Health staff migrate to CBD building

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It’s a case of 457 down, 111 to go. In a long-awaited boost to Hamilton’s CBD, a migration of Waikato District Health Board staff will be complete in April.

That’s when Infant Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service staff will join colleagues in the Waiora CBD building, which housed the Farmers department store for many years.

Some of those staff have moved from elsewhere in the Hamilton CBD, with a sizable number coming from the main hospital campus.

When the move is complete, 568 staff will work in the two-storey podium building, which was developed by Chase Corporation about 35 years ago and fronts onto Alexandra, Collingwood and Anglesea Streets.

The shift, which started in November last year, brings a range of services together under one roof, including payroll, IS support and Disability Support Link. Notably, it does not include adult mental health, which was originally tagged to shift as well but will now stay in its site on the corner of London and Tristram Streets.

That followed a rescoping of the project in 2018, which the DHB’s director of infrastructure development, Chris Cardwell, says was partly to drive down costs.

“The reasons for the change was two-fold: a change in strategy, particularly in respect of Adult Mental Health and Addictions which was going to occupy part of the space and to manage cost down by reducing the scale of the fit-out.”

The shift of staff has helped free up a “large footprint” on the Waikato Hospital campus for the new adult mental health facility redevelopment to replace the Henry Bennett Centre’s acute facilities.

Cardwell is confident the Waiora project cost will come in close to the budgeted $15.3 million, down from more than $20 million before the rescope.

For that, the DHB gets what Cardwell says is one of the largest office floor plates in the country.

The Waiora CBD building is a 12,000 square metre, two-level tenancy, though the DHB is set to divest 2500 square metres that fronts on to Collingwood Street.

There is, as Cardwell puts it, “headroom”, with the potential for up to 800 DHB staff on the site.

The building on the corner of Collingwood and Alexandra Streets.

The building on the corner of Collingwood and Alexandra Streets.

The organisation has a 12-year lease with multiple rights of renewal, and Cardwell says it has negotiated a rental in the low $200s per square metre gross, which he says is well below current market rates.

“When you’re in a long-term lease, you want some rent control and a good starting point, so we’re happy with that.”

He describes the fit-out as adequate office standard, including procuring some second-hand furniture, as the DHB worked to what Cardwell describes as a “tight budget”.

“If you’re offering a public service you want to go to the lowest fit for purpose cost, with all the enablers for people to work properly.”

The base building was refurbished and seismically upgraded by the landlord, Podium Investments, above the 90 percent of New Building Standard the DHB was looking for, Cardwell says.

Both the owner and tenant fit-outs were done by Fosters, which Cardwell says enabled cost and time integration benefits and has seen them set to take full possession of the site six weeks ahead of schedule.

The DHB employed Jasmax as its architect, and Cardwell is happy with the result. “They understood our requirements, but also they really understood our budget constraints and they designed accordingly.”

The spaces Jasmax had to work with were large – each floor is the size of a football field, Cardwell says. On the first floor, that is broken up with clusters of meeting rooms, while there is also a separate IS call centre. A staff kitchen and eating area overlooks the Collingwood-Alexandra Street intersection. “We wanted the nicest space in the building to get the widest use  and biggest impact for our teams.”

An open central lift and stairwell conducts light into the building from a large skylight, and the 3m high stud, courtesy of the building’s original purpose as a department store, helps deliver a sense of airiness.

The ground floor has public access off Alexandra Street, where a cafe is also set to start operating in the next few months.

“It will help activate the street,” Cardwell says. “There’s a population here: people shop, buy lunch, have coffee. It’s a good adjunct to the night-time precinct further down.”

Meanwhile, Infant, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service will open onto Anglesea Street, and its staff can expect a major improvement when they move from their building further up Collingwood Street. The new premises offer an integrated facility with a wider range of clinical spaces, including two hospital level consult rooms, observation rooms and a multi-sensory room.

“We should be done and dusted, essentially, by Easter,” Cardwell says.

“We’re really delighted that we’ve been out to deliver this environment for so many people. We’re very happy with the result.”

Public transport steps up

With parking space at a premium in the central city, public and alternative transport are playing a role in the shift to Waiora DHB.

Electric unicycles are even part of the mix, Waikato DHB change manager Gary Nelson  says.

He says they are actively promoting public transport, and bicycles and scooters, and a room for storing bikes during the day is getting good use.

“People have started using scooters or electric scooters. There’s a couple of people with electric unicycles, believe it or not.”

With staff parking in the Wilson and Knox Street carparks limited to about 130, the spaces have been balloted. The result has been interesting, Nelson says, with some staff giving up their parks once they had shifted.

“The reasons that they gave were: ‘I’m closer to closer to town. I walk to work now. I take the bus and I’m enjoying it. I’m taking my bike, I’m taking my motorbike, I’m taking my scooter.’

“So it has changed behaviour.”

Nelson and Cardwell say the Comet bus from Waikato Hospital to the CBD has also helped, with the DHB having discounted tickets for staff travel.

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