Mega Projects are Transforming Small Queensland Companies

Mega Projects are Transforming Small Queensland Companies

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Blask Engineering may be a small metal workshop more than 200km west of Brisbane but it’s eyeing the construction boom in the big smoke.

Founder Brad Johnson, who started Blask in the town of Inglewood 25 years ago, recently completed a $1.5 million jet blast shield for Brisbane Airport’s second runway project.

“It was our single biggest contract and we are looking for more work in Brisbane on projects like the Cross River Rail,” says Johnson, who employs 10 people in the town of 900.

Johnson not only welcomes the cash flow from the new runway but the opportunity to take part in a landmark project. Using 140 tonnes of steel and taking six months to complete, the shield is designed to ensure jet blasts are deflected away from vehicles travelling in an underpass below a new taxiway.

“It helped lift our quality control processes,” says Johnson, who adds it can be difficult for regional firms to win projects in Brisbane.
Aerial shot of Blask Engineering’s blast shield for Brisbane Airport.

With $26.5 billion worth of infrastructure, lifestyle, tourism and entertainment projects scheduled to be completed over the next decade in Brisbane, small firms such as Blask hope they get more of the money being splashed around. Brisbane Airport Corporation says 90 per cent of construction equipment for the new runway is sourced from southeast Queensland.

Queensland Economic Advocacy Solutions director Nick Behrens says Blask is a good example of a regional business taking advantage of the “cascading effect” of major projects. “The company’s employees will now spend that money in the community,” Behrens says.

“Each of these products represents enormous opportunity to their respective supply chain.”

He names more than a dozen projects under way that combined represent four years worth of Queensland’s total building construction activity – Brisbane Live, Brisbane Metro, Brisbane Showgrounds redevelopment, Cross River Rail, Queen’s Wharf, Brisbane Quarter, South Bank Southpoint, Howard Smith Wharves, Waterfront Precinct, Brisbane Airport second runway, Northshore Hamilton, International Cruise Ship Terminal, Gabba Precinct and Herston Quarter.

“Individually each of the projects is impressive but collectively they represent a once-in-a-generation level of investment coming on line within a narrow window of our city’s history,” Behrens says.

CUSP director Stephen Pate whose firm is working on the Queen’s Wharf project. Picture: AAP/Steve Pohlner

“Over the next five years, Brisbane will experience investment in new major projects on a scale not seen even during Expo 88.”

Expo 88 was largely credited with dragging Brisbane from country-town status into the big league among Australian cities. “At no time in the state’s history have such significant projects been undertaken at a similar time,” Behrens adds.

He says the projects will have the beneficial effect of diversifying the Queensland economy, making it more resilient to downturns. “Arguably, Brisbane’s current economic profile relies heavily on locally generated revenues,” he says.

“But these projects will regear the city for the global marketplace, offering a buffer or hedging opportunity to commodity prices and global demand for our resources.”

As a young urban design student at the Queensland University of Technology in the late 1980s, Stephen Pate used to park his motorbike under the expressway in the Brisbane CBD.

“It used to be this deserted patch of dirt along the river with not even somewhere to sit,” Pate recalls. “Not a penny had been spent on it.”

Fast forward 30 years and the barren patch of land is the epicentre of the multibillion-dollar Queen’s Wharf project and Pate’s landscape architecture firm CUSP is in charge of transforming it into a series of walkways, parks and other public spaces to complement the hotels, shops and casinos.

“The whole idea is to try and improve access to the river,” Pate says. “Broadly, we want to connect the river to the city and visa versa.”

Because the freeway cuts off large swathes of the city from the river, much of the public space is by necessity located under the freeway itself. That’s been a tricky brief that has involved fitting pathways and greenery under and around big concrete columns.

Formed in 2013 with partner Dan Wright, CUSP has worked on commercial and residential projects across Australia and in Fiji. The Queen’s Wharf project makes up about two-fifths of its workload and has necessitated lifting staff numbers to about 20.

Pate says the project has helped lift the professionalism of the firm, particularly in the area of technology. As part of tendering for the project, CUSP was required to install Building Information Modelling (BIM) software and hardware, allowing it to design outdoor spaces in 3D.

“We still believe in the pen but BIM allows you to design in a virtual environment, which is good from a collaborative point of view,” Pate says.

“It also reduces mistakes in the design process and will pick up whether a footing will go through a retaining wall. It also will tell you how many pavers you will need for a walkway down to the square metre and how many walls need to be painted.”

Pate says the company would not have installed the BIM technology if it had not decided to tender for Queen’s Wharf. It was now winning more work as a result of having BIM.

“When we started CUSP we did not know where we were going to end up but then a project like Queen’s Wharf comes along and it makes an enormous difference,” he says.

 

Source: Courier Mail

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