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Werkliv to pilot prefab construction at student housing project

Montreal-based firm has two projects under development, in Trois Rivières and St. John's

Terrasse des Récollets will be a 92-unit, multires development at 1140 des Récollets Blvd. in Trois Rivières. Developer Werkliv plans to utilize prefabricated concrete panels in its construction. (Courtesy Werkliv, AVAC Béton)
Terrasse des Récollets will be a 92-unit, multiresidential development at 1140 des Récollets Blvd. in Trois Rivières. Developer Werkliv plans to utilize prefabricated concrete panels in its construction. (Courtesy Werkliv, AVAC Béton)

Aiming to dramatically speed up the construction process, Montreal-based student housing specialist Werkliv will build a multiresidential development using prefabricated concrete panels from a company it owns as a pilot project. 

The $23 million, six-storey Terrasse des Récollets will be a furnished, 92-unit, multiresidential development geared to students and young professionals at 1140 des Récollets Blvd. in Trois Rivières, about 140 kilometres from Montreal.

It will be built with concrete panels developed by AVAC Béton – a concrete prefabrication company Werkliv acquired in 2020 – that arrive at the construction site with windows installed, insulated and ready for gypsum installation. Located in Granby, Que., AVAC Béton is led by Werkliv founder Daniel Goodfellow.

The Trois Rivières site is being decontaminated and work on the superstructure is scheduled to begin in March. Werkliv would like to have the building delivered by July 1, 2024.

Template for future developments

“If we successfully deliver 60,000 square feet, with 92 one-and-two-bedroom units, in 120 days, it’s a pretty aggressive timeline,” Werkliv president Maggie Terrone told RENX, noting a standard project usually takes 18 to 22 months from the ground to delivery. “We’d like to see how quickly we can build.

"More than that, it’s about how can we build for the future? If we can control our timelines, we can control our costs a lot more.”

If the Trois Rivières pilot is successful, “the form that we’re creating can be replicated” for other projects by other developers. If manufacturing capacity increases, it will be possible to bring to market “a product that can really solve a very large issue.”

Terrone said the goal is that prefabricated envelope and structure solutions produced by AVAC Béton will enable Werkliv to offer better housing solutions across Canada by building faster, reducing dependency on on-site labour, improving quality control and better managing material costs.

Werkliv wants to look at other aspects of pre-fabrication that could be integrated into future multiresidential developments, such as kitchens and bathrooms, electrical and plumbing, she said.

Projects in St. John's and Charlottetown

Elsewhere, Werkliv is set to begin construction of the $96 million, 205-unit Lambe’s Lane student housing project at 6 Lambe’s Lane in St. John’s, N.L., near Memorial University. It is to be delivered in two phases in 2024 and 2025.

The first building, with seven storeys, will contain one storey of on-ground parking with 55 parking spots. The other buildings will have six storeys.

Units will be fully furnished, each with between two and five bedrooms. There will be just under 670 beds overall.

Werkliv also has a renovation project on the go in Charlottetown, near the University of Prince Edward Island. 

Atlantic Canada “was kind of like an overlooked market,” when Werkliv arrived on the scene. Most developers don’t pay attention to the smaller provinces, Terrone said.

“It’s about seeing where there’s a missed opportunity.”

Werkliv's model to build, then sell

The developer usually sells its properties to REITs with experience in student housing after they are completed.

“We’re not in the business of holding properties,” Terrone said. “What we do best is build great buildings.”

For example, See-More, a six-storey facility with 491 beds in 141 fully furnished units on Seymour Street in Halifax near Dalhousie University, was sold to Alignvest Student Housing REIT.

Harrison Street’s Canada Alternative Real Estate Fund acquired Le Mildoré, a 19-storey, 279-bed purpose-built student accommodation at 2025 Peel St. in downtown Montreal. Werkliv has retained a 10 per cent stake in the property.

Terrone said many multiresidential developers are not interested in building for students.

“They think that it’s complicated, but it’s a question of really understanding what their needs are. I believe that we’ll always do student housing if there’s an opportunity to do it.”

Among its other future projects, Werkliv is in due diligence for a renovation, or renovation and new construction project, on Sherbrooke Street in downtown Montreal.

It’s also exploring a potential long-term, multiresidential project in Granby, about 80 kilometres east of Montreal, a few other potential projects in Atlantic Canada and a possible expansion into Edmonton. 

“We will always do student housing because we do it really well,” Terrone said.

However, it will likely become very difficult to get land where it’s needed for student housing, she noted.

“So, it’s always been the plan to start to think about how we can eventually figure out how to build better than what is currently happening in the market – to build faster and in turn make it more affordable to both build and live.”

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