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Decades of experience serving British Columbia’s Lower Mainland
By Paul Adair

 

Founded in 1945, by Walter Zdebiak as a house raising business to serve the greater Vancouver area, the company that would become TerraCana Foundation Solutions, Inc., was purchased by Bob and Jere Vickars of Vickars Developments, Ltd., in 1992. Simon Whippy joined Vickars Developments that year as a labourer and worked his way up to a supervisor position over the next eight years in the underpinning side of the business.

In 2000, Whippy left Vickars Developments to start up his own venture, Southwell Developments, Inc., primarily focusing on helical piling, underpinning, full house lifting and renovation projects. Six years later, Whippy returned and acquired Vickars Developments, changed the name to Vickars Construction, Inc., and began to steer the business towards helical piling and underpinning project work.

The company flourished under this new business model since helical piles were relatively new to the western Canadian construction industry, and few companies could compare to Whippy’s wide-ranging experience in this space. Vickars’ first significant design-build project came in late 2008, working for Peter Kiewit Sons’, Co., on a $392 million cluster of hydroelectric generating facilities in southern B.C., where the company would design custom pole bases for the transmission line structures, which were located within environmentally sensitive areas.

In 2013, the company was rebranded to TerraCana Foundation Solutions, Inc., and brought on Rick Bongers, P. Eng., to provide greater depth of engineering and innovation and, five years later, added Chris Vervaeke, P.Eng., to further expand the project management capabilities, as well as focus on business and organizational development.

Headquartered in Richmond, B.C., TerraCana employs about 35 people and the company views its crews’ industry experience as being one of its most valuable assets. Some of its supervisors have been part of the team since the Vickars days.

“Some of our guys have been around since before TerraCana even existed and we operated as Vickars, and have experienced many different kinds of piles,” said Vervaeke. “We’ve done more unique work with excavator-mounted vibratory pile driving than almost anyone thought possible, and it’s only possible because of the people we have here. Our teams are confident enough to problem solve and try new things, and we are extremely proud of the work they do.”

The breadth of services provided by TerraCana helps to differentiate the company from its competitors. Even though TerraCana may have started out as a helical piling contractor, over the years it has added driven piling using excavators, micropiling, large diameter drilling, continuous flight auger (CFA) piling, down-the-hole (DTH) drilled piling and static load pile testing, and will soon add soil displacement to its list of offerings.

“We’ve largely become technology agnostic, with our goal being to solve a client’s foundation issue with the most economical and efficient piling system possible,” said Vervaeke. “If one technology runs into difficult site conditions, we often have the ability to switch gears and solve the problem with a different method.”

One of TerraCana’s other strengths is their impressive engineering and testing capabilities. TerraCana’s proven ability to redesign piling allows its teams to provide more economical solutions for clients and, by working with project engineers on pile optimization, they are able to come up with unique approaches and methodologies. TerraCana can then test those solutions in-house to give the Engineer of Record and client piece of mind that the solution will satisfy the project requirements.

TerraCana typically takes on projects in the Lower Mainland, up to Squamish, although they will go further afield and have completed large projects throughout B.C., Yukon, Alberta, and Manitoba.

An example of TerraCana’s method of project delivery was at a recent oil and natural gas facility expansion in Alberta. The company was presented with a design for helical piles by the owner’s engineer, but TerraCana felt it would have major installation challenges and a chance for failure. Through a test program, TerraCana was able to demonstrate the original pile design would be insufficient, and that an alternative design from TerraCana would work and provide significant cost savings.

The owner was so impressed with TerraCana’s design and workmanship that over the following two-and-a-half-years, an additional nine scopes of work were transitioned to design-build and directed towards TerraCana. By the project’s completion four years later, the scopes of work included micropiling, helical piling, large diameter drilling, sheet piling and driven piles.

“To this day we’re often called upon to help solve other issues where we can help,” said Vervaeke. “This project was a shining example of how the tight integration of engineering, design and installation teams, along with the breadth of piling technologies, can come together to solve a client’s challenges.”

Employee health and wellness are always top of mind at TerraCana and, while it has maintained a good safety record, the company decided to take it to the next level and completed the Certificate of Recognition (COR) program in early 2021. In being awarded the COR designation, TerraCana verifies it has a fully implemented safety and health program to reduce incidents that meets or exceeds national safety standards.

“Over the last few years, we have also made significant strides in improving the onboarding process for our new hires, and we now have an interactive online video and examination process to show these new hires how work is expected to be performed and how to be safe around equipment,” said Vervaeke. “And since we were awarded COR last year, the [occupational health and safety] team at TerraCana has strived to improve upon the program to ensure that we score even higher on the next safety audit.”

The company also takes its role as an environmental steward to heart and, in an effort to minimize its environmental impact, TerraCana chooses to use hydraulically-powered piling hammers instead of the more commonly used diesel hammers. In addition, the company also aims to recycle 100 per cent of a project’s cutoff and unused steel components, as well as to extract and reuse shoring for future projects whenever possible.

“Because we install helical piles for our test assemblies, we’re able to retrieve and reuse 100 per cent of our test components,” said Vervaeke. “When you compare that to the more traditional methods of providing additional cast-in-place or driven piles without the intention of retrieval, this has perhaps become one of our greatest savings; both in terms of costs and the environment.”

TerraCana’s goal is to uncover further ways to integrate its projects, scheduling, equipment and maintenance. To this end, the company has spent the last few years developing its custom Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. While, the innovative ERP system is only about half complete, it is already seeing a return on investment that has enabled the company to operate with a much leaner project management staff than it could have before.

“We’ve been growing at a pretty rapid pace for the last few years until Covid-19 hit, but as we come out the other side, we’re looking to resume growth,” said Vervaeke. “Our custom ERP solution has been instrumental in allowing us to continue the growth of the organization, minimize the usual pains of siloed information and has helped us to keep the team working together as one.”

Looking ahead, TerraCana hopes to grow its reach further into Western Canada, and expand its services within the large diameter drilling space. The company is also in the process of testing various options for geothermal capabilities to see if helical and pipe piles required as structural support can also serve as a heating and cooling source to create additional value for the piles.

“The piling industry really seems as though it’s headed in the direction of concrete versus steel,” said Vervaeke. “Steel prices are enormously high right now and so anything you can do to save money on a project will be done. This is really what’s driving the move to CFA piles, Kelly augered piles and displacement piles, and we’re recognizing that and trying to move towards that space. Were pretty excited with what’s coming up next for TerraCana.” 

 

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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.