Canadian Contractors Talk Ice Rinks, Long Drives

June 20, 2001
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Talk to Canadian contractors and you’ll find concern about the need for qualified technicians and more education. There will also be talk about hockey — not just because it is that nation’s national sport, but because building ice rinks is big business.

And when you have a much smaller population (30 million) than in the United States and a country with many more square miles, how far you have to travel is also a popular topic.

With that in mind, here is a brief profile of three Canadian contractors.



Rink Master

If you happen to pass by an ice rink — be it in a massive structure as that of a National Hockey League team, or a neighborhood practice rink — there is a chance it was installed by Cimco Refrigeration, headquartered in Toronto, ON.

That company has installed some 4,500 artificial ice surfaces throughout the world. Its president since 1985 has been Steve McLeod, who this year became president of the International Institute of Ammonia Refriger-ation (IIAR).

Cimco has a long history in Canada, beginning with its founding in 1912. Today it is part of Toromont Industries and has 22 offices throughout Canada and in Arizona, Connecticut, Massachu-setts, and New York. The refrigeration sector does in excess of $200 million (Canadian) in business a year, and has 130 service vehicles on the road. Its “vertical integration,” according to McLeod, allows it to offer consulting engineering, contracting, and service — as well as manufacturing of such items as heat exchangers, pressure vessels, and oil separators, among other types of equipment.

In addition to hockey and curling rinks, the company includes cold storage and distribution facilities among its offerings. About 80% of its work is with ammonia systems, said McLeod. “Over the years we’ve installed our fair share of refrigerants, but in terms of efficiency and long-term viability, you can’t beat ammonia in industrial applications.”

McLeod started his involvement with IIAR in 1983 and joined the board of directors in 1991.

In that capacity, he pledges to help end users “in terms of advocacy work with code and code consultants.” Also on the agenda are educational programs for installation procedures, maintenance, and the safe handling of ammonia.

Another area of interest, McLeod said, is a program for smaller ammonia refrigeration plants that cuts down on government regulations while still maintaining the safety and proper documentation of plants.



Territorial Rights

Most contractors like to keep their territory as compact as possible while maintaining a decent profit. And when you have a huge population basis within an hour or so of the office, that’s doable.

But consider Ken Tremeer, manager of Coral Environments Ltd. in Kelowna, BC. His marketplace has a respectable population of 500,000 to 600,000 people. The only thing is, it takes 20 some hours to drive from one end to the other.

Coral Environments is part of Coral Engineering Ltd. In all, there are offices in 22 locations in British Columbia and Alberta. Tremeer is manager for seven of those offices and supervises some 20 employees.

“Our customers are spread out,” he said. “So we spread out to be as close to our customers as possible.”

The company finds itself doing service and retrofit work on all types of hvacr equipment. All refrigerants — CFCs, HCFCs, and HFCs — are used.

The challenge: “finding the qualified and trained technicians who are able to do a diversity of work,” said Tremeer. To reach them, the company uses advertising in newspapers, postings at wholesalers, and word of mouth.

Another challenge, he said, comes with competition in the more heavily populated Kelowna area. For a population of about 150,000 in the metropolitan area, the local phone book showed about 30 refrigeration contractors alone. There were at least 40 or so listings for companies with something to do with air conditioning.

Tremeer himself is a 30-year veteran of the industry. An older friend was a refrigeration technician and first encouraged Tremeer to get into the industry. “I found I had an interest in things mechanical and in physics.” Those proved perfect fits for hvacr.



Off the Assembly Line

Gary Struhar doesn’t have to travel as far and wide as Tremeer does. His territory covers just a couple of miles. But he has large and varied responsibilities, just the same.

Struhar is an hvacr service technician for Honeywell Ltd. in Windsor, ON, and is one of four technicians responsible for comfort control in three manufacturing plants of DaimlerChrysler Corp. Minivans and full-size vans come out of these plants on a daily basis. There is also an R&D center with a road simulator designed to monitor effects of vehicles faced with temperatures ranging from -40° to 140°F.

Inside those buildings are walk-in coolers, window air conditioners, rooftop units, centrifugals, pneumatics, and electronics.

Struhar himself came out of an electronics college in 1979 and that expertise brought him to Beaver Engineering. “They wanted someone with an electronics background,” he said. In the early 1990s, Honeywell acquired the company as part of its efforts to expand its service capabilities.

Struhar finds himself involved with the newest refrigerants since, corporate-wide, DaimlerChrysler is specifying equipment with HFC refrigerants.

For Struhar, one of the hottest of the hot buttons in Canada now involves the Technical Standards and Safety Association, which licenses and monitors those involved with natural gas and propane. That means heating techs need to be licensed through TSSA. Struhar said TSSA is stepping up its activities in this area “to make sure you are trained properly.”

And therein lies the rub. “Technicians are out there, but no one wants to get training.” Adding to the equation is the fact, he said, that companies with well-qualified techs often need to charge more than their competitors with less-qualified technicians, only to have the customer shop bottom line.

Struhar has kept up on his training through involvement in RSES Canada. That has included a number of elected offices plus regular attendance at both his home chapter and at meetings of the Detroit Chapter, just across the Detroit River from Windsor. Recently he was named RSES Canada Member of the Year.

Publication date: 06/25/2001

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