Nick Haitas is president of X-L-Air Energy Services Ltd. one of Ottawa’s largest prime mechanical contractors. Thanks to Haitas’ background X-L-Air brings a wealth of international experience to the construction industry. Born in Athens, Greece and educated and trained as a professional engineer in South Africa, Haitas first established X-L-Air (Pty) Ltd in South Africa in 1983. Attracted by Canada’s progressive and peaceful environment and concerned about the then looming racial conflict in South Africa, he moved with his family to Canada in 1988, establishing X-L-Air Energy Services Ltd in 1995.
When he registered his business as a corporation in Ontario, Haitas intended to make X-L-Air an Energy Service Company (ESCO) specializing in financing, designing and constructing energy conservation projects that would guarantee energy costs and savings. However, as a result of his realistic reading of prevailing market forces, X-L-Air evolved as a prime mechanical contracting firm. At that time, the Ottawa market needed a mechanical contractor with a high level of technical expertise to provide competitive bidding for the medium size but technically challenging retrofit projects that comprised the main body of available work. Since then X-L-Air has grown to be one of the largest prime mechanical contractors in the Ottawa area. With a rock solid reputation for quality, X-L-Air is capable of handling all mechanical systems: using its own forces – heating heating, ventilation, air conditioning, HVAC piping, plumbing; and with subcontractors – building automation and sprinklers. Save
Responsible fiscal management and an adherence to exacting standards at every level of its organization underpin X-L-Air’s high industry performance standards. Haitas is proud that his company’s growth is directly proportional to its stable foundation. He lists a number of factors that combine to maintain his company‘s leading position: X-L-Air is able to take on large projects because it is well funded; its realistic business plan calls for controlled growth based on earnings and available capital rather than borrowed money; as a unionized sheet metal and plumbing contractor the company is able to tap into a professionally trained and certified labour pool; its management team, including project managers are either university-trained and/or have extensive practical and hands-on project management experience, so they are fully qualified to deal with technical and management issues. Underlying its impressive organization is X-L-Air’s code of business ethics evident in the climate of fairness and respect extended to its employees, clients, engineers, suppliers and sub-contractors.
According to Haitas, X-L-Air’s corporate goal is three-fold: to continue to provide professional service and competitive pricing to its clients; to remain at the leading edge of our industry and to provide gainful and fulfilling employment to its staff and management team. As he says, “We take pride in our work and in our ability to achieve these goals on every project X-L-Air Energy Services Ltd. undertakes.”
When the Canada Green Building Council adapted the ambitious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System in December 2004, Haitas perceived a worthy challenge awaiting his company. By taking the required exams to become LEED Accredited Professionals (AP), X-L-Air personnel would lead the vanguard in this important initiative. Built on rigorous standards modified specifically for the Canadian labour market, LEED provides a suite of standards (Silver, Gold and Platinum) for environmentally sustainable construction. LEED standards apply specifically to “green buildings” whether they are new designs or major renovations of new commercial buildings, institutional buildings and/or high-rise residential projects. They are designed specifically to improve occupant well being, environmental performance and economic returns of such buildings.
One of X-L-Air’s LEED success stories is the retrofit of the City of Ottawa’s facility OC Transpo the equivalent to Toronto’s TTC completed in the summer of 2008. X-L-Air’s contract was to install three air handling units serving the nerve centre of the facility. The one-storey building contains mainframe computers and monitoring camera equipment for the transit way throughout Ottawa. The project was executed to conform to the LEED gold standard for commercial interiors. As a first step, X-L-Air in conjunction with Nicolini Construction Ltd. had to submit an indoor air quality plan adhering to LEED specifications that would be maintained throughout the construction. The facility became an integrated transit control centre for most of OC Transpo’s security and communications network, where previously the various functions they perform operated out of separate buildings. The project held a few surprises for the contractor, Haitas remembers, “The old building has a sealed in ceiling with drawings that did not reflect what we discovered when the ceiling was removed. It was a challenge for the construction team that we overcame, following LEED guidelines to the letter.”
Project manager Peter Nicolini of Nicolini Construction Ltd., the general contractor for the project remembers another challenging aspect of the job since OC Transpo personnel were moved onto one side of the building so that their work could proceed throughout the two-phase construction period. Halfway through the project a switch over occurred relocating personnel to the finished side of the project allowing the construction team access to the other side of the building. “For much of the project, we had people working on the other side of the wall sharing the same air ventilation system as the construction team. Thanks to X-L-Air we were able to complete this aspect of the project and conform to our indoor air quality plan with great success.”
Nicolini was particularly impressed with X-L-Air’s quality and high level of commitment to the job, “The knowledge and practical value that was brought to the table by President Nick Haitas and V.P. Scott Black was truly impressive. These two individuals were of great value to the project team and assisted in delivering a successful project to the client.” Nicolini is convinced of the benefits in using the LEED gold standard for a facility of this nature. “In my opinion,” he says, “the benefit of completing a renovation to LEED gold standard applies to both the client and the contractor. The client benefits from the day to day use of the facility and the long-term benefit it offers in reduced energy consumption and lower overhead costs to operate is remarkable. The contractor benefits from the hands on knowledge of the specialized work involved, accruing priceless knowledge for future projects.”
Another successful LEED project undertaken by X-L-Air was the new Albion-Heatherington Recreation Centre, which celebrated its official opening in February 2009. Built on the site of the former Albion-Heatherington Community Centre comprised of three portable buildings, the new recreation centre is a 7,000 square-feet facility featuring a gymnasium with basketball and volleyball nets, a multi-purpose and meeting room, in addition to an outdoor puddle rink. An outdoor stage area accommodates community functions or performances and movies-in-the-park. Following LEED standards, the recreation centre incorporated a wide range of sustainable design features into its structure to reduce energy consumption and use of natural resources, its impact on the environment, and to improve residents’ health and comfort. For its third LEED project, X-L-Air took on the mechanical side of a project to expand and update the former Algonquin College, now owned by the University of Ottawa.
The fourth LEED Gold project undertaken by X-L-Air is the prime mechanical work of the 538,000 sq. ft new building for EDC with Broccolini Construction as the General Contractor. At 18 floors and three levels of below-grade parking, it is the largest downtown commercial development in Ottawa in the last 25 years. The main tenant will be Export Development Canada. Completion date is set for November 2011.
Consistently vigilant to the task at hand, Haitas applauds environmentally conscious programs but with a sage engineer’s eye notes that design models require scrutiny to avoid the pitfalls of over-design. “Over caution,” he points out, “will not necessarily result in savings.” This measured approach to excellence has impressed more than one client. As one satisfied owner noted, “X-L-Air’s leadership role was abundantly evident in its effective resolution of issues as they arose and its ability to look ahead to identify potential trouble spots, thereby minimizing undue costs overall.” Evidently, the Haitas model of persistence, prudence and high standards pays off.