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Hard windows of opportunity: Cleaning 2,000 museum panes

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Highrise window-washers with Picture Perfect Window Cleaning wash the glass on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Tuesday in preparation for the grand opening, which is less than two months away.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Highrise window-washers with Picture Perfect Window Cleaning wash the glass on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Tuesday in preparation for the grand opening, which is less than two months away. Photo Store

To an outsider, the iconic Canadian Museum for Human Rights building looks and sounds like it would be the window-cleaning industry's version of Mount Everest.

Not only is it physically imposing -- 100 metres in height and 24,154 square metres in size -- it also boasts more than 2,000 panes of glass. The glass walls on "the cloud" portion of the 12-storey building are not only curved, they slope inwards. None of this straight-up-and-down stuff found in most glass-covered buildings.

The owners of the Winnipeg company that won the contract to clean all of those windows -- Picture Perfect Window Cleaning -- are quick to admit the CMHR building is the most challenging structure they've encountered in their 12 years in business.

"The whole building, in general, is a challenge," Ken Geron said. "The size of it is a challenge, and the angles (of the glass walls) is absolutely a challenge. Every single angle you can think of, it's here."

But to say it's the window-cleaning industry's equivalent of a Mount Everest -- the world's highest and arguably most challenging mountain to scale -- is probably overstating things just a bit, said Picture Perfect co-owner Dylan Dufort.

"There is nothing else like it," Dufort admitted. "But once you get used to doing it, it will be just another job."

Geron said Picture Perfect beat out three other contenders for the CMHR window-cleaning contract. But because of the commercially competitive nature of the bidding/quoting process, the CMHR is not disclosing the dollar value of the contract.

Geron said until they landed this contract, Manitoba Hydro's downtown office tower was the most challenging building they had tackled because it's so tall and has so many windows. And the circular, revolving restaurant on top of the Fort Garry Place apartment/commercial tower was a close second.

But the CMHR has them both beat, he and Dufort added.

Picture Perfect is tasked with cleaning the inside and the outside of the CHMR's windows, and Dufort said both jobs are equally challenging because of all the weird angles involved.

He estimates, taking into account weather delays, it's probably going to take nearly five months to complete both jobs.

The inside cleaning is already done, but they've only been working on the outside for less than two weeks.

"We're supposed to have it all done by September," Dufort added.

Geron said it took them about two and a half years to come up with a plan for how they were going to tackle the two jobs. And they made sure the plan was approved by provincial workplace safety and health officials before implementing it.

A lot of the outside window cleaning is done by workers who rappel down the glass walls on bosun's or boatswain's chairs. Some of the techniques they use are similar to those used by mountain climbers, and they've all received special training by a company supervisor who is also a training instructor for the Winnipeg Fire Department.

For those really hard-to-reach spots, Picture Perfect has rented a 41-metre-high boon truck, which is the tallest such vehicle in the city.

Geron said the inside cleaning job was completed without any problems, and so far the outside cleaning has also gone without a hitch.

Maureen Fitzhenry, the CMHR's media relations manager, said museum officials expect to spend anywhere from $50,000 to $200,000 a year on window cleaning, depending on how often they feel it needs to be done.

"We're just going to have to see what the weather is like and how dirty they get," Fitzhenry added.

Geron said he and Dufort are hoping the experience the company gains from the CMHR contract will help the company land other challenging window-cleaning jobs either here or elsewhere in Canada.

"Our guys... like to be challenged. They need to be challenged," he added.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 30, 2014 B4

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Updated on Wednesday, July 30, 2014 at 7:01 AM CDT: Replaces photo, formats fact box

10:29 AM: corrects typo

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