Transformation: The Story of Creating EBW
There is No Substitute for Great Thinking and Hard Work
“Anybody contemplating a project like this needs to be told up front, it will take a decade. Are you prepared to do that?”
—Glenn Garwood, former project manager, City of Toronto
From initial concepts to opening day, Evergreen invested eight years in transforming the Brick Works. “Nobody knew it was going to take eight years,” says Seana. Nobody internally maybe, but the external supporters were ready for the long haul.
“Projects of this complexity and magnitude take a decade from conception to completion. They all do,” says Glenn. “And I didn’t say that to Evergreen at first, because I didn’t want to crush their spirit. But it soon became apparent to them that this was not a quick turn-around; that they had to redouble their focus and redouble their efforts.”
Evergreen’s efforts were substantial for the duration of the project, and the organization learned a lot about project and financial management. “At no point in the process do you just stand back and let the professionals get it done,” says Cameron Charlebois. “Everything has to be readjusted, value engineered, changed again.” The level of Evergreen’s engagement remained high during construction and right into operations. “If an organization doesn’t have that capacity, I wouldn’t suggest trying it at all,” he says.
“I guess I would describe the last year of construction as one of mind-crushing detail.”
—David Stonehouse, General Manager of Evergreen Brick Works
The construction challenges associated with the unique conditions of the site forced extra creativity and detail from the entire project team. “If you think of the office floors in a big building, the top storey is different, the ground floor and the basement are different, but there is a huge level of repetition,” says David House. “So once you get one of those office floors designed and built you just do the same thing over and over again. With this project there is no repetition. Plus there are the heritage issues, which add more complexity. It means that you have to pay super attention to every piece of every building.”
“Never, ever, ever, ever run out of money.”
— David House, Development Advocate, Evergreen Brick Works
Throughout the pressures and pulls inherent in the process, it was important for Evergreen to stay focused on its mission. This came at a certain price.
David House remembers the radiator debacle: “This building is equipped with a radiator device that is made in Austria. It was not available in Canada until we found it and until Evergreen decided they wanted to use it. And by the time we made that decision, we had to re-engineer essentially the entire heating system for the building. And then we had to install devices that had essentially never been installed in Canada before. And make them all work.
“That would never happen in a commercial development world. But there’s a strong view by Evergreen staff that these devices are better and are more efficient, and need to be more commonly available. This is the opportunity to start that process.” So systemic change might take more time and money and frustration and aggravation, but there is no other way to do it.
Evergreen’s project management, by necessity, extended into much more stringent financial modeling and analysis, and initial financing from the Royal Bank of Canada made construction possible. “You’ve got to start paying your bills,” says Tom Scoon. “You can’t easily stop construction. It gets too expensive to restart it—both in time and money.”
David House agrees: “One of the other great skills that Evergreen brings is finding the right people. Evergreen’s CFO Amy Stein brought serious financial modeling, from a control-based accounting perspective. And having those skills is almost more important than having all of the design and construction skills and all that kind of technical knowledge.”
To help manage costs and the construction process, David House served as Evergreen’s “developer advocate.” Among David’s many recommendations, building contingency for things you cannot anticipate and bringing in a very good cost estimator, who reports just to you as client, will help keep costs in check.
“Do you want toilets that flush or do you want solar panels in the shape of a fish?”
— Seana Irvine, chief operating officer, Evergreen
“We had spent the first few years working through concepts, renderings and options, adding new staff and consultants as needed. But once the ground was broken the stakes were a lot higher, and costs began to escalate by unprecedented degrees. We needed more focus and decisive leadership than ever before,” says Seana Irvine.
This felt like a shift from the high degree of creativity and flexibility that had brought the project to this stage. As cost pressures grew, ambitions and budget were reconciled and the team was faced with tough decisions. Certain elements of the project had to be let go, to be revisited possibly in future phases.
While Evergreen had kept its core group of program partners involved through the planning phase and many had participated in early site programming, locking down details for construction meant revisiting their plans and determining if they were still ready and willing to commit.
It had been five years since the original program thinking and partnerships had been struck. Five years is a long time in the life of an organization or a small business. For some, their organization’s priorities had shifted and the project no longer made sense for them strategically. Some groups did not have the ability to raise the dollars to commit, while for others, the internal champion for the project had moved on. Those who were able to officially sign up had the most invested financially and strategically in making the Brick Works part of their organization’s DNA.
As with becoming a developer, becoming a landlord to program partners was also new territory for Evergreen. Staff were brought in with the skill to negotiate leasing terms, while program staff focused on program collaborations to support site animation.
Despite the challenges and the long haul, Evergreen tried to remain conscious of the little victories along the way. It was important to recognize that incremental progress is still progress. It is this notion of “relentless incrementalism” that got the project to the finish line.
“Literally, the whole process was a matter of inches and millimetres, and hours and minutes,” says David House. “So it was more demanding than I would have imagined. And it is a better learning curve than you could ever participate in anywhere else.”
Although the duration was long, deadlines were still tight. Time was on everybody’s mind. “September 2010 was a fascinating month for us because the staff moved into their new offices, we opened the site to the public and we weren’t at all finished with the construction,” says David Stonehouse. “The glass for the donor wall exhibit was installed the morning of the opening from five in the morning until five at night. I mean, we were escorting the tools of the trades out one door as the public was coming in another door and into the cocktail reception.”
“Big projects running down to the wire are common— whether it is a big bank deal or a construction project,” says lawyer Kim Harle. “Often these things are really down to the eleventh hour. Sometimes that’s just what it takes to get it done.”