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Site visit: Ras Al Hamra, Oman

PDO's sustainable staff housing project in Muscat is taking shape

The Ras Al Hamra development as seen from Qurum Heights.
The Ras Al Hamra development as seen from Qurum Heights.

Petroleum Development Oman has invested in building a high-quality, environment-friendly seaside housing development for its employees in Muscat. Yamurai Zendera paid a visit to the site

The Sultanate of Oman has executed a number of measures in recent times to encourage skilled migrant workers to stay in the country. Allowing them to invest in property in integrated tourism complexes (ITCs) along with gaining family Omani residency has been one measure that has had some success.

Meanwhile, one of Oman’s biggest and most important companies, Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), which accounts for more than 90% of its crude oil production and nearly all of its natural gas supply, is developing a housing scheme for staff in the west of Muscat at the coastal area of Ras Al Hamra.

Nestled in a valley overlooked by Qurum Heights and stretching out to the Gulf of Oman, PDO says the aim of the project is to improve the current housing stock on site through new construction and some limited refurbishment of existing stock.

The entire 281-hectare masterplan is envisaged to be finished over the next four to five years and will be packaged over various phases to provide a high quality, low density and environmentally sustainable community. It already has direct access to PDO’s adjacent Miana al Fahl petroleum processing plant, making it a convenient location for the organisation’s staff.

Omani contractor Al Turki Enterprises was awarded the phase one residential and infrastructure package back in February 2012. The scope of work included the construction of 241 residential units made up of 108 apartments, 82 townhouses and 51 detached and semi-detached villas along with associated civil infrastructure and utilities, giving its portion of work a built-up area of around 100,000m².

Al Turki operations director David Skinner said that it was able to get off to a fast start at the mobilisation stage because the enabling works and demolition of some existing units had already been completed by other contractors contracted to separate packages.

“We didn’t have to do any major rock excavation or backfill. We came in and did the pad foundations from the earthworks that had been done, so that allowed us to get off to a flying start,” said Skinner.

“It took about 10 months to erect one unit. Obviously you’re starting a double-set every couple of weeks – 41 seperate doubles in total – so it’s just a matter of balancing resources against the speed of delivery. So then you have to get a group of them ready so the services, the power, the drainage, the water supply, all of that goes into a group of houses.”

Once the pad foundations were laid, the columns and the slabs of the townhouses were erected using a Peri Skydeck system before work started on the interior.

The development has two main roads through the heart of it – Ras Al Hamra Street and Kauther Street – that are separated by a mound of jebel rock. Ras Al Hamra Street is the more advanced of the two with the townhouses on either side complete whereas at Kauther Street the structures are still being erected. Kauther Street also has two junctions off it that rise into the mountain where the executive villa complexes – Habab Terrace and Harweel Terrace – are being built.

Skinner said a unique sustainable feature of the townhouses is the autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) blockwork and the polystyrene insulation – EIFS.

“These are systems that were brought in from the UAE so that was a little bit different from the traditional construction in Oman. We had to train our staff to do that” he said. “PDO want to build a long-term product. If you’re going to hold onto a house you’re prepared to spend a little more on the construction because it will save you running costs in the long-term.”

With around 3,000 labourers and 120 office staff currently on site, the next set of residential plots scheduled to be delivered are the Ras Al Hamra Street apartment blocks 1 and 2 which contain 54 units between them and form one half of a four-block section totalling 108 units. Skinner said he expected apartment blocks 1 and 2 to be handed over by early November and 3 and 4 by December.

“The client is interested in the handover of units so our critical path at the moment is the handover of apartment blocks 1, 2, 3 and 4. That’s more than 40% of the total units on the entire job so it’s vitally important,” said Skinner.

When CW visited the site last month there was a hive of activity in this area with finishing works, paving works and MEP final fix being completed at blocks 1 and 2. Blocks 1 and 2 have a shared underground car park as do blocks 3 and 4. Some workers were also assigned to completing the final touches to the recreational areas and public spaces.

Skinner said he also expected the Harweel Terrace villas to be completed by the end of the year, adding that Al Turki was just waiting for fittings such as kitchen units to arrive. “That just leaves continuing to work on Kawther Street and Habab Terrace,” he added. “The project peak was probably reached in September 2013 – and we’ve maintained about 3,000 labourers from then until now.”

The development also contains a golf course, mosque and PDO school, however these are outside of Al Turki’s scope of work. Nevertheless, it has still had to carry out some of its business with one eye on other packages being undertaken elsewhere. One such example was in 2012 when it had to reroute the existing road that gives direct access to the adjacent PDO petroleum plant to make room for the golf course.

“The road used to run in a straight line but there wasn’t enough room for the golf course. We had to rebuild the road and re-run all the services to the new route to provide an extra so many square metres for the golf course,” said Skinner. “I think we finished in 2013 to let PDO award the golf course contract without having too much interference from a contractor that’s still trying to finish work.”

There has also been the utilities work that has needed to be carefully scheduled in a way that does not compromise the construction of residential plots.

“We tried to do as much of the utilities work in advance but we couldn’t impact upon the programme for construction,” said Skinner.

“To get the buildings started had to take precedence over the utility installation – and then once you’ve got all your major movements of your concrete, your rebar, formwork, blockwork etc done, then it was down to the finishing stage. Then you’d have more chance to excavate roads and install utilities in front of the buildings.”

Of the logistical challenges of the site, which is currently being run off a mixture of temporary power and PDO mains supply, Skinner said Al Turki had to take account of the restrictions placed on the movement of heavy goods vehicles in and out of Muscat at certains times.

“There is an embargo in the morning and an embargo in the afternoon where you can’t have heavy goods vehicles other than concrete mixers but that’s not really affecting us because we have a concrete batching plant on site,” he said.

“It was a straightforward decision to invest in one for this job. We’re at a stage now where it’s maybe time to move it off because the volumes are small – but it could be kept here for future phases or even if we supply concrete to other people, that’s an alternative.”

Skinner said that at the current rate of construction, hand over of the package to PDO would take place in 2015.  

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