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It's a project that involves large equipment, ample communication, and many hands. Transformer stations are the primary source of electricity to an area and can be found in cities of all sizes. We know that they exist and we may have even seen the fenced-off electrical giants in our own cities, but how are they constructed and who are the minds behind the project?

Shaun Pinard, project manager for the Clare R. Copeland Transformer Station (Copeland TS) in Toronto, says that for projects of this magnitude, local distribution companies like Toronto Hydro hire contractors to aid in the construction process. Once we received approvals to move forward with this project, we were very careful in selecting our contractors and suppliers for the job, he says. We went through a rigorous process examining all of the proposals submitted based on criteria such as budget and schedule and made our selections based on that.

Copeland TS is currently under construction in Toronto's busy downtown core. With the rapid development of the area through the construction of new high-rises and tourist attractions, Copeland TS is designed to alleviate the energy load from the five existing stations in the city. Our contractors are going to enable us to maintain our main goal, which is achieving in-service by the end of 2014 under budget.

The construction process

Ron Hicks, project director for Carillion, the contractor on the Copeland TS project, stresses the importance of constant correspondence between his team and the project managers at Toronto Hydro. We have meetings twice a week and we're in daily communication, he says. Communication on a job like this is paramount.

Carillion is an international corporation specializing in areas including building construction, facilities management, roads management, and energy services. For the transformer station, Hicks and his team have been tasked to perform the overall construction. Toronto Hydro has purchased the transformers and switchgear and we are responsible for lowering the equipment into the building and positioning, assembling, commissioning and integrating it, says Hicks. Once the transformers are lowered and positioned, pumps are used to vacuum out air before gas insulation is installed. The Copeland Transformer Station equipment will be gas insulated to avoid the fire hazards that can be associated with oil-type equipment.

The challenges

Undertaking such a large project can undoubtedly lead to different challenges, especially when it comes to looking for space to build a new station in busy, large cities. I take a photo monthly from the CN Tower and we use it for logistics planning as this building goes from property line to property line, says Hicks. The logistics when you have no lay down area and you're working in the middle of downtown are incredible'it's space, planning, and scheduling to the extreme.

To account for the challenge of space limitations, the Copeland TS is designed to be built mostly underground. We wanted to make sure that even though we're developing the land, when finished, the station will be virtually undetectable to the millions of visitors who pass through this area every year, says Pinard. If you're developing downtown, it's generally best practice to be integrated; your solution is more integrated to the general fabric of the actual architecture of the city rather than sticking out like a sore thumb.

Photo: gjp311/Thinkstock