The Bigger the Challenge, the Better

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-By Robert Hoshowsky

In the demanding and competitive world of construction, companies that succeed in the long run are not only well-managed and determined, but able to conquer the most complex projects with a combination of skill, hands-on knowledge, and plenty of advanced preparation. Operating throughout Australia’s east coast and overseas from offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, Kane Constructions Pty Ltd thrives on complex projects, and has successfully proved itself time and again over almost 40 years in business.

“The thing that sets us apart is that we’ve always taken on the challenges of difficult-to-do projects,” says David Rutter, Director Queensland for Kane Constructions. “We relish those jobs, our people get excited by them, and we love the challenge of having to do things that are different.” Able to take on new construction projects and restoration work, Mr Rutter cites the restoration of Brisbane City Hall as one of the company’s more complex and challenging undertakings. Kane replaced the magnificent copper dome back in 2003, utilising a custom made mobile bridge scaffold, and has also been involved in the current significant restoration programme, completing Stage 1, which consists of works within the dome and the management of the archeological dig in the old basement museum space.

Over the years, Kane has become known for its quality work, its on-time and on-budget delivery, and its ability to work in occupied spaces. This can be a challenge for any company, but it is one Kane takes on regularly, particularly in the government and institutional sector. It is not unusual for the company to create extensions or add additional floors to working laboratories and other facilities while employees are working in the space below. “All the staff here are professional builders who genuinely enjoy building – we’re not just in the business to make money, so we like those challenging projects,” says Mr Rutter, one of the company’s seven Directors.

A History of Success

Today, Kane Constructions has earned a reputation for the many successful, innovative projects it has taken on over the years. Active in all sectors of the industry, the privately-owned company today has over 285 full-time employees and an annual turnover in excess of $425 million.

Founded in Melbourne back in 1973, the company’s first office was located upstairs from an antique shop on High Street in Armadale. Soon, the firm began undertaking projects such as Catholic primary schools, facilities for local councils, work for the CSIRO, a private residence in Toorak, and a waste water treatment plant in Kensington. Within a few years, Kane Constructions began to be awarded large-scale, complex projects, like the $5 million contract to complete the West Gippsland Arts Centre in Warragul in 1980. The project called for a 490 seat proscenium arch theatre and a 220 seat performing arts space. Completed in 1982, the Centre remains a showcase for the local community; for Kane Constructions, it solidified the company’s stature as a force to be reckoned with in the Victorian construction market.

The company’s consistent growth soon included many other high-profile contracts, including the refurbishment of the Dome at the Royal Exhibition Building, restoration of the spires at Newman College, and major works at Raheen, the former residence of the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne.

“About half our jobs today are new builds, and the other half are existing facilities, such as those in a university or a hospital or a school where we’re extending or altering existing buildings,” says Mr Rutter. “It’s a bit of a mix.”

Throughout the 1990’s, Kane Constructions’ reputation for superior quality work grew, along with its client base. Major school and medical projects – such as the Andrew Syme Business School at Monash University, the School of Art and Design, the Geelong Hospital, and a 50-bed acute psychiatric unit at the Alfred Hospital – were taken on by the company. Offshore expansion also took place, and saw the company take on projects like The University of the South Pacific in Western Samoa (with Peddle Thorp Architects), a prison facility in Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, schools in Clifton, Baliora and Valilile, a broadcasting facility in Kavieng on New Ireland, and the Australian High Commission in Islamabad, Pakistan.

By 2000, Kane Constructions had expanded to 140 employees and an annual turnover of $95 million. The company continued to take on challenging projects in a variety of sectors, including government and health care, such as the Department of Treasury and Finance at St Andrews Place, a new headquarters for the State Emergency Services in Southbank, the Kyneton District Hospital in Victoria, and the Mt Alexander Hospital at Castlemaine. High-profile contracts with the Department of Defence, facilities for universities and laboratories, and the $12 million Dandenong Performing Arts Centre soon followed.

In 2006, Kane Constructions established its Queensland office in Brisbane, with a number of highly-experienced staff members at the helm. In just a few years, the company took on and successfully delivered two iconic projects: the restoration of Old Government House, and the redevelopment of King George Square.

Old Government House

A $10 million refurbishment for the Queensland University of Technology, Old Government House remains one of Brisbane’s most venerated heritage structures. With a long tradition of exacting work, Kane Constructions was chosen in 2008 to take on the extensive restoration of the building, which was originally constructed in 1862. The work required far exceeded that of a typical, everyday renovation. Due to the structure’s age and historic significance, The Kane Project Team worked in tandem with an architect and consultants to advise on how to proceed most efficiently with the restoration.

“The projects presented us with a host of challenges,” says Mr Rutter of the formidable task, which necessitated asbestos removal, demolition, French polishing, painting, a glazed platform lift, and a considerable amount of carpentry restoration due to termite damage to beams, timbers, and other supports. Following removal of some of the building’s more recent linings, the team discovered termites had eaten inside timbers, which began to crumble. To ensure safety, the company had to prop up the entire roof structure temporarily with a series of 10 metre-long tri-shore props in order to complete structural repairs to the roof. The building was fitted with a “˜subfloor termite reticulation system,’ which can be replenished from the outside without access to the building, along with a designed and constructed trafficable glass floor structure inside the central light shaft, which was also fitted with a new 1.2 metre diameter chandelier.

Despite Old Government House being located in the middle of the city campus of a major university, The Kane project team was able to successfully coordinate traffic management and access issues through constant contact with QUT and other stakeholders. With a combination of skill, pre-planning, and artistry, the team at Kane Constructions was able to re-use some existing timbers to maintain the building’s historical significance and keep costs under control, and was able to ensure Old Government House was available for Queensland’s 150th anniversary in 2009. For its efforts, the company received a number of awards, including the John Herbert Memorial Award 2009 by the National Trust of Queensland, and a win at the Housing and Construction Awards 2010 for Refurbishment/Renovation $15 Million – $50 Million from Master Builders Queensland.

“We are big on finding solutions,” says Mr Rutter. “We sit down as a group, and we talk about ways of doing things, clever innovations. Usually we have the concept ready, and we know how it should work. If there is serious engineering work that has come along – such as, we’re going to drive a 100 tonne crane on a suspended deck – we know intuitively we’ve got to prop it. If required, we will consult with engineers at outside firms to make sure it is safe.”

King George Square Redevelopment

Another showcase project for Kane Constructions is the $20 million King George Square Redevelopment for Brisbane City Council. Working closely with architects and Council, the company submitted a tender for the project, which was the subject of a design competition won by Urbis. Consisting of a new amphitheatre, an innovative recycled water feature, observation deck and restaurant shell, the design was created to make King George Square Brisbane’s premiere civic destination, blending a world-class public space with a major transport interchange. As with many of Kane’s projects, access for the public was required during the entire construction process, as the site was located over a fully-functioning public carpark. In 2010, the company’s work won the Master Builders Queensland Award for Housing and Construction, Sporting and Community Service Facilities $15 Million – $50 Million.

Going Green into the Future

While some construction companies are taking on green star projects for their clients, Kane Constructions is taking it one step further by building its own new 5-Star Green Star office in Queensland. Work is underway on “˜The Green Fox,’ Kane’s new Queensland home at 14 Fox Street Albion.

“This is a project I am really excited about,” says Mr Rutter. “We came up with initiatives, we committed to delivering it, and we’re going to be living in the building as well. A lot of businesses have Green Star professionals on staff and they do green buildings, but it is something else to invest your own money into your own project, and live in it as well. That should demonstrate to the market that we’re committed to environmentally sustainable building practices.”

Among the building’s many environmentally friendly initiatives are those which help regulate temperature, produce less waste, re-use precious resources such as water, and re-use building materials. Planning to move in by Christmas of this year, “˜The Green Fox’ will utilise a gas-fired VRV air-conditioning, mixed mode system, which works in conjunction with a mechanically-assisted, naturally ventilated mode controlled by a weather station and “˜Smart building’ services such as zoned air conditioning and automatic lighting control (daylight sensitive, motion detectors and time-clocks all used where appropriate). Built with high R-value insulation and performance glass, the structure will contain cement-reduced concrete, recycled timber and recycled steelwork, low VOC paints, and other recycled components in carpet and rubber flooring. A 20,000 litre rainwater tank will use recycled water for toilet flushing and irrigation, and the building’s significantly reduced CO2 use will be at at 25kg/m2 per annum, far below the benchmark 110 kg/m2 per annum.

Mr Rutter, who took the Green Star accredited professional course six years ago, says the costs to the company are higher, but well worth the money and effort. “A building of our scale costs at least 10 per cent more, so there’s a premium there,” says Mr Rutter. “The amount of reporting required is extraordinary, so it’s a big commitment. A lot of people balk at it, but we thought it was important to do it ourselves, so we fully understand the process, as well as being committed to it as the right way to develop buildings into the future.”

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’?

June 1, 2020, 4:34 AM AEST