Halifax construction boom lifted by 'unprecedented' number of tower cranes

·4 min read
A tower crane is shown at a project on Spring Garden Road in Halifax. (CBC - image credit)
A tower crane is shown at a project on Spring Garden Road in Halifax. (CBC - image credit)

Look up almost anywhere around downtown Halifax and you will probably see one of the many tower cranes that have become part of the skyline.

With residential construction growing at one of the fastest rates in the country, the cranes have been popping up at building projects all around the region.

Some rise beyond 60 metres and are able to lift thousands of kilograms of building materials and equipment.

The number of cranes fluctuates as projects begin and end, but between 25 and 37 cranes operate in the region, according to the Halifax Regional Municipality.

"This is definitely unprecedented as far as I know for the Halifax region," said Miguel Salgueiro, the president of Omega Formwork, which has six cranes erected at projects in Halifax. "We are very busy."

Brian MacKay/CBC
Brian MacKay/CBC

Salgueiro is one of the founders of the company. He can't recall a time of so much development.

"The only comparison I could use and I'm not sure it's a comparison anymore was in the '80," he said. "There were a significant number of tower cranes but that would have topped out at 15 or 20 and we're double that probably currently."

The number of cranes around the city are central to larger scale developments happening in the region.

"Obviously, it's quite encouraging from an economic standpoint," said real estate developer Alex Halef.

Halef, the president and CEO of the Banc group of companies, has three cranes contracted to work on developments, including a 19-storey property called The Elevation on Robie Street.

The project, scheduled for completion last next year, will create 124 rental units as well as businesses on the ground floor.

Bryan MacKay/CBC
Bryan MacKay/CBC

"It indicates that we are trying to develop housing as quickly as possible," said Halef, acknowledging the housing crisis. "It's a needed benefit to the community because immigration numbers are coming up and housing is going to be a required necessity to even a greater degree than what we currently have."

Banc's two other projects will result in another 425 homes when they're finished.

Eric Lucic, HRM's director of regional planning, said the number of cranes at building sites around the region is another indicator of the strength of Halifax's economy.

"We are at a growth point which we haven't seen before," Lucic said. "We are one of the leaders in the country in terms of percentage growth and the number of cranes is a good example of how you can see that happening."

Brian MacKay/CBC
Brian MacKay/CBC

The cranes also signal a move from low-rise residential properties to growth upwards Lucic said, showing more people want to live in the heart of the city where many of the new high-rise projects are happening.

Every crane also brings significant boosts to the economy he noted, pointing to the employment created at each site.

Halef said developers book the contractor for each project and they then move to hire the required skilled trades workers needed for each project.

"You would have upwards of 100 employees on a particular job site depending on its size working at any given point, so that type of employment and economic activity, it's quite substantial," Halef said, adding the jobs continue for the duration of each project, which could be up to 18 months.

'Above our weight class'

While Toronto continues to lead the country for the number of cranes, Halifax is among the chasing pack.

"We're way above our weight class," said Brad Smith, the executive director of Mainland Nova Scotia building trades, which represents construction workers and supplies contractors with skilled workers.

"If you look at cities like Calgary with a population of 1.3 million, we probably have as many or more cranes than Calgary and equivalent sized cities we would probably be double," Smith said.

With construction companies going flat out, there are difficulties maintaining the pace.

"I think everybody is very busy and you're trying to manage labour supply and you're also managing supply chain challenges," Smith said.

However, Halef warns even more development is going to be needed, to keep up with the sheer numbers of people moving to Nova Scotia both internationally and from other provinces.

"Our approval process is speeding up but we need faster approvals and we need more skilled trades to build those approved projects."

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