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Construction St-Arnaud

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Founded in 1985, Construction St-Arnaud started as a family subcontracting business, with five brothers and their father. From the very beginning, the company was primarily involved in building substations and power lines in Québec, as well as construction and repair of industrial equipment. Their specialisation worked in their favour as Construction St-Arnaud started gaining a solid reputation all across the province. Over the years, their projects got bigger and they continue to increase today. In the past five years alone, the company’s revenues have grown from $5 million to $30 million per year.

In 1997, Construction St-Arnaud underwent a restructuring in order to expand on its expertise and project scope. By working in partnership with FGR Electric and hiring a civil engineer, the company was able to start bidding on jobs as a general contractor. That same year, the company obtained its ISO 9002-94 certification, which further solidified their role in the construction sector.

Construction St-Arnaud remains in the family to some degree, but ownership has certainly evolved since the initial business structure. In addition to Richard St-Arnaud, who is the company President, there is now Renald Lessard, Vice President, and Jean Lemieux, CEO.

As for the project team, it consists of skilled tradespeople with years of experience in their respective fields, such as line assemblers, carpenters, electricians, heavy equipment operators and labourer specialists. Employees are pride themselves in maintaining high-quality work, despite various constraints that are natural to the industry. “We also make it a priority to meet deadlines, while ensuring high standards are met,” says Jean Lemieux. “That is what our clients are entitled to.”

Safety
Almost all of the work done by Construction St-Arnaud takes place in high-risk environments—in and around electrical substations. For those who don’t know, an electrical substation is an auxiliary station of an electricity generation, transmission and distribution system where voltage is transformed from high to low (or vice-versa), using transformers. Electric power may flow through several substations between generating plant and consumer, and may be changed in voltage in several steps.

Because employees are in situations where they work around electric currents ranging from 4 kV to 735 kV, the company takes extra care with safety. In fact, all workers are trained in various methods of conduct approved by the CSST (Québec’s Occupational Health and Safety Commission), Hydro-Québec and other heavy industries.

“We have biweekly safety meetings to ensure all standards are met,” says Lemieux. “Our staff is trained to understand all the potential risks and how to avoid them. And for those who know the business inside-out, we still have refresh sessions just to remind people of those safety standards. It’s very important to us.”

Projects
Construction St-Arnaud’s specialisation has allowed them to work with some high-profile companies. ABB Canada, a leader in power and automation technologies, accounts for approximately 20 per cent of Construction St-Arnaud’s contracts. As for the other 80 per cent, Lemiuex says that Hydro-Québec is their main customer.

“We just finished a big contract at the Outaouais substation,” Lemieux adds. Outaouais substation is a key part of the Ontario interconnection project, intended to reinforce the 1,250-MW interconnection capacity with Ontario under any grid operating conditions, as well as improve the reliability of native load service in Québec.
“We did two sections:” he continues, “the standard part of the substation (which was done with Hydro-Québec directly), and the converter (with ABB). The project was complex and the companies were running late on the deadline, so they called us in to help. We saved everyone a lot of time, and they were pleased with our work.”

Industry changes
When Lemieux was asked about how the industry had changed over the years, he a few answers and none had to do with technology. “First,” he begins, “the amount of time expected to complete the project has shortened. Second, safety regulations are a lot stricter, and there are more of them. Finally, our work load has increased. For the past three years, we have been really busy and we’re expected to keep being busy right through until 2014.”

In this economy, being busy is a good thing. The unfortunate twist is the waning manpower. “Many of our people are retiring and there aren’t a lot of young people interested in the business,” says Lemieux. According to him, the province is trying to fill in the gaps. “We do have a lineman’s school in Québec City and they have increased the student capacity there. As for industry regulations from the CCQ—Commission de la construction du Québec—they are in the process of easing requirements to get into the industry.

Up ahead
For Construction St-Arnaud, the future looks bright; there is a lot of work coming down the pipe and the company has the expertise to complete it. As for company growth, Lemieux says they don’t want to be too big. “We want to control our work flow,” he explains. “We have been growing as it is and we have to manage that. Before we get more people and more projects, we need to make sure that what we do have is working for us. Right now, Construction St-Arnaud is doing really well and we’re excited for the future will bring.” 

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