Newsmaker of the year: Take a peek inside Amazon's massive Ottawa warehouse

Broccolini
James Beach, Broccolini’s Ottawa-based head of real estate and development, stands in front of the newly built Amazon distribution facility. All photos by Mark Holleron, save for aerial shot.

As real estate wins go, a one-million-square-foot warehouse for the world’s largest e-commerce retailer is headline-grabbing stuff.

But it doesn’t mean much if you don’t deliver. So it’s no surprise that construction firm Broccolini’s crews have been working day and night for months on a distribution facility in Ottawa’s southeast end that internet retail giant Amazon will occupy beginning next year. Broccolini will own the facility and lease it to Amazon in a long-term deal.

The scope of the job and the sheer volume of news coverage it generated made the Amazon-Broccolini collaboration an easy choice for OBJ and the Ottawa Board of Trade’s 2018 Newsmaker of the Year award. The dizzying pace of the project has amazed even James Beach, Broccolini’s veteran head of real estate and development.

“Our construction team, you have to give them kudos,” he told OBJ during a recent tour of the massive facility, which stretches the length of nearly three city blocks. “They’re working their asses off. It’s unbelievable what they’ve done.”

What they’ve done is sure to become part of Broccolini lore. Crews of up to 400 workers a day managed to erect the building’s steel skeleton in just two months, half the time such an operation would normally require. And even that timeline was extended when the team chose to wait a few days to put the last piece in place so it could celebrate finishing the job on a Friday.

When Broccolini officially closed the purchase of the 96-acre parcel of land on Boundary Road near Hwy. 417 in early July, it was nothing but an empty field. Less than five months later, the building that will soon see up to 150 trucks a day shuttling goods in and out is now fully closed in and taking shape at lightning-fast speed.

That pace is all the more impressive considering the project, like many such developments, has been fraught with challenges.

While the land is ideally located next to a major highway, for example, it’s not exactly prime real estate from a development point of view.

amazon1Amazon2

To prevent the massive structure from sinking into the ground, it’s been fortified with 600 giant steel piles that have been pounded into bedrock 30 metres below the surface. The site’s marine clay soil just isn’t up to the job of supporting the building on its own, Beach explained.

To prevent further shifting of the ground, Broccolini turned to Gatineau firm Styro Rail, which manufactures a lightweight styrofoam-like substance that doesn’t compress under a heavy load and won’t degrade over time. A layer of the high-tech foam about 45 centimetres thick now sits underneath the concrete flooring.

Eyeing the future

The poor quality and limited quantity of well water near the site also required Broccolini to build a 100,000-litre holding tank with enough capacity to put out two major fires. A stormwater pond the size of a small lake is being dug next to the warehouse to ensure runoff has somewhere to go since it can’t be absorbed into a million square feet of concrete and surrounding asphalt.

Other elements have been designed with the future in mind ​– including the roof, which is engineered to support solar panels should they be installed at some point down the road.

“The challenge right now is solar technology,” Beach said. “It hasn’t hit the point where it’s efficient enough in our latitude to be cost-neutral at least. The hope is that in the next five to 10 years, the technology will advance.”

The building can also easily be reconfigured to accommodate multiple tenants, he said, and the precast concrete panels on the north side can readily be converted into more loading bay doors to add to the 95 already on the south side should a customer request them, he added.

amazon3

 

amazon4

 

amazon5

“You’ve got to think ahead,” Beach explained. “A building of this size, you have to ensure it doesn’t sit empty. (Amazon) is here for a while, but nothing is forever.”

As he continued the tour, Beach stopped to give credit to Broccolini’s employees and the other subcontractors who’ve worked on the facility. He paid special tribute to 30-year company veteran Christie Stewart, who is overseeing the project.

“Everyone here is the best of the best,” Beach said. “A guy like (Stewart) is a great asset and is what allows us to build facilities like this on these (compressed) schedules.”

Surveying the construction site, he said it’s unlike anything he’s ever been involved with. After all, Amazon doesn’t come calling every day.

“It’s a great story, and we’re very happy to be a part of it,” he said.