With any construction project, project management is crucial. The process of communicating, strategizing, and planning from the beginning to the completion of a project can be an overwhelming task. To keep a project on track, metrics and project goals must be properly managed to meet each client’s unique requirements.
Enter Vancouver-based Whelan Construction, a general contracting and construction management firm that operates across multiple market sectors including institutional, healthcare, light rail, airport, renewable energy and building performance upgrades.
A cursory scroll through past projects—from the 100-bed community nursing unit in Loughrea, Co. Galway, Ireland to the Pier D Expansion project in Vancouver— demonstrates how Whelan’s founder, Brian Whelan, has been engaged in many notable and challenging projects over his 22 years in the industry.
Q: Being a pioneer in the industry in Ireland and in Canada, how did it all begin, where did you go to school, and how did you get started in the construction industry?
A: After graduating from the Technological University of Dublin and spending some time at ABM Design and Build in Ireland, I moved to Vancouver with my family in 2013, where I continued to hone my skills and expertise working on a variety of project types, many of which were based at Vancouver International Airport. I started Whelan Construction in 2021 and extended its reach into the Metro Vancouver, Fraser Valley, and Squamish-Lillooet regions. We focus on medium-sized institutional, healthcare, light rail, airport, renewable energy, and building performance upgrade projects in the range of $100k-$25M.
Q: What was your background prior to starting Whelan Construction?
A: Prior to founding Whelan Construction, I spent eight years at PCL Constructors Westcoast, where I led several construction projects at Vancouver International Airport. The flagship project was the $230 million Pier D International Expansion project, successfully handed over in January 2021. I also spent seven years at ABM Design and Build in Dublin, where I ran projects at Dublin International Airport as well as several successful education, healthcare, and commercial projects. I also gained valuable mechanical and electrical systems experience at Jones Engineering, and can credit that experience to the valuable mentorship he received at PCL, ABM, and Jones Engineering.
Q: Having a diverse portfolio like that must bring it’s share of challenges, is there one thing that is essential that is key to a successful project build?
A: Communication is essential. The lack of it is one of the fundamental problems when it comes to safety in our industry. There’s a lot of planning, various risk assessments, document management and detailed safety training management required before each project even begins and we ensure all of our key trade partners are completely aligned with our safety procedures throughout the entire project. We value our partnerships as the team recognizes that a best-of-breed approach delivers the best possible outcome for clients.
Q: And that communication is an important element as part of your overall approach to your safety management systems?
A: Absolutely. We believe our proficiencies of quality, service excellence, and due diligence are interconnected and it is particularly evident in our safety management system which lays the foundation for how the team defines excellence on our projects. Safety is, without a doubt, a key core value for us and everything that we do. It’s something that we’ve pushed to the absolute forefront of our approach each and every day. We want to be the company that can educate, coach, and model the correct way to ensure we improve efficiency and performance while keeping everyone safe.
Q: Can you give us an example of a being transparent with a client during the project approach to ensure a successful build?
A: A US-based general contractor, Lease Crutcher Lewis, approached us about a large structural seismic upgrade package for an existing office building in the heart of Gastown. They asked us for recommendations with regards to constructability and asked for a turnkey proposal given our experience in the field. We highlighted some solutions and constructability recommendations given the design was at 75% and we made recommendations to provide them a streamlined turnkey proposal that better suited their needs. We were successful in being awarded the structural seismic upgrade project. The project will increase the existing cable capacity which allows for higher bandwidth services, further enriching Vancouver’s position as a growing global tech hub.
Q: How does one find the right architect for a project?
A: With our architects and highly experienced team of engineers, we collaborate to develop your project design and obtain the documents for permitting and construction. Working closely throughout the process, we ensure a quality design that is made to code and caters to the budget. Once the drawings and contract negotiations are complete, we begin the construction phase. Our superintendents and project managers are experienced, knowledgeable, efficient, and skilled. This enables them to work diligently and deliver a project both on time and on budget. However, we cannot take exclusive credit for the craftsmanship seen on our projects. We join together with a select group of subcontractors, whom we have worked hand-in-hand with over the years. Our subcontractors share the same goals as us, delivering a final product that is of our quality. Our building construction has grown over time and we are proud of what is has turned into today.
Q: How important is to have an organized construction process ensuring the client’s expectations are met during every step of the process?
A: There are various building models out there and it can be confusing for clients. There is no sense to over-think things and have various models that are not interconnected. We simply have a construction management model and a general contracting model. For all our contracting jobs, whether it’s a lump sum contract or construction management contract, we use the same simplified model to keep things transparent for the client.
Q: With aid from a specific management software?
A: Considering the highly technical and complicated nature of its work, we embrace technology across our own operations. We built Whelan as a next-generation construction company with the best-in-class technologies to give us a competitive edge. Everything is cloud-based and we’ve automated some manual, repetitive back office tasks to save time and reduce the risk of human error. Our system unites office and field teams from the design phase to the construction phase and into operations.
Q: What are some of the projects are you currently building?
A: Growth is crucial in the early stages of any business. We have it covered with several outstanding community projects ongoing across Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. We recently finished phase one civil scope of works of the Vancouver International Airport bridge replacement project. We conducted all the excavation, demolition, new deep utility work and the installation of utilities to rehabilitate and upgrade the infrastructure to meet current and future needs. We were awarded phase two of that project which consists of the installation of 6 new bridges at the terminal gates in both domestic and international buildings. We are completing the base building, as well as all the mechanical and electrical scope of work, so we’re excited to start that. The provincial government recently sought the federal government, YVR, and City of Richmond’s support in launching an in-depth study on replacing the Moray Bridge, which forms the Sea Island Way eastbound arterial road crossing over the Fraser River’s middle arm. We also just finished a pre-construction seismic upgrade for Vancouver Airport Property Management and has been awarded the Air Canada Jazz refurbishment project.
Q: Where do you see the company’s future prospects based on a demand for your services?
I’m very optimistic about the company’s future prospects. We will be focusing on a lot on structural upgrade projects in Vancouver and surrounding areas and hopefully we will have an opportunity to partner with Fraser Health Authority to assist in building and equipping their hospitals with new buildings, more operating rooms, and expanding their specialized care options to meet the needs of our communities. In the long term, we plan to invest in offsite modular construction. Coming from Ireland, where we use a lot of system-build solutions for health care facilities, schools, and social housing, I see a big market for it here in Vancouver.