November 8, 2012
Bondfield: as good as its word
Over the past 40 years, Bondfield Construction Company Ltd. has grown from a contracting firm specializing in school renovations to a company offering a wide range of construction services, from school, hospital and long-term care construction to building commercial, correctional and energy infrastructure.
Having achieved critical mass, Bondfield also provides clients with the financial stability to negotiate competitive pricing from suppliers and to hire and retain the best people to see every project through to completion.
“My father, Ralph, came to Canada from Italy in the early 1960s and initially worked in the concrete forming industry,” says John Aquino, vice-president and general manager of Bondfield. “In the early 1970s, he went out on his own, starting with home renovations that led to small offices and commercial plazas. He then started to take on school renovations and additions. His first major school project was an addition to St. Charles Garnier Catholic Elementary School in Richmond Hill. That led to more government and municipal work. By the latter part of the 1970s, he realized he couldn’t be the site super on every job and consented to hire an estimator, accounts payable clerk and other support people to back him up.”
Aquino recalls accompanying his father to construction projects on weekends. He eventually began to work for the family business during summers.
“I worked in all facets of the business and it helped to direct my career choice,” he says. “I went into civil engineering at the University of Toronto and joined the company full time in the early 1990s.”
He currently works with his brother, Steve, the company’s vice president of operations. Approaching age 70, Ralph Aquino still serves as the company’s chairman.
“We still rely on Ralph’s guidance and mentorship from his many years of experience in the industry,” says Aquino.
Even though the company concentrates on the government-funded construction market, it achieves diversification through its expertise in delivering a wide range of projects in that sector.
“We’re now working throughout Ontario in every field of government-funded construction, except roads and bridges,” he says. “We realized that we could not continue our path of growth if we remained just a school builder. It was a deliberate strategic decision in the 1990s to look forward and diversify. Health care was the big market then and we haven’t looked back since.”
Building hospitals gradually gave way to long-term care facilities and residential condominium work. Leveraging its expertise with government contracts, Bondfield also expanded into heavy civil projects including transportation facilities, and water and sewage treatment plants.
The common thread that unites the projects is enthusiasm and a commitment to deliver on time and on budget, says Aquino. “We’ve also demonstrated that we have the knowledge and experience to work collaboratively with both clients and consultants,” he says.
Bondfield takes advantage of its own in-house excavating, forming and masonry operations, which help it to offer competitive bids throughout the province. The company also owns a fleet of equipment, including tower cranes, mobile cranes, and large excavators.
Aquino and his staff select projects on which to bid according to a number of criteria, including the location of the job and the availability of human resources to complete that project efficiently. The company’s Toronto head office is supplemented by an Ottawa location, but available projects range much further away.
“We employ 300 people in management and about 800 workers in the field,” says Aquino. “But we have supervisors living in cities across the province. If we’re operating in Sault Ste. Marie or Thunder Bay, we’ll start by canvassing the union halls. If we can’t hire enough people locally, we will send for our own people to supplement the local workforce.”
Selection and availability of subcontractors is also a key business consideration.
“We have developed good, long-term relationships with a range of subcontractors who we can trust to help us succeed on any project,” says Aquino. “We’re always on the lookout for new talent, but we continue to rely on our established subcontractor relationships.”
Bondfield announces the projects on which it’s currently bidding on its website. That’s partially to rally the interest of subcontractors and partially to provide a level of transparency about the company’s current activities.
“The digital era gave us the capability of exchanging drawings, plans and contracts through email, but social media have also become useful tools for the construction industry,” he notes.
The company retains its employees in a variety of ways, not the least of which is providing them with a steady stream of diverse projects to keep them engaged.
“It’s human nature to begin to lose interest when you’re faced with the familiar day after day,” says Aquino. “Freshening the project mix, offering challenging jobs and exposing staff members to a broad range of responsibilities helps to cure that. But the competitiveness of the construction field is an attraction in itself. Once they’re engaged in the competition they’re committed. They can see where they’re going and constantly strive
to do better.”
An open door policy ensures that team members can share concerns and insights with management staff, further increasing engagement.
Bondfield also makes educational opportunities available to employees at company expense. These include everything from in-house safety training, to external programs ranging from Gold Seal Certification, to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and new construction protocols, such as Building Information Modeling.
“They’re a hard-working bunch, so we also engage them in exercises and retreats that further foster fellowship and teamwork,” says Aquino. “They get to know each other better and form bonds that decrease turnover.”
The company stresses promoting talent from within. A system of mentorship helps to pair off employees with an established skill set and those who are developing new talent.
Among Bondfield’s recent signature projects, Aquino cites the Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga,Ont. as its largest project to date.
“It was a P3 project involving additions and renovations carried out while the hospital was still operating,” he says. “When you involve financing, your third party on the project is the money itself. We closed the deal in 2008 with all of the volatility in interest rates and market adjustments, so it was tough to bid. In the end, we completed the project in just 32 months, four months ahead of schedule.”
Aquino says he’s also proud of the company’s design/build work on Niagara Falls’ Scotiabank Convention Centre, not only because of the project itself, but also because of the positive effect it will have on promoting the hospitality and tourism industries within the community.
The company is currently hard at work on the Finch West Station, part of the Toronto York Spadina Subway Extension project. Bondfield had previously built Bessarion station, on the TTC’s Sheppard line.
“Finch West is four times the size of Bessarion, but having completed the first station in a complex environment, complete with heavy traffic, we know how to meet all of the challenges of this project,” he says.
Aquino says Bondfield is adjusting well to the “post-stimulus” economy of heavy government spending and major infrastructure announcements of the past few years.
“The number of projects being offered to the market has certainly ramped down,” he says. “And there is a big boom of foreign construction companies expanding in Ontario, making success more difficult. But as long as we maintain our competitive edge and sharpen our pencils, we can sustain our work volume.”
Bondfield’s strategy for the next five years involves an increased focus on health care and institutional residential markets. “With the population continuing to age, there will definitely be a call for the development of more infrastructure supporting seniors,” he says.
Ontario’s infrastructure is aging as well, as the province’s population grows. Aquino foresees a steady stream of new projects, supplemented by expansion and retrofitting of older infrastructure, including sewage and water treatment plants.
Bondfield is also counting on a continued demand for renewable energy. The company has demonstrated expertise in developing power infrastructure in the solar photovoltaic, wind, geothermal and gasification arenas.
“If the right opportunity presents itself, we’re also ready to bid on out-of-province contracts,” says Aquino.
At the end of the day, he notes that construction is all about the people it serves and the direct and positive impact projects have on the lives of members of the community.
“I remember conducting a pre-bid walkthrough in a hospital emergency department where there were patients requiring medical attention, laying on stretchers that lined the corridors because there were no available rooms,” says Aquino. “The doctors and nurses knew I represented a construction company and walked right up to me, asking ‘When are you going to provide us with a new building? You have to do something about this situation.’”
Bondfield won the bid and completed the new emergency department. The updated facility allowed medical staff to achieve a quantum improvement in patient care.
“It’s just an amazing feeling of accomplishment to see that you can make such an obvious contribution to improving peoples lives,” Aquino says.
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