What does using an Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform to figure out a math equation, selecting a film based on a Netflix recommendation, and relying on autofill suggestions to write an email have in common?

Each is an example of the explosive growth of AI in our daily lives. While the above examples may seem like everyday activities, they require supercomputer clusters to run powerful machine-learning algorithms that make inferences about a person’s behavior. The exponential increase in the use of AI, along with the continued growth of cloud computing, has resulted in North America becoming the largest data center market in the world. Projected Compound Annual Growth Rates (CAGR) for Data Center construction over the next several years has been predicted to reach as high as 18.3%. Yet daily discoveries of new uses for AI make CAGR predictions about as reliable as shaking a Magic 8 ball. What we know for sure is that this market shows no signs of slowing anytime soon.

As demand soars for data centers and other mission-critical facilities (facilities that must operate without interruption 24/7 to not affect the public), PCL Construction leverages the combined expertise of its building, civil, and industrial sectors to provide clients with comprehensive, turnkey solutions.

From small, fast-paced retrofits to large, complex new builds, PCL’s Buildings sector can meet any mission-critical need. Buildings provides preconstruction and construction services and coordinates efforts between Civil, Industrial and Solar as needed on large-scale projects. A proven safety track record, culture of employee ownership, and focus on planning and project controls contribute to the company’s success.

Front-end planning is imperative with mission-critical projects. Two of PCL’s greatest strengths are front-end planning and project controls. Figuring out plans A, B, C and D ahead of time have led to our success. PCL teams envision what could go wrong or not meet clients’ expectations and plan out that risk.

Strength in project controls, including scheduling, RFI (request for information) processes, QA/QC (quality assurance/quality control) plans, HSE (health, safety and environment) plans and understanding the most efficient way to build allows PCL to control the schedule and deliver projects on time.

PCL shares in data center clients’ commitment to making safety the top priority and has a total recordable incident rate and lost-time frequency rate among the lowest in the industry. 

The servers in data centers require a significant amount of cooling, which can result in extremely high water consumption. It is common for clients to contract the process water portion of a project separately due to its complexity. However, PCL’s Civil Infrastructure Division has an industrial and manufacturing process water team that enables clients to work seamlessly with one contractor throughout all data center project phases. 

Ken Slota, director of design-build and non-municipal water, brings his 27 years of industry experience to leading the water process team. “We can do it all under the PCL umbrella, from the building expansion to the water portion to backup generation for power,” says Slota. “It provides our mission-critical clients with a turnkey solution.” 

PCL Industrial's ability to self-perform and prefabricate materials – as well as its electrical and instrumentation division – creates efficiencies for mission-critical projects.

“With 85% to 95% of Industrial’s work being self-performed, we have the resources and leadership to jump in as needed and self-perform anything from pouring concrete to structural steel to equipment setting. This allows us to reduce risk and control the schedule,” says Joe Arismendez, construction manager, estimating, PCL Industrial.

With an electrical and instrumentation division, the Industrial group can either self-perform that scope or provide estimating review and support to the Buildings group if it’s in the best interest of the project to subcontract it out.

The tight schedule required by most data center projects leaves little to no room for quality issues at the end of a project. PCL’s capacity to self-perform is a unique differentiator that allows it to “drive the schedule and also better understand how all the bits and pieces go together,” says Patrick Malone, business development manager for PCL’s Civil Construction division.

Prefabrication is another strategy that provides quality controls and helps the team adhere to schedules. In a fabrication shop in Bakersfield, California, the Industrial team assembles enclosures and installs electrical gear, such as motor control centers (MCCs) and switch racks, into a single component. The team also prefabricates cable tray runs, supports and hangers.

To avoid deficiencies, “we test each component individually and collectively (if it talks to another device) outside the facility before installation to ensure the proper mapping of data,” says Moles. “We also focus on training and performing quality checks as work is completed.”

PCL’s solar division comes into play to provide mission-critical facilities with in-demand alternative energy solutions. “Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) are driving the market. With nine out of 10 power purchasers being large data center loads, we see that clients want it. The public wants it,” says Moles, who leads PCL’s solar division.

Moles understands the challenges of complex mission-critical projects, having completed 14 projects over a span of five years with a specialized data center team.

The solar group also benefits from the expertise of Walter Schachtschneider, director of engineering, solar. The 28 years he spent working for a major telecommunications company involved “constantly updating facilities with new technologies and increasing communication volume. The portfolio had a capital budget in the $1 billion range annually. All this work had to occur in the mission-critical facilities in the most economical way while the service was being provided by the existing equipment,” says Schachtschneider.

Each of PCL’s North American solar projects since 2018 has leveraged a partnership with other PCL sectors, making the group ready to seamlessly jump into new geographical locations and projects. This collaboration also creates flexibility on a project that allows PCL to get involved early and control the schedule of fast-paced projects. “We’re not stuck waiting for IFCs (Issued for Construction drawings) to build. We can jump in on your preconstruction effort, give constructability reviews, and identify where efficiencies can be gained,” explains Arismendez. 

A collaborative and flexible approach was essential for the successful completion of an expansion to Flexential’s data center in Chaska, Minnesota.

The scope of the project included the expansion of a mechanical yard by adding precast walls, dry coolers, CRACs (computer-room air conditioning units), generators, and other site infrastructure. The scope also consisted of the installation of electrical switchgear, raised flooring, acoustical ceiling, and plenum wall framing, along with a new tenant’s office fit-out.

With a new tenant scheduled to move in just two-and-a-half months after design was complete, the PCL team had to be proactive. The team met with designers before design was complete to release early bid packages focused on long-lead items and the project’s largest scopes, mechanical and electrical. To help control the aggressive schedule, PCL self-performed the demolition, framing, and finish carpentry.

The team also prioritized communication. Real-time schedule updates were made, and daily meetings were held with subcontractors. A weekly report went out to the entire team and included progress photos, work completed that week, work occurring the upcoming week, and critical decisions that needed to be made.

PCL’s proactive and collaborative approach resulted in the expansion being completed on time and below the guaranteed maximum price.

To meet the increasing demand for new construction, expansion, and upgrades to data centers across North America, PCL combines the resources and expertise of its Civil, Industrial and Buildings sectors. PCL’s “one-stop shop” approach enables clients to meet the needs of this expanding market more efficiently and effectively.