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GRG: A Winning Gamble at Casino

The plasterer of the 19th and early 20th centuries
knew a thing or two about decorative mouldings.
Classical ornamentation was popular and accomplished
plasterers created spectacular details skillfully.
Today’s plastering trade, however, is a differ-ent
beast. Few jobs specify plaster work that rivals
the ornamentation of the past, and as a consequence,
the field is not rife with old-world crafts-people.
But at the new Niagara Casino on the rise
in Niagara Falls, Ont., designers spared no expense
in the design of a lavish interior that is in the fashion
of a Victorian villa. And that posed a problem
for the contracting team.

The job called for about 500,000 square feet of
detailed mouldings at the casino, which is the
biggest gambling hall in Ontario. To complete the
job on time would have required about 200 plasterers
conversant in traditional plastering techniques.
Dan Daly, president of Hamilton-based
P.J. Daly Contracting Limited, says it
wasn’t possible to find that many skilled
plasterers in the region. “Even if we
could have found them, our price for the
job would have probably been double
what it was,” he says.

The solution? Go with glass reinforced
gypsum, better known as GRG, to produce
the intricate designed mouldings.
It meets the job specifications and doesn’t
require old-world craftspeople to
install it.

Developed in the 1960s, GRG evolved
in the late 1970s as a medium for
unusual forms such as the interiors of
historic buildings. It is also specified for
new buildings where a unique or historical
look is sought after—Niagara Casino
is an example.

Division of Labor

P.J. Daly Contracting was in a joint venture
with Toronto’s Cesaroni Contracting
Inc. to complete the gaming portion
of the casino’s interior. Ken Skeates, foreman
of P.J. Daly, says he’s worked on a
couple of theaters specified with equally
ornate mouldings, but he’s never been
on a project that required so many. The
interior contract, which wrapped up in
October 2003, required 140 drywall
applicators and 60 finishers.

P.J. Daly bids most of the big jobs in and
around greater Toronto, and, according
to Daly, this project is almost double the
size of any others in the region over the
past decade. “A $2 million GRG job is
huge,” Daly says, “but at the casino job
the material alone is probably closer to
$6 million.” That $6 million includes
mouldings for two contracts at the casino:
the $17 million base building done
by P.J. Daly and the $10 million casino
interior itself, constructed by the joint

Daly says when his company went looking
for subs that could produce the
mouldings, the idea of using more than
one manufacturer was quickly dismissed
because the complexities of coordinating
the team to meet the fast-track
schedule would have been difficult, if
not impossible. Consequently, the job
was awarded to Formglas, Inc. of Toronto,
the largest producer of GRG mouldings
in the region.

Sean Gerth, technical sales manager of
Formglas, says the big contract is highly
unusual in Canada, or anywhere else
in North America for that matter. The
company has fashioned similar GRG
ornamentation for casinos in Atlantic
City, N.J., and Las Vegas, Nev., but never
has it done anything of this magnitude
in Ontario.

Formglas’s mouldings are a composite of
high density alpha gypsum and glass
fibers. The company uses a continuous
filament glass fiber mat, and lays up all
parts by hand to produce a consistency
of thickness quality and the embedment
of different reinforcement for stiffening,
hanging or face fastening.

Transported to Niagara by truck from
Formglas’s Toronto plant 80 miles away,
the mouldings arrive primed and most
have one finish coat. Taking the pressure
off P.J. Daly and Cesaroni Contracting
in the coordination of delivery of the
mouldings was general contractor PCL
Constructors Canada Inc. Daly says the
GC had a stake in ensuring that the
mouldings were in place in time for
completion of contracts involving millwork,
flooring and other associated
work. “They were meeting with Formglas
as often as we were to ensure that
everything was on time,” Daly explains.

Framing the substructure and installing
drywall and mouldings at the 200,000
square foot gaming portion of the casino
complex started last January with
most work wrapping up this October.
“We’ve done some fast-track jobs but
the never to the degree of difficulty that
we faced here. It was a very labor intensive
job,” Skeates explains.

Detailed Designs

Three areas on the gaming floor that
were particularly tricky for the contractors
due to the extensive details specified
by the designers were the Showtime
Lounge, Casino Buffet and the Salon

GRG mouldings are screw fastened to
the steel-frame substructure. The frame-work
of the substructure consists of a
complex mix of curves, “jogs and ups
and downs,” explains Skeates. “We’ve
got basically every kind of drywall stud
and framing bar and angle that you can
buy to make the substructure. It was
very labor intensive framing work.”
While the bulk of the contract was completed
in October, Daly says the joint
venture has been given until December
to finish the Salon Prive because of its
complex layout.

The interior was designed by Dougall
Design Associates Incorporated of
Pasadena, Calif., which produced drawings
to illustrate mouldings and artwork.
To create the shop drawings from
Dougall’s design, P.J. Daly had to provide
Formglas with precise measurements
of every nook and cranny in the

Getting the substructure layout right
was a big challenge. “Everything had to
be laid out on the floor, then transferred
to the ceiling using plumb lasers and
conventional lasers to pinpoint all the
marks on the ceiling to set our bulk-heads,”
Skeates explains. That method
of installation isn’t unusual, but the
complexity of the casino’s ceiling configuration
made the work complicated.
For the most part, however, the sub-structure
went up “surprisingly well”
with few errors along the way. “We had
to take our time on the layout and keep
back-checking to make sure measurements
were right,” he says.

Rob Blazina, moulding installation foreman
of Cesaroni Contracting Inc., says
the starting points of long lengths of
mouldings work off the center line to fit
prefabricated corner pieces. “You can cut
some off a length but you can’t add anything,
so you really have to pay attention
to your shop drawings.”

Workers were cautious in the early days
until they had the science of installation
down pat. Still, some areas of the ceiling
substructure had to be dismantled and
refitted because mouldings didn’t fit precisely.
“Once we got the hang of how to
put it up, it really went fast,” Blazina
adds. The work had to be coordinated
with mechanical and electrical trades as
many of the mouldings required cut-outs
for everything from spotlights to
fire sprinkler-heads.

The actual installation of GRG mouldings
is relatively easy. They can be cut
just like wood trim using hand and
power tools. While many of the precise
mitered cuts were done in Formglas’s
plant, cuts had to be done on site to
ensure perfect fits. The contracting team
couldn’t afford too many cutting errors
because ordering more mouldings
would eat up valuable time of the warp-speed
schedule. Formglas’s shipments
usually included extra mouldings for
tricky areas. “They have been in this
business so long that they know where
they might need to ship an extra piece
or two, such as where there is a long
mitered corner,” he notes.

What About the Weight?

While GRG mouldings are lighter than
traditional plaster, they still weigh considerably
more than drywall. The ceilings
of the ornate gaming pits, for
instance, are about three times heavier
than a typical drywall ceiling. The extra
weight meant a heavier gauge framing
structure was required to support the
mouldings. “We had to really think
ahead to ensure that there was a lot of
support for them,” Blazina points out.

Once the mouldings are secured to the
substructure, final finishing commences.
Screwholes and joints are filled with
moulding plaster followed by a layer of
sandable drywall compound before
primer and paint was applied. “Nothing
is overlooked,” Skeates says.

Another advantage GRG has over plaster
is that it is easy to “‘marry” cleanly
with drywall. “With plaster,” Skeates
says, “you’d be putting up moulds and
plastering into them. This way you can
finish a lot of your substrate, put on the
moulds and do all your tooling work later.
For the drywall trade this is a much
better way to go.”

Daly says the new casino’s interior will
rival the ornate work P.J. Daly did at the
historic Pantages Theatre in downtown
Toronto. The biggest difference with the
two jobs, is the fast-track schedule at
Niagara. “I could have used double the
time to complete this project, but I
understand the owner’s rationale for it:
It’s a big money-maker for them, so the
sooner it is up and running, the better.”

Daly says his mother Anne Daly played
a major role in P.J. Daly’s efforts to
secure the contract: “She had some concerns
about it, but she told us to do what
we thought was best and that’s why we
went after the job.” Anne, who was the
backbone of P.J. Daly for more than 40
years, passed away May 22, 2002.

When completed in the spring of 2004,
the casino will include 3,000 slot
machines and 150 gaming tables. Over-all,
the casino is part of a 2.5 million
square foot development that includes a
368-room five-star hotel, fine-dining
restaurants, 50,000 square feet of meeting/
conference space, a health spa, a
retail facility and a 1,500-seat theater
overlooking Niagara Falls. The $800
million (Cdn.) site is being developed by
Falls Management Company, led by
Chicago-based Hyatt Corporation.

About the Author

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

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