Volume 13, Number 18  May 19, 2006

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Construction everywhere at WCVM

It could be compared to an elaborately choreographed dance or, as one person suggested, a game of three-dimensional chess.  Either is appropriate to describe what must be one of the University’s most complex construction projects to date – the expansion and renovation of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM).

Construction is going on everywhere.  On the east side of the building, the new Veterinary Teaching Hospital is taking shape.  Pointing south toward Campus Drive is the steel and concrete skeleton of what will be the research wing.  Ground has not yet been broken for the diagnostic wing that will extend from the front of the building southeast toward Engineering.

Inside, various projects are completed as new ones begin.  The small animal clinic has been completely relocated, lock, stock and x-ray machine.  New lecture rooms are already in use and, with students now gone for the summer, work can start on some of their spaces like locker rooms.

“I don’t think any of us really appreciated the complexity of this project,” admitted Colin Tennent, director of planning and development in the Facilities Management Division (FMD).  “Adding to the complexity is the fact we’ve had to work around the college’s intense, 24 hour a day schedule.  It’s like renovating your kitchen, bathroom and bedroom, all at the same time.”

Dean Charles Rhodes said progress on the $57 million project has been remarkably smooth, thanks in large part to “the tremendous buy-in by faculty, staff, students and clients”, many of who have been working under what he described as “very difficult circumstances.”

FMD Development Manager Cam Ewart, who has been working on the expansion since March 2000, cited one particular example – “when it was time to move the small animal clinic, the staff finished their surgeries on a Thursday afternoon, the move took place through the night, and they were up and running again Friday morning.”

The co-operation of the contractor and sub-contractors in working around a busy veterinary college has also made a difference.  Tennent said the crews doing interior renovations switched to working nights to ease noise during year-end exams.

“Overall, the focus has always been on how we minimize the impact on students,” said Ewart, and Rhodes confirmed the impact on teaching has been “negligible.”

In the end, the pay-off for putting up with the noise, dust and disruption is being able to teach, work and learn in a state-of-the-art facility.

The scope of the WCVM project is vast – about 8000 sq. m of new space and renovation of about 7000 sq. m.  When complete, the 21,000 sq. m college “will have a decidedly large footprint,” said Ewart. One of the challenges of such a large structure is meeting building codes that no person be more than a certain distance from an outside exit.

Completion of the project is set for some time in the second half of 2008; no one is prepared to commit to an exact date.  Ewart explained 38 construction days were lost last summer due to weather “and I’m not sure I can say we’ve caught up that time.  We don’t have the opportunity for that kind of flexibility in the schedule.”  On the brighter side, work on both the research wing and the small animal clinic is ahead of schedule.

And like most projects everywhere, the costs have increased as the expansion has progressed but, according to Tennent, the escalation was factored in to the estimated costs.  “Hopefully,” said Rhodes, “we’ve budgeted appropriately.”

Of greater concern to Ewart than either the schedule or the budget is the participation of local trades.  “We’re starting to see saturation.  Local contractors simply can’t take on anything else.  This is not even a cost issue, it’s a question of whether we even get people to bid on the work that still has to go to tender.”

All concerns aside, those involved believe the end result will be more than worth the wait.  Tennent pointed out the project “is part of a group of initiative that are right at the heart of disease control in Canada” while Ewart added the expansion “is just going to be fantastic for the college, for the students who come here and for the University as a whole.”

Construction updates are available on the WVCM website.  Click on the cow wearing the hard hat.

Lucky timing saves money

The stairwell takes shape in the new research wing of the WCVM.

The stairwell takes shape in the new research wing of the WCVM.

Photo by Colleen MacPherson.

Call it a stroke of genius or call it sheer luck.  Either way, some forethought and a hurricane saved the WCVM expansion project a bundle of money.

Cam Ewart, development manager with FMD, explained that a major component of the college expansion is upgrading the building’s main electrical system.  To that end, a tender went out last spring for generators, transformers, switching gear and other large system components.  That tender however, asked for a set price on everything, he said.

Then came Hurricane Katrina.  Prices for electrical equipment escalated “but we had our prices locked in,” he said.  In one case, officials estimate the saving on a particular piece of equipment was $100,000 between price at tender and price at delivery.

The University was also one of the last customers in Canada to receive its equipment before the rest was diverted to the US to help deal with the hurricane disaster

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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