Renfrew -- Over the last two weeks it was impossible not to notice a towering crane on the west side of town at the site of the Lepine Lodge, the largest luxury apartment complex in the town’s history.
In order for construction to be completed on the central building of the six-building complex, large cement panels must be installed. This is a job that requires not just a crane, but a 500-tonne crane that is in high demand throughout Eastern Ontario and must be booked months in advance during the very busy construction season.
Francis Lépine, the man whose name will be placed on the roof once the buildings are complete, understands the importance of having a machine of this magnitude onsite during this phase of the build.
“We have used some of the heaviest cranes on some of our other projects, but in this case, we needed a machine that cannot only lift a 6,000 pound cement frame, but it has to be able to tower over the building when it uses its hydraulic lift and cable to actually lift the frame from one side of the building over the roof and place it on the opposite side,” he said. “That job requires a special kind of crane.”
He explained although the larger crane comes with a higher price tag, it will save time and money in the end due to its ability to not only lift larger frames, but its use allows the project to continue on schedule.
“We used smaller cranes around the site leading up to the larger Richard crane arriving and they were suitable at the time, but if we kept using the smaller ones, a lot of extra work would have been needed to get that job done,” he said. “We would have had to build extra service roads, build barriers and slow down construction on that particular building and keeping on schedule is hard enough without making extra work for ourselves.”
Mr. Lepine, who is originally from Montreal, followed his father’s footsteps and when he arrived in Ottawa in 1997, he forged out a niche among builders and developers as a man who demands quality and does not cut corners when an apartment complex is slotted for development.
It is for that reason that Shannon Fadden, the construction supervisor for the project, follows her boss’ example as the main contact on the ground. Her main responsibility is to ensure the timeliness of the project and maintain the health and safety of all those working on site.
“We can have up to 70 workers on site at any given time and the crane was brought in to get the job done safely and efficiently,” she said. “One of the problems we encountered was the massive rainfall we received in April and May and all that precipitation caused the ground at the rear of the building to become soft and it would have been a huge safety factor to place a crane at the rear of the building in order to place the cement frames into place.”
She said with the crane on site, there is no need to place heavy equipment at the rear as the crane is able to safely lift the frames above the building and lower them into position so the workers can then mount them onto the structure.
“Besides, the frames are located above the location where the pool is going in and I think the water in the pool is enough without working on the ground that was saturated with water during the spring months,” she said jokingly.
It is certainly a sight when the cables are attached to one of the cement frames and the crane operator begins the slow ascent towards the roof with the arm of the crane towering over the building. The boom is able to reach a maximum height of 207 feet and is anchored by a 220,000-pound counterweight that enables the machine to lift the frame with ease. The boom includes a cylinder with safety valve and a mast, pendant lines, and hydraulic tensioning winch to support the main boom during lifting operations.
Once it cleared the building, it lowered only a few metres from where Mr. Lepine watched its descent. He still marvels at the strength of the crane.
“That is why that machine is in such high demand not only in Ottawa, but throughout Eastern Ontario,” he said. “Once you have booked this type of crane, you better be on schedule and ready to go because although two weeks sounds like a long time to have it on site, anything can happen to slow down its progress and once it is gone, it is next to impossible to book it again during the construction season.”
Three workers guide the frame down to the ground and successfully place it where the main entrance will soon be open to welcome residents into the pool, fitness centre, community room or one of the luxury apartments located on the five floors above the ground entrance.
As the frame settles into place, Mr. Lepine reflects on the progress of his latest project.
“We are doing okay for timing and completion targets so far,” he said. “One thing that concerns not only me but many developers in the area is the looming labour crisis in our industry. There is already a shortage of qualified skilled labourers out there and for some reason that I can’t explain is the sudden change of work ethic among younger workers.
“Some of them, not all of them, but a growing number consider working hard and with pride is not important to them as previous generations,” he said. “You combine that with an already shrinking pool of skilled labour, then many projects slated for construction in the coming years may take a long time, if at all, to get off the ground.”
However, on this day, Mr. Lépine is happy with what he has seen and his vision of the Ottawa Valley’s first major luxury apartment complex is slowly coming to fruition.
“It is incredible the positive response we have had for this project,” he said. “It is not just Renfrew, but we have people from all over the Ottawa Valley and Ottawa waiting to move in. Many are downsizing and searching for a smaller unit that has all the perks of a condo without the condo fees. Having this crane on site is just one part of many elements that are coming together to help those people move in as soon the building is ready. When you see them becoming part of a new community, it makes all of us at Lepine proud to have made that possible.”
Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader