Stantec Finds Key Niche in Trenchless Market

Community in Mind


A quarry to be used for raw water storage in Atlanta. Stantec is part of the design team on a five-mile 10-ft ID tunnel for the City’s Raw Water Delivery System, which will move raw water from the Chattahoochee River to the City’s water treatment plants and storage facilities.

Stantec doesn’t try to hide its assertive business style, and its employees and principals will tell you they take pride in the firm’s ultimate goal — becoming a Top 10 global design firm.

It’s a goal set 15 years ago by former CEO Tony Franceschini and one that may soon be realized.
ounded as only a one-person firm in 1954, Edmonton-based Stantec now has more than 14,000 employees, working in 230 locations worldwide. The firm provides professional consulting services in planning, engineering, architecture, interior design, landscape architecture, surveying, environmental sciences and project management for infrastructure projects and other facilities. The company is generally ranked among the top engineering firms in the world, doing roughly $2.2 billion in gross revenue last year.

Overall, Stantec has experienced rapid growth, particularly in recent years, taking challenges in stride and not taking success for granted. Like other engineering giants, Stantec has built a notable presence in the underground construction market. Its Tunneling & Trenchless Technology Practice was recently formalized to help enhance the delivery and quality of the sizeable amount of trenchless projects the firm is involved in across the United States and Canada. This year, Stantec is ranked eighth on Trenchless Technology’s Top 50 Trenchless Design Firms list.

“Our promise is to design with community in mind, and agencies across sectors and geographies are increasingly focused on minimizing disruptions to the public and environment,” says Stantec president and CEO Bob Gomes. “Work in tunneling and trenchless technology not only directly supports our values, but the projects are often large, complex endeavors. This allows us to grow while doing what is right.”


Stantec is working as part of the design-build team on the McOrmond Drive project in Saskatoon, which will extend  the existing 1,500-m sanitary  and storm trunk sewer system  to support a growing population.

Founding & Timeline of History

Stantec was originally founded as D. R. Stanley Associates by Dr. Don Stanley. According to company history, Stanley was actually the first Canadian to earn a Ph.D. in environmental engineering.

For a time, Stanley was the company’s sole employee, working out of his Edmonton office. During those early years in the mid- to late-1950s, Stanley would send out letters and personally visit various communities in western Canada in search of work. His persistence would pay off as the firm grew to 30 employees in its first decade, building a reputation for consulting work on water and sewerage projects in small, rural municipalities. Eventually, the company began taking on larger projects, extending across Alberta and into British Columbia.

While continuing to focus on upgrading water systems, D. R. Stanley Associates also extended its services to include transportation engineering. In 1958, the company was contracted to redesign the Peace River Bridge in British Columbia, which had collapsed a year earlier. The successful completion of that project significantly enhanced the company’s reputation for bridge engineering.

Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, ‘Stanley Associates’ continued to grow and diversify, adding its first international project, designing a sewer system in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The firm also became actively engaged in the expansion of the Town of Fort McMurray in Alberta. There, the company designed sanitary and storm sewers, a water distribution system, along with roadways, curbs and sidewalks.

By the mid-1970s, the firm was growing at a rapid pace. The completion of its first acquisition in 1976 allowed for the addition of urban land engineering to its list of service areas. The company also added five regional branch offices and established an international group to focus on overseas projects.

However, one of Stantec’s bigger challenges came in 1983 when the economy in western Canada experienced a downturn, affecting the construction market. Staff reductions were necessary and the company implemented a major strategic redirection. As part of the transition, longtime company executive Ron Triffo was appointed president and Stanley became chairman and CEO.

From that time, Stantec re-entered a significant growth period into the early 2000s. The firm added services such as pavement management, interior design and structural engineering. By diversifying its service portfolio, Stantec was able to create new relationships with a greater number of clients. By 1993, the firm had more than 800 employees and a year later, was listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

In 1998, Franceschini, another company executive integral to its success up to that point, was appointed president and CEO. This was also the time the firm introduced its rebranded name, ‘Stantec,’ in order to bring a single identity to the many acquisitions and divisions Stanley Associates had amassed.

By 2004, Stantec had grown to 4,000 employees globally and began focusing on growth in the United States, adding more offices, regions and practice areas. A year later, Stantec was listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and in 2006, added a region in New England to enhance its presence in the eastern United States. With these additions and growth throughout the company, employee numbers topped 8,700 by 2007. To date, the company has nearly doubled again in the past seven years under the leadership of current president and CEO Bob Gomes.

Trenchless Market

Stantec consistently ranks among the top engineering firms doing trenchless work in North America and has completed more than 900 trenchless design projects over the past five years. While the company has always had a presence in the underground construction market — dating back to Stanley’s early water and sewer projects in Canada — Stantec only recently formalized its Tunneling & Trenchless Technology Practice, which is led by vice president Don Del Nero out of the firm’s Atlanta operations.

The Practice specializes in new construction using microtunneling, horizontal directional drilling (HDD) and tunneling, as well as water and sewer rehab work. In addition to the traditional design-bid-build delivery method, the firm has been heavily involved in using alternative delivery methods like public-private partnerships (P3s) and design-build.

“We’re truly a full service company,” says Del Nero, who has worked in engineering consulting since 1989 and with Stantec since May 2013. “We don’t necessarily have to sub [contract] out work because we can’t fill some niche. If a client comes to us and wants Stantec to do everything, we can do that.”

Stantec’s trenchless work encompasses various projects in the water/wastewater, transportation and oil and gas markets. Some notable projects completed or currently under construction under the firm’s Tunneling & Trenchless Technology Practice include:

Atlanta Raw Water Delivery System

In Atlanta, Stantec is currently serving as the owner-engineer along with PRAD and River 2 Tap on a five-mile, 10-ft ID tunnel with three pump stations, tunneling through rock. The project is for the City of Atlanta’s Raw Water Delivery System, which will move raw water from the Chattahoochee River to two of the City’s water treatment plants and storage facilities. The project began in February 2014, and according to Stantec, will be the largest design-build tunnel contract ever used in the State of Georgia if the City continues with that delivery method. The project is ongoing.

McOrmond Drive

In the City of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Stantec was the designer as part of a design-build team with Michels Canada on the McOrmond Drive project, which extends the existing sanitary and storm trunk sewer system. Due to the depth and location of the alignment alongside a busy road and adjacent to a subdivision, the new pipe was installed by tunneling using a two pass system. The sanitary trunk is just more than 1,500 m in length and uses a 1,200-mm diameter HOBAS pipe installed at a depth of between 10  to 15 m. The storm trunk parallels the sanitary trunk for the full length and is a 2,400-mm diameter HOBAS pipe installed at similar depths. The design was completed with a nominal spacing of 5.3 m between centerlines to facilitate one larger launch and retrieval shaft from which both tunnels were constructed.

Haggerty Road 48-in. Sewer Lining Repair

The 48-in. Haggerty Road brick sewer in Canton, Mich., was deteriorating and at risk of imminent failure. Located more than 50 ft deep, this challenging rehabilitation project included severe infiltration, 40 ft of groundwater head, a 90-degree bend, considerable bypass requirements and surface constraints of a five-lane road. Stantec, as lead designer, evaluated a wide range of trenchless technologies and prepared contract documents for the rehabilitation of 4,250 ft of the sewer. The documents incorporated multiple construction methods, including CIPP, sliplining and spiral wound PVC to ensure competitive bidding. Following the receipt of bids for multiple construction methods, the project was constructed by CIPP and completed in early 2014.

Ottawa CSST

Another high-profile project for Stantec currently under way in Ottawa, Ontario, is the Ottawa Combined Sewage Storage Tunnel (CSST). The project is aimed at reducing overflows and basement flooding risk while improving water quality in the Ottawa River. The CSST includes two interconnected deep rock tunnels — the 4.4-km East-West Tunnel and 1.9-km North-South Tunnel. The 3-m (ID) diameter tunnels are 20 to 35 m deep. Stantec is the lead designer, sharing design duties with CH2M HILL, with the design scheduled for completion by the spring 2015.

Wandering River Regional Water System

In Athabasca County, Alberta, Stantec worked on the Wandering River Regional Water System, an 88-km (55-mile) water line 150 mm (6 in.) in diameter that extends from Boyle, Alberta to Wandering River via Grassland in Athabasca County. The project used a design-build contract that included Graham Design Builders as the lead contractor and M. Pidherney’s Trucking Ltd. as the pipeline installation subcontractor. Stantec served as engineering and environmental services consultant.

HDD was used for the entire length of the system. It is the longest directionally-drilled fusible PVC project to be completed in North America, and longest design-build regional water system in Canada. It was also the first regional water project in Alberta completed under a design-build delivery model.

Trends in Trenchless Consulting

Dave Krywiak, principal and project manager who works in Stantec’s Tunneling & Trenchless Practice with Del Nero, says he has seen a parallel between the growth of Stantec’s trenchless market and the overall acceptance of trenchless methods, particularly where he works in Stantec’s Edmonton, Alberta office.

“The use of trenchless technologies for oil and gas projects is well established, especially with HDD. It has taken a lot longer to catch on with public sector clients,” says Krywiak, who has worked for Stantec since 1979. “In fact, there are still some who are a bit leery of directional drilling, because it usually involves a fairly deep installation when crossing major water bodies.

“Certainly, the regulators, when it comes to water bodies or sensitive areas, are a strong force in pushing the industry toward trenchless,” adds Krywiak. “On the CIPP side, western Canada is relatively young [in the trenchless market] compared to a lot of North America, so we probably weren’t into the rehab market as soon as the East Coast or some of the other major centers.

“We also tend to have lots of space out here. Not until infrastructure started getting into the 80- to 100-year range, and we were dealing with renewals and public disruptions in built-up areas, did the CIPP option really take off. Now with advancements in pressure and potable water installations, the market is really expanding past just gravity sewers. At Stantec, we’ve been kind of riding along in parallel, expanding our involvement as communities focus more on minimizing impacts.”

Stantec’s Philosophy

With a community-focused philosophy, Stantec is adamant about continuous growth. The firm has completed more than 75 acquisitions since 2000.

Most recently, the firm acquired the Canadian engineering operations of Montreal-based Dessau, a 1,300-employee firm with 20 offices throughout Quebec and Ontario. The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of 2015, pending regulatory approvals.

“We’re very aggressive, but also strategic, in how we expand our footprint,” says Del Nero. “The goal of the firm is to be a top 10 global design firm. Our track record and strong business model will allow this to happen. There have been numerous acquisitions over the years, and we’re really strategic about bringing on those acquisitions. We look at the culture within the firm to make sure there’s a lot of compatibility with our culture. And I think that’s key to our success.”

Del Nero also says Stantec’s company philosophy is all about designing with community in mind, taking into consideration the needs of a community and bringing a unique insight to each project in that regard.
“We try to promote that internally and externally,” he says. “I think that’s been a big part of our success. Collaboration is also a big part of what we do. If we don’t have technical expertise locally, we can mobilize it. One thing that’s unique about Stantec is even though we’re publicly traded, we don’t have silos. We really work as a seamless, boundaryless company.

“We have a very mature internal infrastructure for managing and executing projects. The challenge for any firm is adapting to market conditions. What I find interesting in the tunnel sector is that we’re hearing that [bigger clients] want new, fresh insight and they’re coming to Stantec. It’s almost like we’re still a well-kept secret in some areas of North America.”

Andrew Farr is an associate editor of Trenchless Technology.
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