An inside look into building Peterson Place supportive housing during COVID-19

January 18, 2021

57 modular shells, 38 new homes, 1 global pandemic

Some job sites are a bit tricky to navigate, but Surrey’s Peterson Place might set a BC Housing record for a tight squeeze. Peterson Place was already home to 57 people living in supportive housing when plans were developed to build 38 new homes only 15 feet away.

What do you do when space is so tight? Construction developer Nomodic says the answer is simple: go modular.

Nomodic designed a 3-storey, 21,500 sq.ft. complex that could break down into 57 separate modular units. They were fabricated in Manitoba and needed to be brought across three provinces to Surrey before winter set in on the Rocky Mountains. These versatile units became everything from a laundry room, to a kitchen; from an office to disability-accessible housing.

Aerial view of a crane building of Peterson Place

The site was too narrow to start lifting the modular units near the building’s foundation. So they needed to park further away and crane every single unit high above the existing homes.

Our craning procedure was a complex dance of coordination and safety. The modular units were long enough that flaggers were needed to close off side roads as they lumbered down King George Boulevard in Surrey.

“We needed a special truck with independent wheel suspension,” explains Giovanni Festa, Nomodic’s Construction Manager supervising Peterson Place’s construction. “One person would drive the front of the truck and a second person would be outside with a control box steering the back end so we could squeeze into the tight angle needed to get it close enough to crane the units in.”

The new building would be more than 300 feet long when complete, forcing the construction crane to reposition several times throughout the build. Each move required a painstaking attention to detail and safety to make it work.

“We built three stories layer by layer” Giovanni explains. “Then we would move the crane and move it to a different angle. So we started with eight units, then seven, then six – we’d pick up the crane, and start all over.”

But once they started they got on a roll.

“We craned in all 57 units in exactly 9 days,” Giovanni says proudly. “Our plan was very successful. There was no risk, damage, or harm. We were in constant communication with (Peterson Place housing operator) Fraserside to ensure residents were safe while several tons of housing were craned in above the existing homes.”

Working with residents only feet away ended up becoming a highlight for Giovanni. “We were here on site for eight months, and we got to really build a relationship with our neighbors. They would ask how we were doing and how it was going. We got to know them really well.”

A Pandemic Strikes

Interior view of Peterson Place with sofa, table, chairs and fridge

In March 2020, British Columbia declared a state of emergency to support the provincewide response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This allowed the Province to both protect people and support critical industries, such as construction.

In BC, projects like Peterson Place are essential to providing homes to people who need them. People experience homelessness for a variety of reasons. For some, the cost of adequate housing is too high. For others, physical health problems, disabilities, or mental health concerns are barriers to staying housed.

At Peterson Place, supports are literally built into the building; from disability-accessible units to a medical examination room where health care professionals can provide hands-on care to those in need.

The pandemic also changed how construction was carried out. While on site, Nomodic implemented a number of strict safety protocols to ensure its employees, the public, and all stakeholders were kept safe. Captured in Nomodic’s COVID-specific Site Safety Manual, these included daily health assessments and advisory updates, limits on people working within certain spaces, staggered shifts to reduce potential contact points, increased Personal Protective Equipment including masks, and thorough cleaning of work areas and equipment after every shift.

Male wearing a construction vest and helmet wearing a mask on sitting at a table in the dining room

“Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Nomodic's commitment to prioritizing safety above all else has been especially important,” said Kevin Read, Nomodic’s President and CEO. “With Peterson Place, our number one goal has been to protect the health and safety of the community, our employees, clients, suppliers, and partners. It’s been inspiring to see our team rally around this common effort."

“As you build these projects, you really put your heart and soul into these homes. We’re really excited to finish this project at the New Year and to be able to give this ‘gift’ to 38 people – to give them their own home, their own foundation to move into and live in,” Giovanni says.

Giovanni has been at Peterson Place since May 2020 and adds this build to a growing list of other BC Housing modular construction builds including Chilliwack, Smithers, and Terrace. What will he do now that the project is over? “I have a fiancé back home in Alberta and an iced-over lake just waiting to be fished.” Both eagerly await his return home.