Prison Construction by Karen Phelps
When Martin Fahey first walked onto the site where the Spring Hill Correction Facility was due to be built he remembers being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the project. The site within the walls of the facility was to be 26 hectares containing 51 separate buildings and the location was remote – halfway between Hamilton and Auckland.
The organisational aspect was huge. A full project office was established in November 2004. A Collaborative Working Agreement (CWA) was put in place a year later after this model had been used successfully on the Ngawha Prison project at Northland.
Fahey says this was the key that allowed the Spring Hill project to run so smoothly: “Collaborative working breaks down barriers. For example we chose the best people from each organisation and they were the people the workers reported to directly if there was a problem. This allowed any issues to be dealt with quickly and also resulted in some time saving measures,” explains Fahey. “One example of how this worked effectively is that the painter suggested he start the painting work earlier than usual. So a paint shop was set up on site and he pre-painted materials pre-installation, which saved erecting scaffolding.”
Fahey says efficiency on the site was measured at 90% (anecdotal evidence suggests that typically the construction industry works at around 54% efficiency). This increased efficiency also affected safety statistics on the site. Fahey says the New Zealand construction industry is aiming to keep lost time incidents at no more than 2.2 incidents per 100,000 man-hours. On the Spring Hill project the incident rate was 0.5 per 100,000 man-hours.
This is particularly impressive when you consider that at the peak of the project around 1000 people were working on the site and that over two million man hours had been put into the project at the end of January. There were around thirty different subcontracting companies were employed on the project but Fahey says there was no separatism and this also aided the efficiency and flow of the project.
“As soon as people were inducted into the site they had to throw away their company hardhat and put on a hat with the Spring Hill logo on it. This gave everyone a sense of unity,” says Fahey. “Workers also ate together in a single canteen rather than having separate company lunchrooms at they typically would on a large scale project.”
Another key to the flow of the project was that people were paid their actual costs and paid their profit separately. Fahey says this reduced “margins on margins and man-marking or additional staff.”
Also rather than the contractor taking all the risk. The CWA did an in-depth risk analysis that included everybody from the painter to the electrician. The risks were then modelled and monetary sums allocated to them and then risk was allocated depending on who was in the best position to manage that risk.
“This lowered the cost of the risk as it meant that there was no need to allocate a large budget to risk in the pricing for protection just in case something happens,” explains Fahey.
This in-depth organisation and collaboration was probably even more vital as the project kicked off smack bang in the middle of a Waikato winter. To minimise hassles caused by weather the site was first ‘winter-proofed’. For example temporary roading within the site was first laid with geotextile membranes and then a generous helping of gravel (600-800mm), which allowed water to soak into the ground but prevented mud from rising up. This temporary roading helped to bring gas, water, power and cabling in to what was originally a barren farm paddock so that the construction of the project could begin.
The Spring Hill site was cut into a hillside and there are sixteen metres of fall from one side of the site to the other. This was for drainage and also to ensure good sight lines - visibility throughout the whole facility so prison staff can always see what is going on. This meant removing vast quantities of earth from the south side of the site and putting infill in the north side of the site. To give some idea of the scale of this side of the project in total there were 1.5 million cubic metres of bulk earthworks.
Fahey says that unlike a high rise project, which is quite sequential, because Spring Hill was a wide rise project spread over 26 hectares building construction and site works had to be run concurrently.
“Underneath the ground it looks like a spiders web of cables and drains. Things had to be very carefully planned as we were putting in these things while trying to undertake commercial construction at the same time,” he explains.
When looking at the design plans for the facility it almost looks too pretty for a prison. But when you take a walk around the facility although comfortable and pleasant it is still not a place many people would choose to be.
The prison is a campus-style design and the aim is to prevent prisoners re-offending. As the prison rises up the slope it increasingly becomes more secure with high-security buildings located in the north of the site. There are eight facilities which each house 33 prisoners. Down the south side are ? self-care units that house four prisoners each in a ‘flatting’ type situation to prepare them for life beyond the prison. There is also a separate facility for youth.
In the centre of the correction facility is a recreational area plus services and training buildings including two cultural buildings – one for Maori and one for Pacific Island prisoners.
Fahey says one of the main costs on the Spring Hill project was investing in quality materials and workmanship to ensure the facility would be durable and require minimum maintenance.
“We had to get the workers to understand the difference between what they would normally do in general commercial construction and what they had to do on this job to ensure the building would be secure.”
When constructing these buildings due to the location obtaining resources obviously had to be carefully planned. At the outset Fahey it was decided that resources would obtained from more than one location to ensure a steady supply. For example concrete was supplied by Holcim out of Huntly with backup available from Pukekohe and Horatu plants. Hirequip and Carters also set up offices on site to supply products and services directly and quickly.
“There was always bulk materials and equipment on the location and it was only invoiced when we used it. This meant we could get things in a just in time basis rather than workers having to wait for a truck to arrive from somewhere else.”
Because of the scale of the project attracting and retaining workers was vital. Fahey says the aim was to create an atmosphere where people wanted to work. First class facilities were set up on site for workers including a fully operational kitchen and café so there was no need for anybody to have to go off site.
This philosophy will be extended into the actual prison. Fahey says that the aim has been to get a good balance between maintaining a facility for correction and rehabilitation and ensuring the environment is pleasant enough for the prison to attract and retain staff.
Although the building will be handed over on 31 July the first prisoners will not be inducted into the building till November to allow time for the prison to be set up and staff trained. The prison will be capable of housing up to 800 prisoners but will typically house around 650.
Unlike the prisoners most of whom probably don’t want to be there Fahey says he and staff will be sad when the project is over:
“Because of the CWA which has made things run so much easier workers have said to me they don’t know what they will do when they have to go back to a normal construction job.”
Site size overall: 300 hectares includes operational farm
Building Platform: 26 hectares Building Numbers: 50 separate buildings
Current Workforce: 400 people
Expected Peak: 900 people
Concrete volume: 12,000m3 delivered to site
Precast panels: 9,000 separate panels on and off site
Perimeter Wall: 1.7 kilometres of 6m high wall
In ground services: 75 kilometres of pipes and ducts
Electrical cables: 32 kilometres
Earth moving: 375,000 m3 solid
Imported aggregate: 200,000 m3 truck measure (loose)
Construction Period: July 2005 to March 2007
Client Commissioning: April 2007 to July 2007
Facility Operational: 31 July 2007
Project value (construction costs): $256 million
Peak turnover: $1.0 million of work in place per day