Site visit: King Khalid University, Abha

King Khalid University has been envisioned on a grand scale

King Khalid University (KKU) in Saudi Arabia's south western city of Abha
King Khalid University (KKU) in Saudi Arabia's south western city of Abha

The $3.4bn King Khalid University (KKU) in Saudi Arabia’s south western city of Abha has been envisioned on a grand scale. Yamurai Zendera toured phases two and three to see how the project is taking shape

Being built over three phases, the Ministry of Finance has committed the necessary funds to expanding on the existing footprint of KKU campuses in the Asir province. The new institution will provide educational, medical and social services for the provincial capital Abha, as well as tens of thousands of new jobs.

Abha itself already boasts a male-only KKU campus in Guraiger and several other colleges and faculties for women. When complete in 2014 the new co-educational KKU in Al Faraa district will include a medical city, colleges, faculty accommodation, administrative buildings, lecture halls and conference centres. End users the Ministry of Higher Education and Ministry of Health for Hospital Management say KKU alone will create more than 20,000 jobs when services get up and running.

Building of phase one was awarded to China’s Guangdong Overseas Construction Group in 2008 for a reported $700m. The contract included 16 new buildings and their annexes, consisting of engineering and science and administrative buildings over a 36-month period. The eventual deadline for delivery was, however, extended.

KKU’s second and third phases are being built by Saudi Arabian Baytur at a construction cost of around SR3.2bn ($853m).

Phase two started in 2009 and includes a male-only medical city consisting of an 800-bed teaching hospital, colleges for medicine, medical sciences, dentistry and pharmacy students, as well as shared classrooms and a conference centre.

Phase three began in 2011 and includes eight administrative buildings split between two zones: five in Zone A and three in Zone B. There are also a number of sub-projects across all the phases which will provide infrastructure, housing, roads and service buildings.

At present, Saudi Arabian Baytur’s portion of the work is around 65% complete for phase two and 60% complete for phase three, according to director and counsellor, Sekip Senturk.

The site itself is massive. Phase two is spread over 854,000m2 and phase three over 701,000m2; while the distance between the two phases is 4.5km. The teaching hospital alone sprawls 192,277m2, taking up around 65% of the general construction area of phase two. The construction area for phase three is about 130,066m2.

Executive projects manager Ziya Solakoglu says the project is a coordination challenge and hence the two phases are treated as autonomous sites with their own project managers who report directly to him. “This is a very huge and spread out site,” he says. “Therefore it’s important that we co-ordinate what we are doing to ensure work is done on time and within budget.”

The buildings and ancillary services are all being built simultaneously and there are regular meetings with the client’s representative, he adds.

Solakoglu says Saudi Arabian Baytur has around 2,000 workers on phase two and 1,300 on phase three, plus an additional 500 subcontractors. Come the project's peak, the labour volume for phase two will reach 3,000 and for phase three 1,500. “We combine a mix of labour that has Turkish supervisors and team leaders but the labour is from elsewhere, but most of those people speak Turkish as well because they’ve been working with Baytur for so long,” adds Senturk.

Senturk sees the KKU project as providing a showcase for the company in the Kingdom. It is by far and away the biggest project in terms of value of the five it currently has on its books (KKU has been split into three separate contracts), with the others being in Makkah and Rabigh.

In Makkah it is building four hotel towers for the Jabal Omar Development Company, set for completion in 2015. In Rabigh, it has a design and build deal with a Saudi Aramco/Sumitomo JV for non-process buildings, set for completion in 2016.

“KKU is our first project and we are very proud of it,” says Senturk. “By delivering this project successfully it will showcase our capabilities alongside the other projects we are also undertaking.”

He says the fact that Saudi Arabian Baytur chose to set itself up as a foreign investment company owned by Baytur of Turkey (50%) and two Saudi companies – Azmeel Group (25%) and Tanami Holding (25%) – when it entered the market in 2008 gives it strength.

“Saudi Arabia is a very special country. You have to be patient. At the same time you have to know what you are doing,” he points out. “We wouldn’t be as strong if we were here only as a Baytur branch office. Our Saudi partners have given us local knowledge and support allied with our Turkish experience and expertise. Our current chairman for instance is from Azmeel.”

Senturk says that KKU is the kind of project Saudi Arabian Baytur wants to sink its teeth into moving forwards: That is, highly complex and with plenty of scope for added value. The fact it was chosen to carry off phases two and three as its debut project in the Kingdom was a real boon for the company. “Word-of-mouth has established our presence in Saudi. We certainly want to make use of that advantage.”

The value of the company’s order book stands at just over $1bn and Senturk says there is a clear number in mind for what it should be pulling in over the next five years at least.
“We’re not as aggressive as some of the other companies here but we are also conscious that we have to keep our project pipeline full.”

With a significant chunk of its workforce in Abhar working on KKU, Senturk says it makes sense to look at leveraging that logistical advantage towards winning other major projects in the city such as the tender for the expansion of Abha airport.

Under the management of the General Authority for Civil Aviation, the new airport will feature a passenger terminal that will accommodate up to five million passengers a year, 20 passenger airbridges, a parking area for 26 planes, new parking for up to 2,800 cars, a mosque for up to 1,000 worshippers, maintenance facilities and a series of other buildings for the police, administration, the meteorology and environment ministry and for technical support.

The company is currently tendering for projects with the Saudi Arabian ministries of health, housing, and education, and with Saudi Aramco and Rayadah. Its activity and expertise may be classified under five headings: Buildings, industrial plants-petroleum, water resources, transportation and infrastructure projects.

Interestingly, Senturk says Saudi Arabian Baytur would welcome the market opening up to more foreign companies as this will help to drive up standards.

“The projects exceed anybody’s potential. And there is a big need for qualified and established contractors and project management companies. And they will come in because this is becoming the biggest and hottest construction market for large projects. And as they come in we expect the clients will become more selective.”

“Our intention is not to avoid competition. We are very confident of our work. Once we move into a country we don’t take deals by cutting prices just to get a project. We just price ourselves right.”

In numbers:
- 2,000 Number of workers on phase two presently
- 1,300 Number of workers on phase three presently
- 500 Additional number of subcontractors on site

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