Taking Care of the Animals

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-By John Boley

Flexibility and a readiness to do some lateral thinking are the qualities that characterise Carfax Commercial Constructions. This Sydney-based company was established in 1998 By Paul Reimer, and mainly serves the Sydney metropolitan area and regional NSW.

Animals feature unusually large in the story of Carfax Constructions’ projects, not least because of a zoo and the small matter of the Green and Gold Bell Frog. But the company is happy in school environments, tertiary education facilities, industrial and civil projects, heritage building works, public domain and healthcare facilities. Paul says the company specialises in upgrades required for fully operating sites such as film and theatre studios and medical and hospital facilities, and is able to successfully bring projects to completion without adversely impacting those unique working environments.

Carfax can comfortably handle commercial projects ranging from the smallest internal refurbishments right through to larger contracts such as new commercial buildings, sporting facilities and education facilities.

“After the Olympics in 2000, we had some opportunities to do some government work,” explains Paul, who has experience in the construction industry dating back to 1982 when he commenced his apprenticeship in carpentry and joinery.

Carfax branched out and quite soon had attained pre-qualification with several NSW government agencies. “We also worked in the private sector as well. We’ve grown from there through repeat opportunities and word of mouth and we have continued to grow year in, year out, since those early days. We continue to get opportunities with government agencies, as we deliver quality projects.”

Paul stresses there is no great specialisation in Carfax’ work. “We do plenty of interior office fit out and building of new projects on green field sites. Our expertise covers all disciplines of building. We are happy to do any commercial construction.” But much of the interest in the company’s project history surrounds more challenging jobs, projects where some ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking is needed and a willingness to consider relatively unusual elements – such as the need to work around a public enclosure which is in use during the work.

Carfax was referred to Taronga Zoo in 2001. “It’s all hard-dollar tendering, of course, being government funded, so we competed and won a project down there which we delivered successfully. I think they were happy with our performance and therefore we were given further opportunities to tender on other projects. Since then we have built some really good jobs at Taronga Zoo.”

Many of them have been modest but challenging projects such as an exhibit, or ‘back of house’ facilities out of public view such as animal breeding facilities. More recent work includes “The Western Link”, a long boardwalk, finished earlier this year, which runs all the way from the chimpanzees’ enclosure running behind the Tahr Mountain, and finishing at the Snow Leopards. “This was a very difficult project because it was on the side of a very steep hill. That project had a lot of challenges, especially dealing with the public and with access, but we delivered a great project and the zoo is very proud of it.”

Also for Taronga Zoo but entirely different in nature was the “Visitor Circulation Precinct”, situated in the middle of the zoo. This was predominantly a civil type construction project involving some embankment stabilisation. “We built some viewing platforms and we did some work to heritage walls; that job was challenging because it was in the middle of the zoo and there are a lot of visitors daily, so you are restricted to deliveries before the zoo opens and when the zoo closes. There has to be a lot of careful planning.” This includes ensuring all suppliers understand quite clearly that if deliveries are made outside a very well defined schedule they will not be accepted. “Those two projects were quite difficult, but we successfully delivered them and they look fantastic.”

Paul and his team know how to communicate with suppliers and sub-contractors and choose appropriately to ensure the project runs smoothly. Most suppliers are cooperative, he reports. “I guess this is where we’ve got to give our sub-contractors a good go. We try and make sure that when they do come to site to do their work, they get a fair run. It’s all in the planning. If we know there is going to be a disruptive day then we’ll tell them or put it off till the next day, or ‘on this project you’re going to have to work after hours’. So it’s all upfront.” Carfax often has to balance competing factors, “because we’re also working to a contract program so we’ve got to push the boundaries.”

An interesting current project is the recreation hall taking shape at Broken Bay, to the north of Sydney, for the client, New South Wales Sport and Recreation. The entire project can only be accessed across the water so all of the required materials have to be barged or helicoptered to the site. Naturally the preference is to barge because helicopters are expensive (although Paul says ruefully that the barges are hardly cheap either). Recently the company used a helicopter to take the roof sheets over.

The longest roof sheets are about 22 metres so the team could not fit them on the barge – or if they did, they would be unable to truck them along a winding and narrow three-kilometre road to the actual site. Because of these and other complexities, “I think a lot of builders would look at it and say ‘that’s a nightmare’. But I look at it just as I would a high-rise building where you’ve got a tower crane and you book your times and your deliveries.” Carfax has a strict timetable, issued to subcontractors and suppliers, and they have to be at the loading point within those periods of time. “We have been building the project for five months and we’ve had no issues, it’s actually run like clockwork. It’s been very efficient and all of our sub-contractors and suppliers have performed very well.”

Effective organisation and pre-planning takes much of the risk out of such a project, Paul believes. “You don’t want to get over there and find you’ve left something behind, so we get the sub-contractors to bring all of their materials and equipment in early and we have ensured plenty of storage space for them.” The project does retain its challenges, though – the barge journey is around 20 minutes and care has to be taken in timing when pouring concrete, for example, because of the narrow access track at the other end and the need to avoid trucks meeting each other in different directions. Carfax was not involved in the design of this project, although Paul and his team have been involved in establishing buildability since winning the project, advising on length and weight of structural steel beams, for instance, where the weight prohibited helicopter delivery and changes were made to ensure they could be delivered by truck.

“It’s a lightweight structure, a structural steel frame which is covered with different types of cladding. There is some Supawood which is an acoustic plywood for ceilings and walls internally. Externally is a mixture of plywoods and fibre cement sheeting. It’s a beautifully designed building, it will look terrific when it’s finished. We’re just at the stage of putting the roof on at the moment.”

Is Carfax then equipped with its own project logistics division? No, says Paul, “each project has a project team and those people are involved in the logistics as well as the construction. We build our teams with people who have completed those types of projects before. Most of our people have a good handle on logistics because a lot of our projects have difficult access, sensitive environments or working time constraints. Our team all have experience in handling these projects, and are all used to having to be very well organised.”

Paul is keen to remind the world that Carfax does handle normal, simple building situations too. Regardless of the complexity, “we have a focus on quality, bringing the projects in on time. We want to exceed our clients’ expectations, we want to deliver them a fantastic project and have the opportunity to work with our clients again. We look at the future, not just the project we’re currently working on. We want to do such a good job that it creates more opportunities for us.” In general, Carfax rarely handles projects of more than ten million dollars but “we have the capability and expertise within our organisation to build much larger projects. It all comes down to the client, our current clients, and being able to ensure we continue to service them.”

It is vital to be able to continue to talk directly between client and builder, says Paul. “Our clients like working with us because we’re a small yet dynamic company, where the senior management have a direct interest in every project. Our clients can talk directly to senior management if they need, and that always gives them a more comfortable feeling that if they need something done it will be done. Sometimes in larger companies that can be more difficult.”

Not sure if the animals at the Taronga Zoo count as clients, although they seem satisfied with the job done. But the Green and Gold Bell Frog would surely endorse Paul’s words. Its natural habitat was a factor in the design of the Wentworth Common Adventure Playground, for Sydney Olympic Park Authority, and a series of ponds had to be specially designed and constructed with unusual care by Carfax to ensure no damage to the frog’s home. This won the company both the 2008 MBA Excellence in Construction Award for Best Use of External Timber, and the MBA Excellence in Construction Award for Environmental Management Open Category.

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’?

July 14, 2020, 10:47 AM AEST