Construction Adaptation in the Snowies

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-By Anne Lindert-Wentzell

A number of things come to mind with the term “resource.” One may think of a resource as a source of economic wealth such as minerals, land or labour. Or a renewable resource such as forests or fisheries. There are a number of ways to define a resource, but for most, snow probably wouldn’t come to mind.

For New South Wales, snow is a major resource. Snow sports are ranked the eleventh most popular sporting activity in Australia ahead of touch football and cricket. Monetarily, Australia’s ski resorts are big business. In NSW alone, the State government receives over $25 million annually from ski enthusiasts to the Australian Alps, 68 per cent of which is generated by Kosciuszko National Park.

These resorts need a competent, qualified and reliable construction firm to establish new facilities and maintain the old in every aspect of their business. It is a competitive industry – Fairidge Pty Limited knows this and has gained the trust and confidence of local architects, engineers and suppliers in achieving ultimate goals in design. The company is familiar with the local climate and the environment, and all projects are guaranteed to have winter completions and are delivered on budget. Fairidge aligns itself closely with the local Council, Department of Planning NSW and the Kosciuszko Thredbo Environmental Initiatives planning department.

Owned, managed and staffed by Snowy Mountains locals, Fairidge is a Jindabyne based construction firm employing a staff of 30. Established in 1999, Fairidge offers quality construction in both residential and commercial projects throughout the Snowy Mountains and the Monaro. The firm has a proven track record for the construction of a number of quality mountain homes, all with five star finishes, and strives to provide innovative solutions from the moment a project is initiated to completion.

Fairidge’s largest projects are in ski resorts and National Parks. “Many of the building companies here subcontract the work out. We are a bit old fashioned,” says Andrew Fairfield-Smith, Fairidge’s Director. “We have a large base of our own employees. We can use our own resources rather than rely on other companies.”

With respect to projects in National Parks, Andrew says, “We have to be very careful in going about what we do. It is not a typical construction process. We always have to be aware of the environment.” Certainly in all matters and projects related to National Parks and the environment, policies and guidelines must be adhered to. Fundamentally, National Parks are a resource, and as such, “Our ski resorts are strictly controlled, as they are within National Parks, which are also strictly controlled,” says Andrew. In National Parks, “There is no shooting or hunting and there is a certain amount of fishing but that too is heavily controlled. The National Parks are a well managed resource.”

All construction and development within National Parks must be authorised by Environmental Planning and Assessment and be within NSW State Environmental Planning Policy. The Statement of Environmental Effects (SEE) is a report that must be presented by any construction firm which outlines the impacts of landscape proposals and the proposed measures that will mitigate such impacts. The Environment Management Plan (EMP) is used by any firm involved with the construction, design and management of landscaping projects. It addresses which environmental issues are relevant and how to ensure that those environmental issues are addressed. Thus says Andrew, “We have guidelines set out for us and we have our own policies in place,” adding that, “Occupational health and safety is equally important as an environmental management plan.” Fairidge has OHSMS Accreditation from the NSW Government, and has recently achieved accreditation for its comprehensive quality management systems.

When discussing one of Fairidge’s greatest challenges, Andrew relates one project in particular. “We’ve built the highest building in Australia on top of our highest peak, Mount Kosciuszko. It’s a toilet block and is a National Parks building. The only way to get there is to walk two hours.” Andrew states that every Fairidge project is different due to its remoteness. “When we built the [Mount Kosciuszko] structure we had to do a lot of blasting because there was a lot of rock. The building is effectively underground because it was important to Kosciuszko National Park that there was no imprint of it on the landscape. They wanted it to remain as it was before we arrived.”

Andrew states that for many projects the team improvises to be cost effective whilst employing engineering techniques that can accommodate compression and tension loads. “We use concrete and screw piers sometimes, so that we don’t have excavation spoil. Screw piers are drilled into the ground as opposed to a traditional foundation. We will use steel structures to save on concrete curing times, as temperatures are certainly a factor.” He adds, “Some projects require the use of helicopters… if there is a road, it is not feasible. It is cheaper to fly materials in and out.”

Fairidge has recently created an accompanying business dedicated to the recycling of old timbers into furniture – reclaimed timbers from projects such as buildings and bridges. “Because much of our work is in ski resorts,” Andrew says, “many of those resorts are 50 to 60 years old. Some of those original buildings were torn down and replaced with more modern structures. Most are mainly timber structures. They are good aged wood with which to build furniture. One of our employees is a furniture maker by trade, so much is custom made to order. It is nice to see it recycled.”

Snowy Hydro Limited, the leading provider of renewable electricity to the National Electricity Market, is one of Fairidge’s consistent clients with whom Andrew admits he likes to work. “We recently did a project where we replaced a pipeline for Snowy Hydro. We also do civil work such as aqueducts and work on power stations… Again, it is remote. We are away from home much of the time, camp out and it’s mostly accessible by four wheel drive.”

Considering the nature of projects done by Fairidge, global warming may be a concern, although not in the immediate future. Many low altitude ski resorts could face financial hardship, according to a study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The study raises concern that none of Australia’s ski resorts will be economically viable by 2070. Says Andrew, “Global warming is a factor. We may lose business in the winter. Our National Parks are under utilised in the summer. They are a great environment… I think they will see more tourism in the summer as time goes on.”

Fairidge has a good rapport with clients, contractors and employees. Being a local business has strengthened the sense of community in the Snowy Mountains, and worked to the company’s advantage. “We are not in a city as such, so we are reliant on each other to a certain extent. Because it’s quite seasonal, we have to have things finished for the winter season. We know we can rely on the locals because they understand the process and where we both want to be.”

Fairidge believes in giving back to the community and this relationship is “one of our biggest strengths,” says Andrew. “We get involved with community projects that we think will benefit the community that we live in. More often than not, we will do those projects pro bono… if the community grows, potentially we can grow.”

And the company’s prospects for future growth are indeed promising, although the challenge of competition is a reality. “We are in an area that is growing rapidly. I’d like to grow with that and still be on top of the heap in 10-20 years,” adds Andrew. “We are the biggest construction company in the Snowy Mountains, but in the last couple of years, it has been very competitive. We are not the only ones working in remote areas. With the world’s financial crisis, people are more desperate to get the jobs. It’s harder to be effective and produce a good product.”

Yet, ends Andrew, clients appreciate that for Fairidge, no job is too big or too small. “We are adaptable. That is the key word.”

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 27, 2021, 4:09 PM AEST