3 Civic Plaza, a mixed-use complex Surrey City Centre.
The construction industry has experienced a vast amount of change and disruption in the past few months. At no other time in recent history with the arrival of COVID-19 have companies faced such extraordinary challenges. How quickly businesses adapt to sudden shifts is critical to their survival and success.
Century Group, a real estate development company based in New Westminster, Canada, has seen its share of economic ups and downs since its founding more than six decades ago. Still, the company has not only stayed in business it has thrived in a very competitive industry.
JOBSITE recently spoke with David Hanson, Vice President of Construction at Century Group, to talk about innovation, long-term strategic planning, COVID-19, and the importance of trust.
JOBSITE: You’ve been in business for more than six decades in an industry that is highly competitive and unpredictable, what would you say are the key drivers for your continued growth and success?
David Hanson: Buy and bank land 25 years ago, hire good people who understand and support collaboration and don’t bite off more than your current company capacity can chew.
J: Can you tell us a little about how Century Group came to be?
DH: In 1957, founder George Hodgins bought his first parcel of land in Delta and started building residential homes in Tsawwassen. George launched a real estate business that rapidly took the lead in the development of South Delta. He pioneered the local use of mixed-use development, combining different types of housing like single-family homes with apartment buildings, and then expanding this to include retail/commercial suites. Legacy projects include Pebble Hill, Century Village, and Tsawwassen Town Centre Mall.
Hodgins also started to manage residential assets. In 1983, he took strategic advantage of the company’s operational expertise in property management and purchased an interest in Barbican Properties. Barbican was created to enhance the value of properties acquired by the bank through foreclosure. Some were sold, others held as investments. Century acquired Barbican outright in 2001.
In 2001, as the construction of a mixed-use residential development in Langley neared completion, a group of seniors approached and asked us to develop a space for them. The resulting building, Magnolia Gardens, became the first of Century’s current portfolio of four seniors residences within the Bria Communities brand.
In 2006, George retired and left the company in the hands of his son, Sean. Under Sean’s leadership, Century Group has continued to flourish. We create walkable, mixed-use communities with a wide range of housing options in urban, suburban, and even rural areas, from Tsawwassen to Vancouver Island. With every project, we push the boundaries of what we can do with space through mixed-use community-building.
Our hospitality division oversees our successful restaurant and hotel brands, from Coast Tsawwassen Inn and Browns Socialhouse in South Delta to Civic Hotel, Autograph Collection, part of the Marriott International portfolio of boutique hotels, and Dominion Bar + Kitchen in Surrey City Centre.
Our Construction division, Century Grange Construction Corp., was started in 2017 through the acquisition of an existing home builder with 25 years of operational experience (Portrait Homes). This division delivers our own high-quality construction services for low-rise wood construction projects like Viridian Homes in South Surrey, Solaro in Langley and Southlands
J: What are some of the biggest challenges Century Group has faced and how did Century overcome them?
DH: Getting everybody on board with a systematic approach to project management was one of our biggest challenges we had to overcome as we took on more complex projects. It was fine to have a single project manager working with a coordinator and a basic document management system when all we were building was a small townhome project. The projects we now undertake have as many as a dozen people contributing and collaborating internally and sever external consultants. Having clearly documented objectives and scope statements and work plans, as basic as that might be, is critical to ensure the work is aligned. Procore is but one piece of the system that is part of enabling a larger cultural shift to the discipline of project management we have had to adopt.
J: How important is innovation for Century Group?
DH: Century Group builds dynamic, thoughtful communities that connect and inspire people. For over 60 years, we have built a diverse portfolio of real estate development projects in a range of asset classes across the Metro Vancouver region, from landmark mixed-use towers in urban centres to reengineered suburban neighbourhoods that emphasize walkability.
“When we make intelligent, bold use of design and technology to build better and smarter projects, we become a force for positive change in the world.”– David Hanson, VP of Construction at Century Group
Our innovative approach to design defines every one of our built environments. Each project is carefully planned around existing amenities, housing, and public spaces. In tailoring what we build to integrate with the local environment, we create complete, sustainable communities that provide for the needs of the people who live and work there.
We make creative use of technology. For example, the design of the in-building energy system at 3 Civic Plaza captures waste energy from the public spaces, stores it, and exchanges it to meet the needs in other parts of the building, such as for domestic hot water. This system significantly reduces the need for outside energy inputs, an important win as fuel costs increase.
At Southlands, development pioneers a style of land use that is unprecedented in Canada. Here, we have married a community farm and a marketplace to sell locally-grown food, and to engage community members in local food production with their own allotment gardens.
We also look to establish the communities we build in areas where public transit is easily accessible. Three of our developments in Surrey City Centre are next to stations for the elevated rail line, which connects riders to a massive, region-wide network of public transportation services that makes car-free living a reality.
Constructed in 2007, the Oliva combined 48 condominiums with sidewalk-level services and a public pedestrian plaza in Tsawwassen’s own centre. The development seamlessly integrated residential with surrounding retail and service-oriented sites and was one of our first applications of urban density to suburban development.
Citypoint is a residential development in Surrey in which urban principles like sustainability were applied to revitalize an existing suburb. It included 452 suites in two residential towers, with ground-level retail and commercial spaces. Completed in 2010, the two towers were one of the top-rated residential developments in British Columbia for their use of built-in environmental technologies designed to reduce energy and water consumption.
The Ridge is a multi-phase residential development in the Hammond Bay area of Nanaimo. Located on the side of a mountain, the development protects and maintains as much of the natural environment as possible. Groups of two and three energy-efficient homes are clustered in order to increase privacy and keep forested land intact. The use of pavement has also been minimized to avoid unnecessary disruption of existing greenspace.
Northgate is a multi-use complex located in Tsawwassen. Here, we’ve combined different sizes of townhouses with an office tower (containing retail and service units) and a small seniors’ residence (one of our Bria assets). These are all connected via a courtyard to inspire social gatherings and maximize walkability. This is one of the only existing multi-use developments to prioritize a multi-generational connection among tenants of the residential and commercial spaces.
In 2014, we undertook the restoration and complete refurbishment of the Ormidale Block, a badly deteriorated but architecturally significant building in a historic district of Vancouver. The building’s exquisite façade was carefully reconstructed according to rigorous and extensive municipal heritage standards. Behind the restored façade, we constructed a modern, highly energy-efficient office building with two floors of retail space and a rooftop patio.
At Century Group, we believe in the power of creatively built environments to transform lives. When we make intelligent, bold use of design and technology to build better and smarter projects, we become a force for positive change in the world.
J: Where do you think Century Group will be in the coming years? What are its goals for the future?
DH: Century Group is currently undertaking some of the most exciting development projects in Metro Vancouver. Our acquisition focus is on new construction sites for seniors housing, rental apartments and boutique office spaces.
J: When did you first start using Procore and what were you using before?
DH: Century Group first started using Procore in late Q3-2018. Prior to that, our staff managed all Real Estate Development projects with a basket of applications. For Project Management we tracked costs with Yardi and relied upon an MS-Exchange Server to support an MS Office Suite and MS Project for communication, analysis, and reporting. Design Consultant drawing file management was outsourced to a traditional “Blueprint” supplier that had a drawing management platform we could log-in to for drawing PDFs.
J: How has COVID-19 impacted your projects and how are you working through the pandemic?
DH: In reality, COVID-19 has had more impact on our daily lives than it has on our construction projects. Apart from some minor labour shortages due primarily to self-isolation requirements, Century Grange Construction Corp. has managed well to keep our projects on schedule with only minor unplanned budget expenditures.
We attribute our success to strategic planning conceived and implemented by Century Group’s Senior Executive Team (SET) long before the pandemic changed the world. To elaborate, our corporate “Great Leap Forward” initiative, a piece of our strategic plan, allowed CG to mobilize all of our project staff with mobile technology packages as their standard equipment. So all key management staff are equipped with laptops, cellphones and tablets all using G-suite apps, docu-sign and Procore. This newly completed mobility allowed our Project Managers, Superintendents, Project Coordinators and others to work fully connected and supported with the project data, documents and connections to team members that allow them to efficiently perform their jobs.
“When COVID-19 caused the shutdown of certain sectors of the economy, we proactively increased safety awareness through additional training and modified standard protocols.”
Other successful decisions that contributed to carrying on was the inclusion of some best-in-class site amenities for our construction personnel. This included site trailers with hot & cold running water and dedicated washroom trailers complete with hot showers. While these Jobsite amenities were originally added to boost workforce morale and productivity, they are now essentially a regulatory on-site requirement to properly deal with COVID-19.
When COVID-19 caused the shutdown of certain sectors of the economy, including some construction projects, we at CG proactively increased safety awareness through additional training and modified standard protocols. In addition, we implemented new checkpoints that track all site personnel egress. Additional staff were hired to monitor subcontractor activity on-site to minimize potential contact. COVID-19 related signage was strategically placed in and around the projects. Signage on sidewalk sandwich boards were added so we could move them around to keep the distancing messaging fresh in the minds of our site teams. Numerous hand sanitizer stations were installed proximal to new building egress points along with more running-water handwashing stations.
J: What advice would you give to construction companies facing unexpected challenges like COVID-19?
DH: As construction professionals, we all know that to survive in this industry we must take great care to plan our work and remain disciplined to work through that plan. However, remaining productive during this pandemic required more than just a good plan. It required strong leadership that could filter out the noise of misinformation and panic while maintaining focus on a previously well-conceived and long-term strategic plan. We all faced the unknown threats and tragedies of COVID-19 together.
CG avoided shutting down construction and development operations by adapting to the new occupational health requirements, by retaining our staff, and by ensuring our accounts payable were kept current. Effective communications were maintained through video conferencing and Procore’s project management platform, which all ultimately strengthened our corporate relationships. Century Group committed significant efforts to create a robust remote work environment. We accomplished this with the right planning, people, mobile equipment and cloud technology.
With all that technological capacity in place, however, we still needed to trust in the strength of our company culture that our employees would continue to work diligently for the company no matter where they were located. We extended that trust, and it worked.
Remember to be kind, be calm, and be safe.