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PCL uses largest freestanding crane in company history for Winnipeg tower

Jun 09, 2024

Even after many decades of building some of the biggest projects in the country, PCL Constructors Canada Inc. is still breaking new ground.

The company recently erected its tallest ever freestanding crane for the construction of the Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company’s new office tower in downtown Winnipeg.

“We just took down our tower crane,” said David Van Hooren, senior construction manager with PCL, in an interview on Jan. 31.

“It’s hook height, without any tiebacks, was 93.1 metres. That was a neat feature of this construction.”

Van Hooren said dealing with high winds proved tricky when using such a tall freestanding hammerhead crane, but the greatest challenge was on the ground.

“The design of the base. That was an enormous concrete base and we’re actually still jackhammering it out now,” he said.

“It was an enormous base with three rock-socketed caissons supporting it. Logistically and planning wise that was the hardest part – figuring out how we we’re going to hold this tall crane up.”

Using a freestanding crane was best for this project due to spatial constraints.

“You have to leave a crane so that it can weathervane in the wind. You can’t have it so it rotates into anything,” he said.

“We had two choices. We could have used a luffing crane, which would have allowed us to not encroach on the neighbouring building, or, if we wanted to use a hammerhead, we had to clear the height of the neighbouring building and a hammerhead crane is probably 30 per cent more efficient than a luffing crane.

“We really worked hard to find a solution that allowed us to use the hammerhead crane. That was the impetus to push for something unique.”

PCL is entering its 25th month of construction on the Wawanesa Insurance Tower, a 23-storey office building for Wawanesa in the True North Square in Winnipeg.

Despite COVID-19 and global supply chain issues, construction has gone relatively smoothly. PCL is on schedule for completion this year, said Van Hooren.

“Collectively, our entire team (PCL, Wawanesa and developer True North Real Estate Development) did a great job. When COVID hit, they didn’t panic, they didn’t hit the stop button.”

Van Hooren said his team could see the writing on the wall as global supply chain disruptions started becoming apparent, enabling them to refocus their logistics to avoid any stoppages.

“We put in a program in our tendering process to our trades to get stuff here long before it was needed and store it,” he said.

“We built that into our tendering program and I’m thankful everyday that we forced that issue with the trades. We had warehouses full of stuff that we didn’t need for months.”

The weather also proved challenging.

“We went through the worst winter in 20 years last year, what we deemed as ‘abnormally adverse,’” said Van Hooren.

“We poured our level three slab on Dec. 21, (2021) and we did not pour level four until into late February and into March. We’re usually pouring a floor every seven to eight days in normal weather. We basically lost eight straight weeks to weather.

“You only overcome that with a very collaborative client and designer process and then a lot of dedication to closing those gaps. We lost eight weeks and still finished the concrete structure within two weeks of our original plan.”

The tower is being built exclusively for Wawanesa Insurance. Van Hooren said it is the first time in his career that he has built a project of this scale for a single tenant.

He said the market for office space is changing and customers are looking to de-densify and upgrade amenities to entice employees back into the office in a post-COVID, remote work world.

Wawanesa and True North both pushed to ensure the building is Manitoban through and through.

“We’ve got a made-in-Manitoba developer in True North, a born and bred tenant from a very small town in Wawanesa, a contractor – PCL – who’s national but has been in Manitoba for 60 years, Architecture49 has been a local fixture for decades and most of our trade contractors are local,” he said.

“That’s a source of pride for Manitobans. It’s a homegrown solution.”

Follow the author on Twitter @JOC_Evan.

Follow the author on Twitter @JOC_Evan.