To say Beni Cobaschi was an ambitious young man is an understatement. In 2001 he immigrated to Canada from Romania with his parents and within a few days he went to a community church to introduce himself and to express that he was looking for work.
This soon led to him taking on several jobs, including working at McDonald’s, at a Chevron gas station, and performing flooring projects including tiles and laminate. While Cobaschi was building up his construction contacts, he also approached others in the industry by offering to do job site cleanup and more.
Aged just 18—and still in high school—he founded Renewal Constructions. The year was 2004. His first job was a $5,000 contract for foundation waterproofing, which was successful. Eager for more work, he approached a superintendent he knew. The superintendent, having no work, suggested that Cobaschi approach the window-installation trade.
A window opens
Cobaschi had never installed a window in his life, but he was a quick learner and shadowed the window installer as a helper in addition to moving windows off the scaffolding and down the hoist. Every day, he took detailed notes and studied them diligently afterwards.
“I went and bought some tools, got them dirty, and scratched them so I wouldn’t look very green,” he says. “I looked at my notes, then started installing windows.” Within weeks, the foreman from the installation company told Beni he liked his attitude and appreciated him always being tidy and dependable.
Soon Cobaschi obtained more window-installation work and subsequently began having more people work with him. Approximately six months later, Cobaschi found his genuine passion when he was approached to clean a building as the scaffolding was being dismantled. He recognized that when buildings are rehabilitated with new windows, stucco, brick, concrete, or other materials, a considerable amount of dust will accrue on adjacent surfaces that must be cleaned prior to project completion.
Soon, Cobaschi was earning more profit in post-construction cleanup than in installing windows. Realizing he needed to establish a team and deal with larger accounts receivables—and the money to pay his staff—he sold his prized 10-year-old BMW that he had purchased in high school to fund the growth.
“I understood early on in my business career that success comes with no small measure of sacrifice,” says Cobaschi. “There were many times when I struggled and doubted whether I had made the right choice. During those times, my faith was my strength and motivation, knowing that if my purpose was to be a good steward of the blessings I had received thus far, God would continue to provide,” he shares.
“I wanted to be the contractor who gives other people work,” he says. Obtaining bonding was the next challenge for his fledgling company. Being bonded meant that Renewal Constructions would be able to undertake larger projects independently. Even though Cobaschi had quickly gained considerable experience in construction, he freely admits he knew little about the financial and bookkeeping aspects of running a business. In order to become bonded, Cobaschi had to dive into the world of financial statements, spreadsheets, and accounts payable. “All of this was a big learning curve for someone who didn’t have experience and who focused on work while still attending high school.”
By 2008, Cobaschi had obtained bonding for Renewal and continued to accumulate his experience. He soon became a certified building-envelope technician in addition to being the founder, president, and general manager of Renewal Constructions.
Although Cobaschi is proud of his accomplishments, he is quick to credit his team. Along with his wife Diana who serves as Controller, the team includes Project Managers Sebastian Ravar and Ray Wong; Office Administrator Craig Penn; and Foremen Tudor Bodnariuc, Marius Techere, Stefan Alecse, Dustan Tucker, Scott Muir, and Andrew Wassenaar.
With a core staff of about 25, which includes a full-time estimator, full-time project manager, office administrator, supervisors, foremen, and labourers, Renewal also works with about 60 subcontractors, including scaffolders, roofers, cleaners, and others. Now widely recognized as building-envelope experts, Renewal Constructions’ services include complete building-envelope renewal, roofing and waterproofing, glazing replacement, building maintenance, interior renovations, and the occasional private home custom build.
The bulk of the company’s work today is in the Metro Vancouver area between Langley and West Vancouver. Work areas also include the Sunshine Coast, Chilliwack, and as far as Whistler.
“Our strength is building envelopes,” says Cobaschi. “We’ve developed a good name and want to keep it that way, so we want to stick to this industry and keep growing.” Renewal thrives on the challenges—even the difficulties—of tricky building-envelope projects.
At present, the company is working on numerous projects in the Vancouver area and is already scheduling next year’s work. Meticulous planning, safety, and consideration of all risk factors are crucial. This is especially true when working on window replacement projects that require erecting scaffolding many storeys high.
A diverse portfolio
Among the company’s portfolio of completed projects are Stratford Place, Westsea Towers, and the University of British Columbia’s Walter C. Koerner Library.
Stratford Place required many improvements as a complete building-envelope renewal project. Improvements included new aluminum windows, new metal wall cladding system, balcony slab repairs, balcony and eyebrow liquid membrane waterproofing, and exterior painting of all exposed concrete walls. This was a multi-storey high-rise project that necessitated scaffold access.
“There are different ways to tackle rehab work,” explains Cobaschi. “You can do it with scaffold, or you can do it with swing stages. And if it’s a smaller project, you can do rope or bosun’s chair access. Stratford Place was done with scaffold, while Westsea Towers was done with swing stages. Those two projects are among the largest we’ve completed.”
Westsea Towers was also a complete building-envelope renewal project, which consisted of new aluminum windows and sliding doors, balcony liquid membrane waterproofing, structural concrete repairs, balcony guardrails, some roofing replacement, and exterior painting.
For the Walter C. Koerner Library, Renewal’s scope of work included “glazing replacement and rehabilitation of the existing curtain wall system such as replacement of all structural silicone and new PMMA waterproofing detail at the curtain wall header and curtain wall sill.” It was an extremely technical job requiring the use of a crane to replace the glass and do the waterproofing.
Most of the time, Renewal is invited by a consultant or client to prepare a bid. “The consultant is the middleman and we like that,” says Cobaschi, “because the owner is protected, and we’re protected. Leaky condos are our bread and butter,” he shares. “That can mean changing the window, installing caulking, and doing rehabilitation work on concrete or wood framed buildings, including 2-ply SBS roofing and shingles.”
For the team at Renewal, small projects may take just a few weeks, while large rehabilitation projects such as entire apartment buildings can take approximately 11 to 14 months. However, no matter the scope of the work, safety remains the number one priority. Before taking on any project, the team gauges risk, liability, scope, and complexity of the work.
Working outdoors in Vancouver presents its share of challenges as well. With rainy weather from October to April, it is not unusual for temperatures to drop below 5°C, making it impossible to apply certain materials. Consequently, the company makes scheduling a priority depending on the weather conditions.
Shaping up for the future
While the company has carved out a name for itself and is renowned for its building-envelope rehabilitation, the team is aware that Vancouver is moving toward implementing new codes, including building improvements. Cobaschi is currently examining new opportunities in the realms of energy efficiency and HVAC.
Another provision for the future is ensuring that Renewal invests in its employees by providing ongoing training that builds on the team’s knowledge and skills. Most recently, Renewal has been undergoing in-house training to obtain Building Envelope Technician certification for key employees.
Team building is a priority for Renewal, and employees often get together for dinners, cooking classes, barbecue picnics, go-karting, skiing, and even axe throwing. Renewal Constructions will be turning 20 next year. In keeping with the company value of acknowledging and valuing staff contributions and efforts, the management is planning a company-wide getaway as a way of showing appreciation for the team. Many of the team have been with the company for at least 15 years, the kind of stability and amassing of experience that Cobaschi had in mind when he founded Renewal as a teenager.
Renewal strongly believes that success should be shared with those in need and makes charitable giving a priority. “Over the past two decades, God has blessed Renewal abundantly, and good stewardship of our resources, including time, money, and experience, means responding to others’ needs as well.”
From its small beginnings, Renewal has regularly sponsored humanitarian projects in impoverished areas. Most recently, the company has undertaken several larger initiatives to help underprivileged communities attain self-reliance and energy sustainability. These include funding school buildings in Haiti and India, a construction supply store in Haiti, water wells and education programs in Africa, and solar panels for a girls’ safehouse in Mexico.
“My idea all along was building the team and developing a business from there.”