Big Biz at Airport

Don Procter

November 2005

It’s not often that a drywall contractor gets five years and $40 million worth of work out of one project. But that is the case for Select Drywall Acoustics Inc., now in its fifth year at the massive overhaul of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

One of the largest drywall contractors in the Greater Toronto Area, Select Drywall is currently working on its second wall and ceiling contract (phase two) at the airport. The $9.5 million contract is for a new pier with 31 airplane bays extending 1,000 feet from the new terminal. The 12-month job is Select’s biggest this year.

The contract is straightforward enough, with much of the job consisting of repetitive assembly work. What sets it apart from other projects is that Select and other subcontractors at the site are bound by a contract clause stipulated by project manager PCL/AECON, A Joint Venture, that could have them paying out big bucks for their mistakes. The clause stipulates that when a subcontractor’s work causes delays or hampers other subs, that contractor must pay for any necessary back charges.

The clause has resulted in a "strong team approach,” points out Bruce McCallum, project coordinator of Select. "It forces us to go to coordination meetings with all the mechanical trades. If, say, I have to put in hangers, and the mechanical contractor runs ducts over my hangers, then I have to bridge with a 6-inch stud. The problem then is that the electrician can’t get his light fixtures in because he needs 8 inches so I have to ask the mechanical contractor to move his duct over 3 inches to allow for my hanger.”

To avoid getting into such predicaments, each subcontractor must closely examine other subs’ drawings to ensure that if there is a design conflict, the necessary adjustments are made before construction goes ahead. "It’s a symbiotic relationship,” he says.

McCallum says it takes some getting used to, but the team approach is working well and is a good reason why Select is three weeks ahead of schedule at the fast-track project. That’s no small feat considering the nature of the project and the additional approval processes required to meet tough fire-rated wall-assembly standards initiated since 9/11.

Once preliminary design approvals are in place, Select must go through a number of inspections at each stage of construction that weren’t required before 9/11.

New, for example, is the airport manager’s use of a fire rating inspection company to assess construction at different stages. Inspections include wall assemblies, insulation, paint and expansion joints.

Drywall contractors obtain more information from their suppliers about proper construction procedures such as limiting height and horizontal tolerances of wall assemblies. Also, free inspections of the wall assembly are available through the supplier, BPB Westrock.

McCallum points out that since 9/11 drywall crews need to know more about engineering. His foremen, for example, must understand the deflection limitation of a shaftwall and how it reacts at different heights. Also, crews must be familiar with the minimum and maximum stud requirements at the end walls; know to stagger drywall installed over drywall at joints; and make any turns at 90 degrees.

The day may come, he says, when it is up to drywall contractors to engineer fire-rated wall assemblies from a set of generic drawings.

In conjunction with Select’s contract, another major Toronto drywall company, Downsview Drywall Ltd., is working on the hammerhead section of new terminal.

About the Author
Don Procter is a free-lance writer in Ontario, Canada.