Post Covid-19 Construction Start Up

Published 08 May 2020

Hmmmmm Coffeeee … The first café bought coffee makes it really hit home that the full Level 4 lockdown is actually over.  But what does this post lockdown actually look like?  The answer for those of us in the Project Management Consulting space is, aside from the ability to get that morning coffee, very little.  But for Main Contractors and Sub contractors that we work with every day, it changes everything.

It is not as simple as saying that they can go back to work now.  Because the working environment that they have returned to is very, very different to the environment they left only weeks ago.

In hindsight, the final week of Level 4 Lockdown will likely be remembered by most in the Construction Industry as organised chaos. Governmental guidance came quickly, interpretation of the guidance came even faster in differing form from differing clients – and Main Contractor’s for the most part led the charge for a return to work under Level 3 conditions.

In the popular and fast growing suburb of Stonefields in East Auckland, Greenstone Group are working with the Ministry of Education to deliver a new 24 classroom teaching block to prepare the School for future growth.  It could be argued that this project was in an enviable stage when the Nationwide Level 4 lockdown was announced.  Construction had reached a point where the building is 90% watertight – but the second fix was not yet underway, minimising the potential security risk.

During the Level 4 lockdown, the Stonefields School Project leadership team met virtually on a regular basis.  The Contractor team also kept regular contact with their sub-contractors and gave weekly feedback on their position.

“The lockdown has been a good reminder as to the value of quality and timely information with the capacity to be agile. Once news filtered through of COVID-19, Greenstone moved promptly to develop appropriate procedures for meetings and communications; shifting to Zoom once we had gone beyond the stage of bumping elbows. I’ve appreciated the weekly phone call updates, and David’s approach has been calm, reassuring, and professional.” – Stonefields School Vice-Principal Chris Bradbeer.

Behind the scenes, all parties called on their industry peers to seek the most up to date feedback on the current and evolving situation and how best to plan for a return.  Current design, contractual and cost issues were discussed openly and in detail. We wholeheartedly believe that this pre-planning has made for a steady transition from Level 4 to Level 3, and intend to work in the same manner to deliver a smooth transition from Level 3 to Level 2.

This collaborative style of Project Management has been employed from the outset of our involvement during the Master Planning phase, so it was nothing unusual for our team. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by the client;

“Greenstone have been really good to work with on this build. Throughout the project their communication has been proactive and clear. Meetings are always run very efficiently, and are quickly followed up with meeting records and relevant documentation. Greenstone have worked proactively to ensure as a school we are kept well informed, and engaged with progress. It’s also been useful to have timely reminder of forthcoming decisions that need to be made. My sense is that they have a great handle on what is going on, and have worked hard to build relational trust between those involved. To be honest, it was feeling like whole project was going to go without a hitch!” – Chris

The School has a very clear vision of what they wish to achieve and the Architect has done a fantastic job interpreting that vision (within the allowable project budget of course)  – to the point of setting up on site during the design phase and monitoring the way students and staff interact within the current spaces. As a Client, the Ministry of Education has been a proactive team member and has clearly outlined their position at every step of the journey – this lockdown period has been no exception.

A few weeks on and the site is beginning to take shape.  There are approximately 30+ social distancing staff on site from the 4th of May, all for the most part happy to be back at work and quickly evolving onto what people are referring to as the new normal.

To get the site to the point where this could happen was no easy task. Allan Buscke, Watts and Hughes Site Manager explains the process -“We spent several days on site to meet the required standard asked for from both MOE as well as our own required standard. This entailed providing four wash stations with waste bins, hand soaps and paper towels. These along with the documentation that every trade needs to have completed before they can start on site again. We also have needed to have enough equipment to be able to disinfect all the wash areas twice a day along with all our procedure’s and protocols in keeping the site staff and any visitors to site safe from exposure to the Covid 19 virus.”

This crisis has proven to the construction world that, no matter what, you cannot prepare for every eventuality.   However, with a collaborative and informed team working toward the same goals, it can help pave the way to a fair and equitable solution and keep the relationships intact when you eventually get through to the other side.  No doubt there will be further challenges on this project going forward – starting with working under Level 2 conditions, which the team are right now assessing and planning for – however, we believe that the collaborative joined approach that has successfully bought the project this far will continue to deliver great results.