It’s simple, really. If you want to build any structure, it has to have a solid foundation. That’s what Petrifond does. “We specialise in deep foundation construction for structures that cannot be supported by ordinary spread footing foundations on poor soil,” says Peter Paganuzzi, President. “They are deep foundations that are needed for highrise buildings, wharfs or bridges.” To date, the company has successfully completed over 2,500 contracts.

The kinds of projects Petrifond does will vary, depending on the state of the market. Fortunately, the company offers a service that is valuable no matter what the economic climate. “Several years ago, there was more private work, which usually translates into more high-rise condominiums,” says Paganuzzi. “When private money dries up—as it has recently—we get more government or institutional work. Structures, such as condos, become rarer in these times. It’s supply and demand.”

Aside from digging foundations for various structures, Petrifond provides shoring, which is the process of supporting a structure or a street to prevent collapse. “When you’re in a downtown environment, for example, and want to excavate a deep hole to put in a parking garage, you have streets and other buildings around. You have to put in a system that holds the soil back while you’re digging,” Paganuzzi adds.

Petrifond also constructs slurry walls . “If a company wants to build a dam, but doesn’t want it to leak below its foundation, we put in a concrete curtain wall, which holds back the water and prevents the mining of the dam. Generally, concrete curtain walls are built using slurry and diaphragm walls, or large slurry trenches. They can go from 50 to 250 feet deep.” These walls are also used for shoring and foundations

Company background

Headquartered in Montreal, Petrifond will be celebrating its 50th birthday next year. When you look back, it’s interesting to see how far the company has come. For example, Petrifond started as a general contracting company that didn’t do foundation work at all. As a general contractor, it became one of the premier building companies in Montreal.

The foundation side of the business started when a complex construction project surfaced in Montreal. It was a grain elevator that had very specific requirements, including a deep foundation. The Petrifond team took on the challenge, but thought of a different way of approaching the project. They went to France to look at equipment that was unavailable in North America at the time. Petrifond proposed an alternative and won the project. “It was daring and audacious and the company succeeded,” Paganuzzi says. “We’re still here today building daring and audacious projects!”

“We continue to do things in a different way; our equipment and methods are not the run of the mill,” adds Paganuzzi. “Sure, we could still do things like we did 50 years ago, but we choose not to. New technologies and new challenges have led us to grow, and we are the type of company that looks forward. Our team does projects that are riskier— consequently the profits are higher.”

The team Paganuzzi speaks of is a large one. Petrifond has an office and a yard comprised of approximately 25 people. As for the field work, there is a base crew of 50 to 60 skilled operators, welders and pile drivers, to name a few. From there, there are 150 to 200 labourers, depending on the volume or nature of the work.

Industry evolution

Aside from the obvious changes in technology and innovation, the foundations construction industry has evolved by way of competition and, above all, new challenges with more complex projects. “It’s fierce,” Paganuzzi smiles. “You always have to be looking at new ways to do things in order to keep ahead of things—new materials, new projects, new methods and equipment. We also have to make sure we get employees that know about these new things and who are interested in learning new things.”

In this field, there is no underestimating the importance of a good team. “People are the most important thing,” Paganuzzi explains. “You can buy a machine, but you can’t buy a person. In our industry, it’s not easy to find a skilled person. Even when you do find someone at a university level, it usually takes a few years for them to get familiar with the industry. It’s true of both tradespeople and engineers.”

As it is in most trades, skills shortage is a problem for Petrifond. Paganuzzi reckons fewer people want to get into this kind of work. “Maybe they find it too hard,” he deliberates. “It’s not like their November/December 2009 The Canadian Business Journal 99 Petrifond work goes unrewarded; workers here do earn an excellent wage.” Petrifond has responded to this challenge by advertising and visiting technical schools to try and interest new students.

Despite the bumps in the roads, Petrifond is doing well. In fact, that the company is in the process of transferring ownership to the younger generation. “We have chosen several employees to take over,” says Paganuzzi. “In the next year or so, they will be owners, so right now, we’re working on evolving and transitioning towards them being independent. We are confident that they will be just as successful as we have been, if not more.”