A Cambridge-based commercial development and project management company has successfully challenged itself to perform by overseeing the construction of its own premises.
Construction Advantage Ltd used all its experience in the construction of 48 Empire St, a distinctive two-storey office building in Cambridge.
Up against an extremely tight construction time frame and battling the worst winter and spring for years, Construction Advantage Ltd employed the company’s trademark credo of “focus” to build a quality, attractive building in a Heritage Zone on time and on budget.
Director John Mason said being the client as well as the project manager gave us an interesting insight.
“We had client meetings; the team had to have a meeting with me and tell me how it was going. We know how it feels to be the client now. We walked the talk and we’ve learnt from that. We’ve been through the process now ourselves and showed we can deliver.”
Well earned reputation
John Mason, who trained as a civil engineer, has been in development and project management for more than 20 years. Established in 2007, Construction Advantage Ltd has built up a reputation for managing projects all the way from concept to land purchase and design, through to construction. John says 90 percent of Construction Advantage Ltd’s work is repeat business which indicates the company is more than delivering on clients’ expectations.
The site on the corner of Empire St and Kirkwood St was familiar to John and his staff as they had organised a feasibility study into development options for the former owner. He decided not to proceed and John decided to buy the land from him for development.
“Construction Advantage Ltd knew from the feasibility report there was a need for retail and office space in Cambridge. We worked through this plan to find the optimal result. It gave us a two-floor footprint with retail and office spaces over the floors. We were then able to do our cost modelling from that.
“We then started discussions with possible tenants.”
John knew Spoken Cycles on Alpha St wanted to expand; the new site has enabled them to double their footprint with a high profile street frontage. Vigour Physiotherapy also needed to expand out of their Duke St site, while established insurance business Cooney Insurance also wanted a bigger office in a new location.
Lastly, Construction Advantage Ltd.’s own lease had come to an end and John wanted a purpose-built premises.
“All of a sudden we had four tenants.”
With the project now “bankable” as John puts it, Construction Advantage Ltd committed to the detailed design process.
Because the site is within a Heritage Zone, Construction Advantage Ltd went through a Resource Consent process with Waipa District Council to ensure the feel of the building was right for the area. John says Cambridge-based designers, LAD Architecture produced a design which gave him what was needed to capture the heritage aspect.
The building is roughly 400 square metres per floor, has a concrete floor, pre-cast concrete walls and steel framework, with purpose built fit outs for each tenancy.
“We’ve tried to make the exterior as minimal maintenance as possible so for an investor it’s a good long-term hold.”
The interior is designed with a high quality lift and with flexibility in mind so in future the owner can change the tenant mix relatively easily.
“I think our working relationship with LAD Architecture has produced a great building. It has a few features which mirror some of the heritage elements in the centre of town so it’s been nice to tap into that.”
Weather affects construction
Construction started on May 15 with a tight timeframe and in the worst winter for decades.
“By July this year we already had a year’s worth of rain.”
The weather made a huge impact on the build, complicating work such as digging foundations and pouring concrete and getting the building watertight so interior work could begin. John says the company worked around the weather and made time up whenever it could.
“We monitored the time frame daily and if we could bring some aspect of the job forward, we did so. Logic might say you wait a week for someone to start the activity but if we could gain a day at any time we would. Often it might mean contractors overlapping. We were always flexible, always communicating with sub-contractors and Waipa District Council to use time as efficiently as possible. We had to make sure sub-contractors knew when they were expected on-site and making sure we were ready for them when they did arrive.
“We grabbed every sunny day there was and ensured we got as much out of every day as we possibly could.”
Adding to the pressure was the 17 week construction window – tight in any sort of conditions. Construction Advantage Ltd is used to tight deadlines and John says it’s part and parcel of most of their projects.
“That’s how we roll really. Most of the projects I’ve been involved with have a twist and its normally the programme. There is generally a driver; a lease coming to an end or something like that. Too often projects are allowed to drift on and on and the team involved doesn’t appreciate the cost to the end user.”
All about ‘focus’
John says focus is a big word for Construction Advantage Ltd which is continually repeated throughout the team.
“It’s about staying on task and being focused. We had to move in to the building on September 1 because we were out of the other building. We had to stay focused because there was no chance of getting an extension of time, no excuses. We had to be moving in and we had to deliver and we did so through sticking to that focus.”
John says it’s an approach that Construction Advantage Ltd takes to every job.
He says being the client on this occasion gave him more of an appreciation of the client’s needs. Construction Advantage Ltd works extremely hard to ensure a timely handover and that there are a minimum of defects needing work after handover. John is now even more committed to sorting out every defect possible before handover.
“There is always going to be something to deal with because buildings are not made in a factory. As a new building goes through seasons it moves, but if it’s bits and pieces rather than a long list of defects you can deal with that.”
Positive response to build
Construction was completed on time and remainder of the tenants were moved in by September 7. The project has been a big success; Construction Advantage Ltd has a new home and the building has been sold. The feedback from construction of 48 Empire St has been overwhelmingly positive.
“What I didn’t expect was the impact it would have. It has brought investors in the door who are looking for buildings and it has had a positive effect on the team,” says John.
“We’ve had people come in and say ‘we’ve seen what you’ve done and we like it, can we talk?’”
He says he and the seven other staff enjoy working in the new office which includes a prominent reception, a spacious open plan design and a good sized board room.
The move has been a positive one for 48 Empire St tenant, long-time insurance adviser David Cooney who moved his business from Dick St.
“I just felt with Cambridge expanding as it was, it was time for a move,” says David, whose business has three staff and covers the full spectrum of insurance needs.
“It’s working out well. Everything is brand new and staff are loving it. We are enjoying the high profile of the building, the traffic past here is amazing. We’ve found it quite a change in that we are getting some walk in business now too.”
David also appreciates the design aesthetics of the building.
“John wanted to have a building that wasn’t just something new in Cambridge but was going to stand the test of time. He’s certainly done that.”
John is excited about the future that developing, designing and constructing this building offers.
Talking with both new and existing clients about how Construction Advantage Ltd can help achieve their goal is something that they enjoy and when the final result is as positive as this project has been the team looks forward to the next ones.