans were to finish by February, but the steel sub-contractor went bankrupt, Polglase said.

Syncra managed to work around the unexpected situation and also ensured everyone was properly paid.

A mechanical challenge was routing the fire sprinkler piping through the wood structure.

“We had to provide the sprinklers for code, but there was a lot of co-ordination required because of limitations where structural penetrations could be made and so that the piping would not be overly noticeable,” Polglase said.

Still, the job was particularly satisfying for Polglase and Syncra.

“The community will ultimately be using the project. It’s a living, breathing facility,” he said.

by Shannon Moneo

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