TBT Engineering Undertakes Impressive Expansion Project
by Scott A. Sumner
The banks of the Kam River near the CN Bridge on the south side of Thunder Bay is home to the quickly growing TBT Engineering. This multifaceted engineering firm has occupied the former Paterson Group office site since 2010 and has just finished Phase 1 renovation of the
former Western Engineering and Metso facility to eventually house all of their 135 employees at this large 15 acre campus.
Rob Frenette is President, of TBT Engineering and Liana Frenette, CEO of TBT Engineering. The couple also are partners in Ozaanaman Engineering, started as a partnership with Aboriginal partners. They also own TBT Surveyors Inc.
Rob Frenette grew up in his hometown of Fort Frances and Liana is from Barwick near Fort Frances. This area has much excitement happening today with the New Gold mine project.
“ Both Liana and I went to Lakehead University which was a lot of fun. We graduated in 1988, loved Thunder Bay and choose to stay, work and raise our family here. All through university I was fortunate to work with the Ministry of Transportation as a summer student and it helped a
lot. I was able to get through university with a small student debt through working hard in the summer and living frugally in the winters.” said Rob Frenette.
Upon graduation Rob was provided a full time position at MTO as an engineer in training. In 1993, 5 years after graduation, he applied for his Certificate of Authorization, which allows an engineer to provide services directly to the public. It was at that time that Rob and Liana
started with a small company called Frenette Engineering Services.
“ Our small engineering firm resulted in an opportunity to do a septic system. I brought in a small soil sample to get tested at a local company. The owner of the testing company provided us our soil results and then made us an offer to buy his testing business. We weren't expecting this but decided to think the offer over and after some discussion decided to give it a try. Our new business was called Thunder Bay Testing (1995) Limited which had began operation originally
in 1968. This was the beginning of the company.” smiled Rob.
Rob Frenette was a sole practioner as an engineer then. The testing company gave him the opportunity to quit his job at the MTO and devote all of his time and effort with Liana, in between raising three kids and renovating a house, to make this company grow. At the start in
1995 they had 2 staff, then later that year went up to 10, 15 the next year, then 20 and in 1999 the companyhad 50 staff in the summer.
“I was feeling the burden of being the only engineer in the firm. Wayne Hurley joined our team in late 1999 as another engineer and that is when we could also focus on geo technics and environment. We worked very well together and grew dramatically over the years. Today we have 135 staff and are looking forward to a busy winter. Our recent acquisition of Profor Engineering has helped us with mechanical and electrical engineering disciplines as well.”
Today TBT Engineering have a campus on the Kam River composing of 15 acres and a 875 concrete wharf. It was purchased from the Paterson family and is the headwater location of the St Lawrence Seaway. The property has 2 buildings TBT Engineering are currently occupying. In
May 2014 they acquired 5 additional acres and hope to get a few more acres shortly from the City of Thunder Bay. The building property TBT Engineering are renovating on Kingston St is just over 38,000 square feet and used previously by Western Engineering and then a abrication
“ It was fun to have so much more square footage of building space to use. We have focused in the last year on what we call Phase 1 which is office space facilities for our technical services group we call our boots on people such as surveyors, drillers, contact administration, field technicians and laboratory technicians. As a rule they need work boots on all day,” said Rob. “ Phase 1 will utilize 16,000 square feet for our drilling operation, laboratory, our field services and their administration. Phase 2 is about 20,000 square feet for our boots off personal - some technical, professional and scientific staff who work mostly at a desk with a computer. After Phase 2 all of the other office locations we have today on Balmoral Street and Syndicate Ave.
will move in here. Phase 3 we will construct a new material laboratory and move everyone from Harold Street.” said Rob.
The Phase 1 renovation is now complete and TBT Engineering are moving desks in and getting everything set up.
“ We have a strong connection with history here at TBT Engineering and like embracing that to demonstrate it and not hide it. Our new space is very open concept and we want an industrial feeling. As an engineering company we wanted some character with exposed steel beams-
an rugged industrial feel.” said Rob Frenette. “ Phase 2 will happen as soon as we purchase some property from the City of Thunder Bay that will allow us to complete our plans with servicing new sewer and water from Kingston street. It will also provide municipal services to
eliminate the septic fields two of the building currently use.”
In the future TBT Engineering hope to attract complimentary tenants in Phase 3 where they will renovate these current buildings they occupy. They hope to attract an architect, interior design firm or some service provider they have association with looking for 7000 square feet on the banks of the Kam River. Some property is being retained for future expansion.
“ The city is looking at new zoning for this property which would allow for mixed use waterfront development including commercial and condos with a marina with private dock slips. We would be excited to get involved with a developer in this type of project on our campus as well!” smiles Rob Frenette.