Property editor of the NZ Herald

Rugby World Cup has Hawkins busy

Chris Hunter (centre) with Matthew Cockram and  Rodney Hide on top of the East building at Britomart. Photo / Supplied
Chris Hunter (centre) with Matthew Cockram and Rodney Hide on top of the East building at Britomart. Photo / Supplied

Local government jobs worth $425 million dominate Hawkins Construction's workload.

While other firms are heavy with central Government work, Chris Hunter, chief executive of the Parnell-headquartered McConnell family-owned business, says civic and city council works accounted for 31 per cent of his contracts.

High-profile civic jobs running for some years are at the Aotea Centre, Aotea Square and Auckland Art Gallery, says Hunter who works from Stanley St.

One of the biggest civic contracts Hawkins has won is the $32 million million marine events centre on the site of the old Team New Zealand bases in Halsey St, which is to be ready by Rugby World Cup.

The $52 million project to redevelop Aotea Square for Auckland City Council started in October 2008 and is due to finish this October.

The leaky, unsound civic carpark roof has been fixed and strengthened. Bearings on each column have been repaired and bracing installed to allow the council to upgrade public area landscaping above, installing new paving, canopies and areas for big outdoor events.

Hawkins used a jacking mechanism to lift up the 600-tonne roof and replace the rubber gravity bearings between the columns and roof. A plastic liner was installed as a permanent formwork and a waterproofing layer around the tree pits, eliminating the potential for leaks.

The art gallery project has seen grunty civil works. Retention piling, soil nails and ground anchors have been required to allow excavation and construction of new basement levels. The new building addition, made of concrete and structural steel, has risen alongside the heritage building and Hawkins built that with an innovative post-tensioned facade system.

"Within the existing heritage buildings extensive seismic strengthening has been undertaken to bring the structure up to current design codes," the company said.

On 18 per cent of its work worth $245 million, the Government is Hawkins' client: projects include the new Papamoa High School, Waikato clinical services contract, extensions to Blenheim's hospital and the refurbishment of Rimutaka Prison where Hawkins has been working for some years completing a $24.85 million project for the Department of Corrections by erecting seven new buildings and changing two existing buildings, including a management office and visitor centre.

Prison work started in January 2008 to shift the existing gatehouse, realign roads and build a new 4500m car park. Hunter says the challenge was to build "in a live prison environment." Five buildings rose inside the fence line.

One of Hawkins' biggest jobs is its contract on Dunedin's new football arena for the World Cup. The roofed, $200 million, 35,000-seat Forsyth Barr Stadium, designed by Populous, is rising to replace Carisbrook. It will be New Zealand's first fully enclosed grassed stadium, its roof made of the clear ETFE, the same material used for Wimbledon;s Centre Court and the "Water Cube" in Beijing.

The rectangular building will open next August, replacing Carisbrook as the home of the Highlanders and Otago Rugby Football Union.

Wellington's new office tower for Telecom, Auckland's metro rail electrification and expansion and rebuilding at Auckland and Christchurch airports are other big contracts.

Hawkins is building the new Novotel Hotel at Auckland International Airport, also in time for the cup.

"We're just about up to the top of that hotel, bringing up the facade and services now," Hunter said.

Hawkins has almost finished the new bronze glass Britomart office tower for Ernst & Young, Westpac and Southern Cross and at Queenstown it is finishing the new Kawarau Falls hotel for the receivers of Nigel McKenna's businesses. Rival bosses wonder unkindly how much Hawkins suffered in that troubled job but Hunter rejects this.

"That project is still going and we've been fully paid. Now the hotel has an operator (Hilton), there's a commitment from the bank to continue to fund the hotel's completion. The majority of the building is closed in, although there are parts of the common areas that are not finished," he says.

Like Fletcher Building bosses, Hunter says Hawkins has noted the potential for a slackening of new tenders called for in 2011.

"A lot of work will fall away post-Christmas," he says. But Hawkins will remain in a busy phase, racing to finish jobs particularly for the Cup, he says, and moving into Australia.

The business has diversified and honed in on infrastructure, marking out the energy, power and waste water sectors and establishing Hawkins Infrastructure as a separate division. It won the Ahuroa undergas gas project in the New Plymouth region.

Moves abroad have seen Hawkins' win in Victoria this year, scoring the A$405 million Ararat Prison contract as part of the Aegis Correctional Partnership. Expanding that prison, 240km northwest of Melbourne, building 700 new cells and being in the PPP which will run the jail after the new buildings are finished is part of Hawkins' contract there.

"We've just started there, relocating temporary units on to the site. The majority of the workforce will come out of Australia but Hawkins will send six to 12 people across to work on that," Hunter says.

Winning that and, four years ago, finishing the 335-inmate "Milton Hilton", or Otago Correctional Facility project and the new Auckland regional women's prison gives Hunter confidence he will score Auckland's new Wiri prison, expected to be this country's first PPP.

"Hawkins has been investing time and resource in this area for a number of years," he says.

"We have done our due diligence on PPPs and are in a good position to add considerable value.

"We are committed to participating in this developing market which will generate real opportunity to New Zealand to deliver better public services but with a long-term focus on value for money."

"We have also been proactive in following the Wiri project which will be New Zealand's first PPP.

"We have established a dedicated Wiri PPP team with experience from various PPP backgrounds and we have aligned ourselves with a strong consortium," he says.

Hunter says Hawkins will bid for the Waterview tunnel job but not for Tauranga's eastern link motorway.

He does not see the private sector returning to market dominance over the state for 18 months to two years.

"By the end of 2010, activity funded by the private sector is forecast to have declined 34 per cent from its peak two years ago," he says, citing economic data from Infometrics.

"There's a flood of Government, local government and utilities work but overall the market is shrinking and the biggest risk is to staff. We have invested a lot of money in our people and as always in a boom-bust, people find new types of employment.

"We have Big Brother over the Tasman in much better shape than ourselves and with quite a demand around its resources industries.

"I can see us losing qualified people," he says.

Hawkins employs 500 staff in Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Rotorua, Wellington and Christchurch, also operating in Queenstown and Dunedin.

- NZ Herald

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