“For the love of structures”
By: Mudeeha Yousaf
Behind every structure lies engineers and architects that work tirelessly to ensure that their buildings are stable and protect the public. VanBoxmeer & Stranges (VB&S) provide their structural engineering services to architects, owners and institutions both nationally and internationally. The firm excels in providing top of the line, economically viable structural engineering solutions.
Originating in London, Ontario in 1994, VB&S quickly picked up business and expanded its operations to include offices in Niagara Falls and Toronto. Rick Stranges, Vice President and Co-founder, has vast experience within the construction, administration and consulting field. Together with partner and President, Gary VanBoxmeer, he grew his vision of owning his own structural engineering company. “When I was in grade 10 I saw a poster up on the wall for McMaster University Engineering. I thought ‘that sounds interesting.’ I’ve always had the desire to learn about structures and wondered how building stood up,” Rick says. Finding his inspiration from Niagara Falls’ Skylon Tower, situated in Rick’s hometown, and the CN Tower, he studied Engineering at the University of Western Ontario and became a structural engineer. He started his own business “for the love of structures.”
The conception of the firm unknowingly began on a golf course, after the duo were laid off from a consulting firm in London, and foreshadowed the business market to be unstable due to the recession at the time. They made the decision to go into business for themselves and opened the doors to their humble operation in March of 1994. “It was a tough struggle for the first few years, but we stuck with it,” says Rick. Now some twenty years later the firm continues to grow. “I always had a good feeling about this company. I just could not see this company failing. I don’t know if it was a positive attitude or stubbornness, but we are making it happen.”
They feel that behind the scenes they are revolutionizing the profession through the use of their multi-faceted technologies that allow for efficiency in performance and success upon completion. Their staff is comprised of all engineers that have either a degree in engineering or are licensed Professional engineers — something that is not common in structural engineering offices. This all-engineering-staff was a concept both Gary and Rick developed in the early years of VB&S, and after hiring a couple of technologists, they felt that their clients could be serviced more efficiently with this concept in place, which would produce higher quality products by avoiding interpretational errors between engineer and drafting staff.
To stay competitive within the industry, VB&S implements the latest technologies to complete their analysis and design. The way the firm produces its drawings has seen a change over the years, going from 2 dimensional drawings to a 3D platform using BIM (building information modeling) and in particular Revit. “When I first started as an engineer, we were transitioning from drafting by hand to CAD and that was a big step. People had been doing board drawings since the beginning and were then told they had to use AutoCAD,” says Rick. “Now we have transitioned ourselves into BIM software. For structural engineers, the BIM concept comes quite easy because we imagine our structures in 3 dimensions. It’s almost a natural progression for us.” The company has evolved from CAD drawings to constructing the entire building 3-dimensionally in a virtual world using BIM software.
The operational procedure of the business is split into two distinct areas: the design aspect and the drawing aspect. “The design software we use is quite sophisticated and it is the best that we can buy. We rely heavily on analysis software to get us to a building that is economical to construct and to help us understand the behavior of the structure which is something we couldn’t readily do before these programs came along,” he says. As for the drawing production, “BIM was initially requested by the owners once they saw what it could do. They like the coordination aspect of the program between all the different consultants. They don’t want to find out there is an issue while the building is under construction. An interference realized during construction would most likely result in added costs. There are fewer extra costs if the coordination is completed beforehand.”
Heavily focusing on structural building design, the firm also carries out the building assessment, building additions and design of specialty and unique structures that is at their core. Most prominently they provide their services to institutional facilities, such as universities, hospitals, colleges, school boards, governments as well as the private sector. In addition VB&S has completed the design of many recreation and community centres all across Southern Ontario.
The project that kick-started their success was a $20 million Catholic high school in 1999 working with local architects Tillmann Ruth Mocellin (now Tillmann Ruth Robinson). “Tillmann’s went to bat for us on that project when they could have used someone with more experience,” say Rick. This project showed that VB&S was legitimate in working on larger projects. That changed the perception of the company from a small engineering firm to being a bigger player in the industry. Thereafter, they took on a 29-storey hotel in Niagara Falls and “once you start getting into the larger projects, and have success, people start thinking about you differently as someone who knows their work.” Another reputable project that pushed them to another level was Western University’s Recreation Centre – a $35 million project. That project included a major addition to the University’s existing Thompson Arena comprised of five gymnasiums, an Olympic size swimming pool, five squash courts, weight & fitness area, change rooms and a multi-use facility. “We started small; just the two of us working out of my house. We worked long hours to develop a company that produced excellent work. We continue that philosophy and just build on bigger and bigger projects.”
Currently, the firm is in the midst of working on a $100 million development for Wilfrid Laurier University. Working in conjunction with Diamond Schmitt Architects in Toronto, construction is underway for this complex structure. Rick advocates that “you’re only as good as your last project,” and boasts his past projects in enabling them to take on more significant projects through that experience. “[Clients] like the fact that we’re very thorough in our designs and the drawings we produce. Producing complete designs and drawings helps during construction because there are very few questions asked and very little changes that add costs. We do all of the coordination up front before tender,” he says.
The company has gained valuable relationships with its clients, such as the universities they have worked with. “We staff ourselves with a lot of good people that graduated from Western University in their engineering program. The young engineers that they produce are well versed in structural theory and design and we consider them to be high quality.” As well, they have engineers from abroad and find people that excel at the trade to impact the growth of the company. “[It’s] not only a matter of finding the right skills, but people that fit into the company. It’s just as important that the people we hire can integrate into our family.”
VB&S stays active through its countless client relationships that give them their business on account of their ongoing trust and respect. “We provide our clients with a competitive fee and excellent service,” closes Rick. “We work hard to make sure we have a great product from start to finish and a satisfied client in the end.”
For more information on VanBoxmeer & Stranges, visit www.vbands.com