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Site visit: Novotel Sharjah Expo hotel, UAE

The Novotel Sharjah Expo hotel is being developed through an offbeat $35m design-and-build agreement that entails Klampfer Middle East delivering main contracting as well as FFE and OSE services

The project is being developed by an entity called Sharjah Expo Hotel LLC, which is owned by Basma Group.
The project is being developed by an entity called Sharjah Expo Hotel LLC, which is owned by Basma Group.

Hotel projects are rarely the incubators of creative or offbeat building programmes, with their architecture and construction typically driven by operator, designer, and developer requirements.

However, the developer-contractor duo working on a prominent Sharjah hotel has adopted an unconventional contract plan that could go on to become a trendsetter for the industry. 

Their detour from the usual to build the Novotel Sharjah Expo hotel is best evidenced by Klampfer Middle East’s (KME) role on the project. In addition to main contracting – one of its core strengths – KME is delivering fit-out, furnishings, and equipment (FFE), as well as operating supplies and equipment (OSE) services for the scheme.

The hotel is being developed by an entity called Sharjah Expo Hotel LLC, and KME is involved with the project through a design-and-build (D&B) contract. The development vehicle is owned by Basma Group, which is chaired by HE Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, a member of Sharjah’s ruling family. Basma Group awarded KME the hotel’s contract, worth almost $34.6m (AED127m), in 2016.

Upon its completion, Novotel Sharjah Expo will serve as the official hotel of Expo Centre Sharjah, and will be managed by Accor Hotel Services Middle East. The property’s floor plan features 200 units across three categories – standard rooms, club floor rooms, and executive suites – as well as a business centre, food and beverage (F&B) outlets, and two meeting halls, one of which spans approximately 200m2.

Sam Chehab, general manager of KME, says the project’s D&B contract has allowed the team to work through a speedy – if somewhat rare – setup to develop the hotel. For example, Chehab not only heads KME – the team building the project – but also operates as the client’s representative (CR) for the development.

“So, I engage with the consultant as a contractor and as the CR, and when I do speak to them – on every occasion – I make it very clear [which role it is as],” Chehab tells Construction Week.

“Ultimately, every decision, every conversation, and every initiative has always been to the advantage of the project, keeping in mind the builder’s and client’s bottom lines.” 

Upon his appointment as CR, Chehab says he realised that OSE and FFE delivery could be brought under KME’s remit: “[OSE agencies would have] come here and brought third-party labour. I said, ‘I’m here with my labour teams already, so I’ll [deliver] that’.”

Similarly, when Chehab realised that KME could also purchase the furnishings required for the project – such as doors and showers – and use his existing labour teams to install the products, the decision was made to include FFE within KME’s contract.

“It was more expeditious and made for more economical use of labour, and there were fewer [middlemen in the process],” Chehab explains. “It was a win-win situation for the client, the builder, and the operator teams.”

While this may sound like more work than most main contractors are accustomed to, Chehab says his team is ready to meet the demand for added resources to deliver FFE and OSE services.

“Usually, towards the end of a project, you expand the team, because the last 10-20% is always hardest to deliver,” he explains.

“You add resources to [advance] the job towards the end. At that point, you want to fix any snags very quickly before they accumulate and become worse. So, we would have ‘surged’ for three weeks anyway. Now, I’ll surge for six weeks instead, to do the OSE works as well.”

KME’s unconventional role on the project – Chehab estimates that while 20% of main contractors provide FFE services, provision of OSE works is “unheard of” – means that guests will begin occupying the property not long after the team’s work is complete.

Initial designs for the project were produced by architecture specialist Alessio, and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) outfit, Sharjah Engineering Consultants.

In-house consultants, draftsmen, and engineers were deployed by KME to coordinate the inherited designs with the core client brief and local municipality guidelines. Meanwhile, Klampfer-Brayan Electromechanical Contracting (KBEC) has signed on as the scheme’s MEP contractor.

On this project more than most, time sensitivities are a crucial factor, and the D&B arrangement is a significant component in helping the development team meet its deadlines.

“If there is a high level of trust and cooperation [between the client and main contractor], D&B is always a lot more expeditious, cheaper, and easier for all parties,” Chehab says.

“If the client’s demands are very particular, if they want to retain full control of the product, or if they are not in a hurry, you would opt for a traditional lump-sum arrangement. For a job like this, where we all know what a four-star hotel is, how it should function, and what the [team’s] expectations are – and there are very good benchmarks in the market, as well – you do have the flexibility to issue a D&B contract.

“However, you must put provisions in the contract whereby a process is introduced with hold points, sign-offs, and approvals that dictate the materials, brand, and finishes that are to be used. This facilitates, on behalf of the client and consultants, a degree of control [over] the final product.”

The project is currently 67% complete, with structural works completed in September 2017. Chehab says the consultants and operator, Accor, will need to finalise the OSE selection by the end of June, three months prior to completion.

Façade works are finished, and the building is expected to be encapsulated by the façade in Q1 2018, following which, one of the chillers will be turned on to allow installation works to proceed.

“You have to get rid of the natural air in the [building],” Chehab explains.

“The UAE is a very humid environment. You can’t install joinery, plasterboards, and carpets, and then expose them to long periods of natural, walled-in air. So, you have to [ventilate] the internal space, and build the finishes in an air-conditioned environment. The teams installing the joinery and plasterboard work in an air-conditioned space.”

At a time when the hospitality sector is on an upswing in the UAE – 83 properties are due to open in the country this year, according to research firm Top Hotel Projects – hotel construction schemes face the risk of overt homogeneity. Within that context, KME’s and Basma Group’s willingness to step outside the box could be said to set an example for other builders.

And, if the greatest endorsement of a project done well is a happy contractor, then Chehab, with 32 D&B projects under his belt, is a fine example of how the D&B model can work in the right environment.

Commenting on how lump-sum and D&B contracts stack up, he explains: “On this particular D&B project, there’s a lot of harmony between us, the consultants, and the client. Also, as the CR, I wear two hats. You wouldn’t engage the builder as your representative if there wasn’t a high level of trust [...] within the team.

“You may have very good people and a very bad process, and that could be why there’s a difference between what was expected and what was delivered. Alternatively, you could have a very good process, but very bad people. All these things are variables, and you can’t really say this system is better or worse – they both have their benefits and their disadvantages.

“Whether it is D&B or traditional lump-sum, it’s about how the process is used, and how you engage with shareholders is key.”

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