BDA Inc. is a Toronto based general contracting company specializing in renovations and additions in the commercial and institutional space. The company was originally founded in 1997 by Brad Daniels and Toccar Brown. Daniels and Brown built the company on their three core values which are to “work ethically, respect our business partners, and build long-term relationships with our trades, consultants, and clients.” It is these core values that form the foundation of BDA Inc. and remain strongly in place today, only now with a brand-new management team to uphold them.
Today, BDA’s management team is led by President Lewis Cowan, alongside Vice Presidents Hallex Kong and Domenic Peragine. As well as President of BDA, Cowan is also Chair of the Ontario General Contracting Association, a position he gained last year having sat on the Board of Directors for six years. The construction industry in Canada has picked up significant pace in recent years and someone in Cowan’s position is far from short of things to do. I am grateful to him for taking some time out of his busy schedule to tell me all about BDA and its many successful endeavors.
“We do a lot of post-secondary work, and work for the Provincial Government and municipalities,” Cowan says. “We also work in hospitals, community centers, libraries, and many different institutional facilities. One way of putting it, is that if there’s a public dollar attached to the funding of the project, we are likely to work with that client. The commercial work we do tends to be for commercial institutions that act like public sector institutions, like large banks, insurance companies, sophisticated clients.” BDA procures most of its work through the competitive bid process and the Stipulated Lump Sum form of contract, and the values of its projects range between three and fifty million. “The sweet spot for us is somewhere between seven and fifteen million,” Cowan says. “Typically, our projects are designed by an Architect, put out to tender, and then we submit a bid. It’s not all based on price – there is often a technical component as well where we have to submit a technical proposal, and if we are successful we get the project.” BDA also provides some projects under the Design Build method which Cowan says, “is a bit of a growth sector for us in the coming years.”
When talking about the General Contracting service that BDA provides, Cowan gives the example of the Michener Institute Health Care Education Lab. “We started that project in January 2019 and finished that December. It was a 4.5 million dollar and 15,000 square foot new medical training facility on the 12th floor of the Michener Institute. The project included the creation of an operating room simulation laboratory, capable of broadcasting live, domestically and internationally. There was a lot of Audio Visual and IT integration required. Now we are doing a second project with the same BDA team; the same Project Manager and Site Superintendent.”
An interesting aspect of BDA’s offering, and one we hear less about in the General Contracting sphere, is Construction Management, which Cowan says is “becoming an increasingly large part of what we do.” This type of project sees the BDA team involved very early on in the design with significant influence over making the project more successful before it goes out to tender. “We are often dealing with very specific challenges or design issues that allow the architect to better refine the design and provide value to the client,” Cowan says of this service before following up with some examples. “We’re currently working on a new build 5-storey, Salvation Army project in Downtown Toronto which is meant to start in the summer. We have been involved in that project for about a year, working on cost-savings with the owner and efficiency of design to make it a more successful project because they have some budgetary constraints. Another example is a project for Harbourfront Toronto, where we have provided Design Build for the Mechanical and Electrical components, and Construction Management for the rest of the project. We have also been appointed as Construction Managers for a Ground Water Research Centre at the University of Guelph. We will be giving them feedback on the design and final pricing so they can ensure the project goes ahead within budget.”
A standout project of BDA’s, and another one on which it provided Construction Management, was Université de l’Ontario français. This was a fast-track project on account of funding being secured quite suddenly after it had previously been revoked during a change of government. “They weren’t expecting it,” Cowan says of the funding, “so they procured the management consulting and the architect quite quickly. Then they put out an RFP for Construction Management at the same time and we were brought on board within four to six weeks of the architect being involved.” As the appointed Construction Managers on the project, BDA gave lots of time-efficient budgetary feedback and worked on cost savings with the whole team. “Then we tendered all the scopes of work and started on-site,” says Cowan. “It was a really fast paced and challenging undertaking with supply chain issues, and a very aggressive timeline to complete the large volume of space. The client had tight budget constraints which put pressure on some of the decision making before awarding some of the subcontractors.” BDA is a company that is deeply involved in the public sector where funding and timelines are often volatile, and this particular project paints a picture of how these jobs can sometimes play out. Nonetheless, Université de l’Ontario français was nothing short of a huge success.
“Our team worked very closely with the management consultants and the architect to make it a success.”
Université de l’Ontario français
Photos by Tom Arban Photography Inc.
“Our team worked very closely with the management consultants and the architect to make it a success,” Cowan reflects. “Once we procured all the subcontractors the actual build on site went very smoothly. There was a really collaborative approach with the entire team; probably one of the finest examples that I’ve seen of a Construction Management project working well with everyone working towards the same goal.” As President of the company, Cowan is often only involved in projects from an oversight perspective, and it is always a good sign if, as is the case here, “there were not a lot of issues I had to be involved in.” Given that it came about amidst a pandemic, the fact that Université de l’Ontario français was completed remotely speaks to the success of the project and the team behind it. “The RFP came out two months into the pandemic and construction began in the middle of it,” he says. “I don’t believe there was a single construction meeting completed on site with the full team there. To deal with the timeline constraints we had in the environment we were in – it was really successful.”
While they’ve proven that successful projects can be completed remotely, when it comes to the construction industry there is simply no substitute for face-to-face interaction, and this is what BDA looks forward to into the future. “One thing I’ve really seen come back to life is the importance of relationships,” Cowan says. “Getting back to in-person events and site meetings, being able to actually meet together on-site and look at the project that we’re building and that the clients will be occupying, really gives us the opportunity to collaborate and complete really successful projects. I think through the pandemic that was missing a little bit.”
When it comes to the pandemic, a shared gratitude can be felt throughout the construction industry for the fact that it was one of the few sectors that was able to not only continue to work, but be successful in such a challenging environment. This gratitude comes to light in conversation with people like Cowan who is equipped now with the experience of guiding a construction company through the unprecedented global event that was COVID-19. “Even though we were impacted, the industry has been very good throughout the past few years,” he says. “As a company that’s strong in the public sector we are confident that the pipeline of projects is going to continue, and we are really well positioned to take advantage of that. We are busy at the moment with lots of exciting opportunities coming up, and there is no reason why BDA can’t continue to grow. In construction we are moving forward and becoming more embracing of technologies and efficiencies, and I think through strong relationships with existing clients we will be able to go on to bigger and better things.”