Tower builders find ways to beat disruption for neighbours

Headphones, off-peak construction hours among tactics to appease office workers

 
 
Marta Jackson of Omni Warranty Corp. and her staff wear noise-cancelling Bose headphones provided by Oxford Properties, which is building an office tower next door.
 

Marta Jackson of Omni Warranty Corp. and her staff wear noise-cancelling Bose headphones provided by Oxford Properties, which is building an office tower next door.

Photograph by: Les Bazso, PNG , Vancouver Sun

 

Downtown Vancouver is undergoing an office tower construction boom, which will add a combined 1.2 million square feet of space and go a long way toward rectifying a shortage in the business core.

But all that construction bodes poorly for workers in neighbouring offices, who will have to put up with noise, dirt and other major disruptions for at least two years.

Oxford Properties Group, which is developing the 35-storey MNP Tower at 1021 West Hastings, is trying to make things easier for tenants in its surrounding office towers while the construction is underway.

Marta Jackson, vice-president of operations for Omni Warranty Corp, which leases a floor and a half of the Marine Building, at 355 Burrard, is particularly grateful for the 25 noise-cancelling Bose headphones that Oxford gave to her staff.

"There was a time when it was really, really noisy," said Jackson, whose company provides after-market warranties for the auto industry. "[The headphones] were fantastic and they let us keep them. You can listen to nothing or listen to music."

Some of the steps Oxford has implemented include modifying construction schedules around tenants' client meetings, providing complimentary shoe shine stations to tackle dirt and dust, moving tenants to temporary office spaces when anticipating higher noise levels, and offering the Bose headphones to minimize disruptions during the work day.

"Near is an understatement," Jackson said of her company's proximity to the construction activity. "Literally, my office wall is immediately next to the building they just took down. That's how close I am. They've been proactive in giving us notification of when the noise would happen. There were four weeks of heavy drilling and, literally, our walls were vibrating.

"They really tried to leave a solid window of quiet in the middle of the day. And that was an important thing for us, having the flexibility of a solid block for a full day's work."

Derek Page, Oxford Properties' director of real estate management for Vancouver, said keeping tenants happy is important during the construction stage. "It [MNP Tower] is a great addition, but the last thing we want is a shiny new tower with a bunch of unhappy tenants in our adjoining towers."

He said the work could potentially affect 2,700 people in 80 offices in Oxford's nearby buildings - the Guinness Tower, 1055 West Hastings; Marine Building; and Oceanic Plaza, 1066 West Hastings - as well as The Shaw Tower and Fairmont Pacific Rim, which are not Oxford buildings. He said there's plenty of vibration, noise and dust emanating from the construction site, especially during the excavation period, and Oxford sought feedback from tenants on how the discomfort could be mitigated.

He said temporary meeting rooms were arranged in the Oceanic Plaza, which is less affected than the other buildings, as well as putting in a new fitness centre in the Marine Building and bike locker in the Guinness Tower.

"Our primary concern is ensuring our customers stay with us," said Page, who noted the measures have cost Oxford about $100,000, including $12,000 for the Bose headphones.

"And we haven't lost any tenants, which is great."

Page said one of the main challenges came during a particularly noisy period in April and May, when construction schedules were altered so work took place only between 7: 30 a.m. and 9: 30 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.

"We also offered to relocate some offices during heavy noise. But no one took us up on it."

Page said while the measures "definitely slowed us down for the excavation phase," the tower is still expected to be ready by the fall of 2014 because they plan to speed up during later - but less noisy - phases of construction.

MNP Tower is one of three new towers in the construction phase in the business core, the others being the B.C. Investment Management Corp.'s 25-storey project at 745 Thurlow St. and a 24-storey tower that's part of the Telus Garden project.

There's also a planned 30storey office tower by European investment bank Credit Suisse, at Howe and Pender streets.

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