Thinking Big, Thinking Fast

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-By John Boley

Calibre Construction Corp Pty Ltd is a go-ahead, small-but-ambitious builder and developer based in New South Wales with a very direct approach to the business. More than that, it seems to be a company who enjoys a challenge – proud of its ability to “turn difficult mandates into profitable solutions.”

Small in this case means around 20 staff, all of whom are currently occupied on one single project, the company’s largest to date. It’s a residential project in the suburbs of Sydney and contracts manager Hussein Awada told Australian Construction Focus that Calibre is both developer and builder of the 182-unit construction.

The project is Serenity Apartments. “We have owned this land for about ten years,” explains Mr Awada, “and the project has been around eight years in the making. There has been a lot of careful planning and liaison with the council.” It’s a landmark project for Calibre Constructions, he says with evident pride, one that will hopefully put the company into a new and bigger league with a place among the leaders in residential and building construction in the region.

Serenity Apartments is a landmark because it is the biggest project to date, but also because of the nature of the project, he says. “It’s 182 units and on seven levels with two towers, and everything is being done in precast concrete. We have engaged a large contractor to more or less beat the clock.” Mr Awada describes the job as trying to do “two projects in one” and it’s a race against time to do the entire project in 20 months, which is the aim, with an estimated completion date of September 2012 having been given to buyers, of whom there are already some 140.

The project at 9-11 Wollongong Road, Arncliffe, has two-level basement car parking and recreational facilities such as an in-ground swimming pool, a gym, sauna and private garden. Each of the units within the two towers stands overlooking the city, allowing spectacular water and airport views. The location is prime, only walking distance to train stations, schools and social amenities. Serenity is only a few minutes’ drive from Brighton-Le-Sands, Sydney Airport and the Sydney CBD. Units vary from single, 2 and 3 bedrooms, Study-Room and in alternative combinations.

Delivery is the stimulus to keep up the pressure, explains Mr Awada, because when you wear the two hats – builder and developer – you become acutely aware not just of the various peculiarities and problems that arise in the course of construction but also of the pressure exerted financially and in marketing terms of the need to hand over on time to customers.

In fact Mr Awada claims “it’s unique, in whether a building of this size can be done in such a timeframe”. The project even involves precast concrete around the basement walls, “which is not the conventional way of doing it. There is a time constraint given the people wanting to move in who have been given an expected move-in date already.”

Mahmoud Mohanna, who with fellow managing director Ali Mohanna is managing director and secretary of Calibre Constructions, told us the company just “started small and with each project is getting bigger.” Calibre has worked to a large extent in residential, but it has also already completed one school and a commercial office building.

Mr Mohanna forecasts steady growth for the foreseeable future – “we’re in it for the long term.” At this stage there are no plans for the company to go looking for work beyond New South Wales or to grow its labour force substantially, as Mr Mohanna says it’s easy to hire staff on subcontract and Calibre is getting a good name as a company to work for.

The company’s vision is to maintain its position as a dynamic and successful Australian development and building company.

The managers of Calibre Construction pride themselves in their ability to produce flexible and efficient construction packages, and their commitment to guarantee fixed time and fixed price contracts. “We are determined to deliver our clients completed projects of outstanding innovation, design and construction quality.” Calibre Construction’s motivation arises from the managers’ ability to turn difficult mandates into profitable solutions.

Turning over $20 million per year, the magnitude of the developer’s projects ranges from $1 million to more than $30 million. “Our attention to detail and range of services has earned our company an enviable reputation throughout the public and private sector.”

The secret of Calibre’s success, the managers say, is understanding the client and their organisation, people and goals. As well, it’s “understanding the project: its buildability, programme, consultants, contractors, materials, and special requirements. The aim is simple: zero defects on handover of the project by programming and planning the works with the whole project team. The company “strives to provide our clients with quality projects, completed within reasonably set time frames and budgets. Our commitment and service has cultivated strong, continuous and long lasting business relations. Our clients face no hesitation when repeatedly contracting us to build multiple projects.”

Mr Awada says of the Serenity Apartments project that “the GFC and various financial constraints didn’t faze us. We kept going ahead because… obviously it did drag the process a bit longer.” However, once the marketing and website were in place, sales began to come through and the challenge changed to ensuring “that people who have purchased really get the product on time. That drove us and it gave us (and the bank!) a lot of assurance despite the facts of the current financial market. It was more or less a step-by-step process.

“While this project was in the making, we continued on our merry way, doing projects for clients and other small development projects.” Before Serenity, the biggest project the firm had done was a $30 million construction in Liverpool: 83 units in precast, two-level basement with two towers. Mr Mohanna comments: “We were also the developer. On the majority of our projects we are also the developer but we also do tenders – it all depends on the market and what we are doing at the time. Sometimes we do contract work while we are preparing our next development project to keep the cash flow going. It varies; sometimes we will buy the land then put in a DA, some of the projects we have had the DA already approved. In the case of Serenity, after we bought the land we had to go through rezoning as well as the DA before proceeding to construction.”

From the Liverpool project, says Mr Awada, “we moved on to understand high-rise and precast and that gives us more assurance to say “˜OK, we can do this project, we have the capability, the knowledge and the skill’. With Serenity, we hope it will put us in a new league, give the whole company a refreshed look and head us in a new direction where we can compete in building and delivering these kinds of projects, meeting the sort of quality standards that’s expected and move forward from there. We hope a lot of doors will open up – not only from the developer perspective but also the client perspective.”

Mr Awada says some of the challenges the company faced on the project were unusual. “The groundworks is always the critical part of any project because there can be a lot of unforeseen factors.” In this case there was a river that used to flow under the actual site with a lot of silt brought up from the river bed. “It’s amazing, because that silt is something we had never dealt with before. You had to see it to believe it, it’s a gooey material that is hard to deal with – and it more or less doubled our budget [on the preparatory work] and more or less doubled the load of spoil. Also, the water level there rises very fast after rain, so we have had to be particularly stringent with the de-watering on site. It’s definitely unique compared to any other project we have come across.” In view of these unforeseen extra challenges, Calibre decided to implement a series of additional waterproofing and strengthening measures to ensure the integrity of the finished building around the whole perimeter.

Not surprisingly, the entire company is concentrating on Serenity. When it’s finished, Calibre will look for further opportunities in this range. “Design and construct is our middle name,” says Mr Mohanna. “We have created a culture where we tackle everything as we go along; obviously there is a lot of planning involved but we have the experience and the capability to be able to make design decisions and make them quickly.” He believes Calibre’s speed and flexibility are key advantages, especially in comparison with many larger builders where responses may have to wait for the input of consultants. “But when you are the developer you are compelled to make decisions,” proving to future clients that Calibre can deliver on time. Its ability to complete its own projects will give clients confidence, Mr Mohanna says.

So what makes Calibre better than the rest? “Should I say that?” says Mr Mohanna with a smile. “We are very proud of our work, certainly; we don’t cut corners. We give the project 100 per cent!”

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

March 28, 2020, 7:47 PM AEDT