Construction workers are at Auckland University's Newmarket campus site, preparing former warehouses for the first students to move in from late July as part of the $1 billion decade-long upgrade at the university.

Peter Fehl, university property services director, said 180 to 200 workers were on the 5.2ha former Lion Breweries site which the university bought for $67.5 million but where it is spending $84 million: $57 million on four existing warehouses and $27 million on a new civil structures hall, Building 906, which will have one of the largest seismic testing walls in Australasia - a 9m structure capable of earthquake testing a building up to three storeys.

The university's existing test hall has facilities for testing large-scale structural objects including heavy steel frames, walls, columns and beams under seismic pressure.

At the new site, engineers will simulate earthquake forces by applying static and dynamic loading to see how buildings bolted on to the huge wall react.


The four huge old brewery buildings towards Park Rd are being converted into state-of-the-art engineering research facilities, mainly for post-graduate students. Areas they leave on the city campus will then be upgraded for undergraduate engineering students.

But two-thirds of the Newmarket site towards Broadway is empty, after Lion and the university demolished all the buildings late last year. There are not yet any plans for that land.

The existing warehouses will accommodate laboratories for testing structures, aerodynamics and yacht research, a Centre for Advanced Composite Materials and a Light Metals Research Centre, among other endeavours.

About 300 engineering students will move from the university's Tamaki and city campus sites to Newmarket and Fehl acknowledged student numbers were relatively low for such a big site.

"We really need this sort of space and it's dictated by the needs the engineers have rather than the numbers of people. We considered knocking everything down but the cost of building new versus reuse changed that - the fact that the buildings were so appropriate for what we wanted with big volumes internally, high studs and very heavy loadings on the structures, particularly the floors. We've saved tens of millions of dollars by keeping these buildings."

Mezzanine floors for desk areas, meeting zones, offices and workshops have been developed in some cavernous spaces and holes punched through walls for dozens of windows to bring light inside.

All the buildings have been reclad in powder-coated steel and the biggest warehouse, B901, has a new pitched roof.

Project manager Craig Treloar is leading Hawkins Construction which won the main contract on the four warehouses. Jasmax is the project architect, led by associate Chris Jack. Ward Demolition worked for Lion, the university and Hawkins, knocking down structures and digging up tanks and foundations, Fehl said.

Scarbro Construction has erected a site office, after winning the contract to erect the new civil structures hall before Christmas. That new building will include the 9m seismic testing wall. Work on that first new building begins this month.

Fehl said the most challenging aspect of the site, which slopes 15m from the Newmarket end to Park Rd, was meeting engineers' technical needs. For example, a 3m-high fluids testing tank is above-floor at the city campus but has been sunk underground at the new campus site.

"What you see above the ground is just a fraction of what's really here," Fehl said.

Equipment for airconditioning, data cabling, and services is being run through the four warehouses, linked via exterior walkways and lifts.