DCN ARCHIVES

September 22, 2004

A rendering of the $38-million Yee Hong Garden Terrace project which is under construction in Scarborough, Ont.

Image courtesy CXT ARCHITECTS INC.

Fledgling contractors find their wings

BY PATRICIA WILLIAMS

STAFF WRITER

Toronto-based Lewis Builds Corp., an independently owned Canadian contracting firm that is affiliated with 118-year old Lease Crutcher Lewis (LCL) of Seattle, is making inroads in the local construction market since its establishment a year ago.

The firm, which has a staff of 12 in its Scarsdale Road office and several more in Vancouver, is currently working on a $38-million seniors’ housing project in Scarborough, Yee Hong Garden Terrace. It is also gearing up to start work on a 252-unit, $25-million lowrise condominium in Toronto.

Albert Chow (left) and Chase Pense.

In Mississauga, Lewis Builds recently completed a $500,000 renovation of the information system and occupational health departments at the Credit Valley Hospital. The firm since has been prequalified to bid on a $90-million, secondphase expansion at that hospital.

Further afield, in Cambridge, Ont., Lewis Builds has been retained by a property developer to build a $21-million condominium building.

The firm is currently in negotiations with the developer for a second residential project in that city.

Drawing on resources from LCL’s Seattle office, Lewis Builds constructed a 3,500-square-foot pharmaceutical pilot plant in Vancouver. It is currently renovating an historic apartment building there as well, at an estimated cost of $3 million.

“We’ve been swamped,” said general manager and partner Albert Chow, a professional engineer with 19 years of experience in the industry who co-founded Lewis Builds with Chase Pense, a construction professional who has worked both in Toronto and Seattle.

Chow and Pense, the firm’s operations manager, who has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Toronto as well as a civil engineering degree from Washington University, met while working at a contracting company in Toronto.

“We formed Lewis Builds after LCL came up here following a client who wanted to develop a $100-million commercial project,” Chow recalled.

“They didn’t have the resources here to service that client, so they phoned Chase, who was the only person they knew in Toronto.

“Chase and I got together and established the company to facilitate that deal, which subsequently fell through. We then had to scramble and bid work.”

The new company landed the Yee Hong Garden Terrace project in May of last year.

Completion is scheduled for early next year on the 308-unit project.

Lewis Builds, which can draw on the financial resources of its U.S. affiliate, acts as a general contractor, construction manager, design-builder and consultant.

It is targeting a broad range of projects, from multi-family urban residential developments to commercial, industrial and institutional projects.

“We figure half our work will be multi-unit residential,” said Chow, who has a civil engineering degree from the University of Saskatchewan and has been involved in construction of more than 12,000 units of multiunit housing and several million square feet of commercial space.

The firm also has several designbuild proposals in the works—for biomedical, commercial and residential facilities.

Chow said Lewis Builds has not had a tough time getting a foot in the door in the local construction market.

“We are finding that a lot of projects come to us,” Chow said.

“The company’s reputation is built on the reputation of its personnel. We literally are getting handed work.”

Chow said the company, which is celebrating its first anniversary this evening with a gala open house, is bidding projects more aggressively now that it has its operations firmly up and running.

Lewis Builds is eyeing large projects, valued at more than $50 million.

“While we operate as two independent companies, we can draw on the bonding and financial capability of Lease Crutcher Lewis which has a bonding capacity of more than $700 million,” Chow said.

“That puts us in the top 10 in Canada.”

The company’s manager of preconstruction services is construction industry veteran Tom Hall, a former chairman of the general contractors’ division of the Toronto Construction Association and a past director of the Ontario General Contractors Association.

Hall is a former owner of R.G. Kirby Construction, which merged with Cloke-Kirby Construction in 1990. He sold the company a year later.

“I took some time off, did a bit of travelling—and got bored,” Hall said. “When Albert and Chase offered me an opportunity to join Lewis Builds, I grabbed it. I’m having the time of my life.”

Before taking the plunge, Hall checked out the firm’s reputation with contacts in the industry— including several trade contractors who had done work for the newly minted company.

“All of them said they would jump at the opportunity to work for Lewis again,” said Hall who joined the firm in March of this year.

“That meant a lot to me.”

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