Site visit: Foremarke School, DuBiotech
The new school that has risen from the desert in just nine months
A new school has risen from the sands of Tecom’s DuBiotech in under four months. John Bambridge talks to Rob Devereux from Brookfield Multiplex, the contractor behind the fast build of Formarke School
There could hardly be a greater contrast than between the present Foremarke School project site, where a one to two storey structure now stands, and the vacancy of the lot at the official ground-breaking ceremony in January.
Brookfield Multiplex signed the main contract on 24 December, 2012, and by New Year’s Eve, the company had mobilised on-site.
The reason behind the rush is a seven-month build programme that will see the preparatory element of the school completed by August 26, ready for the 2013 school year beginning in September.
Born out of the success of the existing 12-hectare Repton Dubai in in Nad Al Sheba, the Foremarke reflects the huge demand for new education facilities in the UAE.
Matt Shaw, chief investment officer for the client, Evolvence Knowledge Investments, explains: “Given the nature of the project — creating a school in time for the upcoming academic year in September — we are all working to a tight timeframe.”
Brookfield Multiplex was selected in part upon the recommendation of the architect, Brewer Smith Brewer Gulf (BSBG), which identified the company as one of the few in the region up for the task.
Rob Devereux, director of construction and development for the contractor, confirms that the company has been quite active with the UK-based architect on design-and-construct projects in the region.
“Obviously they [BSBG] have experienced our ability to deliver, and deliver quality in a very short period of time. They were working with the client and recommended us to them,” he says. Upon introduction, due to the urgent nature of the project, Evolvence entered direct negotiations with the contractor.
The school is the first project of its kind for Brookfield Multiplex in the Middle East region. Devereux notes the importance of the project for the company in terms of experience. “The education sector seems to be very active and lots of new schools are being built, so it’s good for us to get involved.”
In terms of delivering project on a tight schedule, BSBG’s recommendation also appears spot-on. The firm has worked on design-and-construct projects across the UK and Australia and it has specialised in fast turn-around times.
As a local example, the firm built a cancer research facility in Al Ain for Masdar in only six months. Devereux adds: “Projects on a design-and-construct basis generally have a shorter programme period because you are integrating the project phases. I also think our systems and procedures lend themselves to these kind of projects.”
Claim or truth, the rapid pace of progress on Fore-marke School project is clear, with Brookfield in receipt of some designs from BSBG and the consulting engineer, Alliance Design Group, as little as a few days before they are due to be implemented on-site.
On such a precise programme, Devereux explains: “Under a project of this nature where you literally are building as you’re designing, it puts the consultants under a lot of pressure, so we have weekly or bi-weekly meetings with MEP, structural, and architectural consultants to go through the details and respond to RFIs. Rather than us submitting queries and waiting weeks, we try and resolve those around a table in a matter of days.”
He admits that the concurrent design phase is one of the biggest challenges facing his team. However, Brookfield has employed a team with fast-track project experience, who understand how things fit together, and how to anticipate issues rather than resolving them only after they occur.
The time between the release of the designs and the construction varies in brevity, says Devereux. Sometimes the team receives the drawings, orders the reinforcement, and has to begin pouring the beams and columns within two or three days.
Another issue is ensuring lead times are met for ordering of materials. Brookfield worked with the client and consultant team on the selection of materials to ensure items with long lead times were picked up on early on, and Devereux lauds the involvement of Evolvence on the project, revealing the client provided all the information it needed to be able to proceed quickly. The client was also heavily involved in the selection process, with many of the materials procured locally to mitigate delays.
“In some instances it is weeks, but we’re really trying to resolve long lead items, like stones, tiles, floorings, light fittings. These have a very long, sometimes three to four months lead time, so it’s about resolving the issues now so we can order in time to finish phase one.”
From the perspective of the developer, Shaw notes: “I am confident that the development will be delivered within that timeframe because of the commitment Brookfield Multiplex has shown in terms of their personnel and material resources.
We are extremely satisfied with the performance of our partnership with Brookfield and the excellent standard of their delivery.
“Foremarke School will cover a 25,980m2 site, and accommodate 1,280 children at full capacity. Our board and stakeholders are all looking forward to seeing the project come to life as we offer parents in Dubai unrivalled standards of excellence in British teaching for children aged three to 11.”
Actually leading the CW team around the project site was project engineer Peter Fullerton-Smith. He first pointed out the visibly phased nature of the construction.
While the 95% complete structure of the foundation school will be ready by September — with half of it now free of formwork; the other half still shrouded in scaffold, but cast and setting — the junior school has a little more time and is still only 25% complete. The latter is due for handover between March and April 2014, according to Devereux.
He also dismisses any notion that the work would disrupt students from September. “The design is such that the two phases are completely separate and can be accessed independently,” he notes.
“At the time of phase one handover, the foundation school and most structural work on the junior school will be completed, so there will be a lot less disturbance [noise and dust] on-site. Much of the remaining work will be internal finishes and façade work, which will obviously be less disruptive.”
Phase one is now in its MEP phase, and internal fit-out has commenced. Brookfield is aiming to begin the façade within the next month, installing aluminium windows and internal tiling and stone work.
It is fortunate for Brookfield that the project designs prefers a horizontal spread over a wider area, rather than vertically over multiple storeys, as sufficient resources allow the multiple project areas to be developed at the same time.
Devereux explains that the build speed then comes down to efficient handling of these resources and the effectiveness of their distribution across the different project areas.
“We have used a combination of in-situ concrete and precast — we have used a hollow core floor system and that minimises the amount of labour, and also from a programme perspective, you don’t need formwork to support the in-situ slabs,” he notes on the construction method. “You literally drop the hollow core planks in position and the day after, you can be working below those areas.”
Brookfield has also pioneered a formwork system that is relatively unused in the region. “We’re using a light-weight formwork system for the beams, which hold the hollow core slabs,” explains Devereux.
“With this method, you can actually strip the shutters but leave the props in place. You obviously need to support the beams until the required strength of the concrete is achieved, but you can still strip the majority of the shutters and reuse them elsewhere, so it’s a preferred system.”
The 600mm raft foundation is also thicker than required for the two low-rise buildings. Commenting on the generous slab, Devereux says, “It is certainly not going to go anywhere, that’s for sure.
Also, from a timing perspective, we needed to move on with the project. So perhaps a bit of over-design in the raft gave everybody, including the authorities, the comfort that the project was structurally sound.”
Another challenge Brookfield faced was turning around the authority approvals as quickly as possible and making sure that the work stayed ahead on the authority approvals. Devereux says working with MEP firm Bilt Middle East was “fantastic.”
The subcontractor's knowledge of local authority requirements — to comply with Dubai Civil Defence and DEWA — has been instrumental in making sure the design complies so that Brookfield can fast-track approvals and not revisit items.
Devereux says he thinks it’s a “great project”, also because it’s a new client for the firm. “You know, fast-track nature projects are always very challenging. The good thing about them is that they come and go very quickly, so you move on to new things, rather than big projects that last for two or three years, people perhaps become a bit stale with them.
“Here you really get stuck in, get the issues resolved and before you know it, you’re finishing the project.”
He admits finding a personal affinity for the project as a father. “School projects are great to be involved in because I understand just how difficult it is to get kids into school in Dubai. So it’s great to see a new school being built, and as it’s a new sector for us in this market, hopefully it will open some doors.”
Positive about the future, Devereux indicates: “The client is certainly looking at rolling out more schools in the region, so we’d certainly like to continue working with them.”
Evolvence Knowledge Investments
Brewer Smith Brewer Gulf
Alliance Design Group
Brookfield Multiplex (BM)
BM Production Labour Group
Plant and Equipment
BM Plant & Equipment
BILT Middle East