McElhanney Consulting Services Ltd.

It has been 100 years since land sur­v­eyor and engineer William Gordon McElhanney started his company with a one-room office in Vancouver. A lot has changed, both in western Canada and the rest of the world, but McElhanney Consulting Services Ltd. continues to provide extensive mapping, surveying and engineering design and project work.

McElhanney has grown to add 16 offices to the company and 400 employees. “Each office has a commitment to company growth and sustainability,” COO John Blair says. He adds that a reason why the company has survived and, more importantly, grown for a hundred years is because of its commitment to the community. 

“We work with a regional base of western Canada, and each office services a community or region,” Blair says. “The company historically rides with the economy of the community rather than shutting an office down. The community and government support us because we go through that with them.”

The company has performed on projects across several markets, including:

  • Highways and bridges 
  • Ferry terminals, transit, airports and railways
  • Community and commercial devel­opments
  • Telecommunications and mapping
  • Airspace surveys
  • Inland and offshore oil and gas wells
  • Power schemes 

The ability to perform in numerous different markets has been imperative to the success of the company, Divisions Manager Santino Pirillo explains. “We don’t have any significant portion of our operations in any one market,” he says. 

“As the economy goes up and down, we don’t need to rely on one market as there are always some markets that fair well during economic recessions.” 

Improving Standards

Blair admits that it can be a challenge to balance the different disciplines offered by the company, noting that land surveying services operate under one form of legislation while a service such as engineering design will fall under another group of legislation. 

But, a benefit is that McElhanney can draw from skilled staff from each branch to pair the right service teams on a project. “We can offer several different components on projects with competent, dependable service,” Blair says.

The engineering side of McElhanney performs 60 percent of the company’s work with surveying and mapping bringing in the remaining 40 percent. The company notes that for the 21st century, engineering challenges include planning and designing for communities that improve the standard of living yet sustain an ecological balance.

For the 156th Street/Highway 1 Underpass project in Surrey, British Columbia, McElhanney was awarded the Canadian Design-Build Ins­titute Award of Excellence. McElhanney team­ed with BA Blacktop for the city of Surrey and Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to design and construct an underpass under Highway 1. This project connected the Fraser Heights community with Surrey by a local road and cycling/pedestrian pathway. 

“It was only $20 million, but the design, schedule and cost were significantly innovative,” Pirillo says of the project. “We did quite a bit to ensure that the project is a sustainable form of transportation by providing cycling and walking pathways and improving the nearby water course to be more fish bearing. We surprised the owner with the design and what we could do.”

For its surveying operations, McElhanney has gained an international reputation as a leading practitioner in the field of geomatics. It notes that its surveyors and technical staff are committed to assisting clients in developing resource industries, communities and infrastructure. 

A new development for the survey division of McElhanney is its use of the Leica LiDAR system, Blair mentions. The company is using the latest airborne laser mapping techniques to produce everything from landscape profiles of watersheds and environmental monitoring data to emergency evacuation plans, municipal asset management and stockpile volume assessment.

The McElhanney Advantage 

For the future, McElhanney would like to grow organically and geograp­hically. Blair notes that McElhanney has been purchasing other companies at a rate of two a year, which often expands both growth areas. 

“We haven’t gone overboard, and have kept in line with what we do best,” Blair stresses. “The last couple of years we have expanded with material testing and into environmental services, but haven’t gone out of our comfort range. We know what to do to make money and provide for our people.”

When hired for a job, McElhanney is able to offer a strong combination of services and one-stop shopping that it does not believe can be found at other companies. Blair and Pirillo say the company also has an advantage with the experience of its local people.

“The people with us stay with us, providing experience and giving us a very low turnover rate,” Pirillo states. “We have a vested interest in building the community. Most companies are not in tune with what the client wants to get done and what it means to the community. With us, there is no learning curve.”

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