Ball Hall reflect on some really unusual times.30th June 2020
Whilst the tragic deaths and suffering caused by Covid-19 make our experiences seem inconsequential, we thought it would be worth a look back at how our projects have fared so far in these challenging times.
The lockdown commenced at varying stages of construction on 3 major sports hall projects that Ball Hall were managing.
The start of the lockdown was a confusing time for construction companies and their clients. It seemed to take about 24 hours before we received clear government guidance that they wanted construction sites to stay open where it was safe to do so.
Health and safety has long been ingrained in our psyche, but this was a new challenge. New rules needed to be put into place. It was a time for collaboration and understanding.
Many companies had to close so not all trades or supplies could be sourced. It was clear that even trades that could continue would be affected to varying degrees by travel arrangements, self isolation etc.
From a contractual point of view, it soon became clear that the impact of Coronavirus would fall under the Force Majeure clauses within building contracts. Given the circumstances, this seemed fair to both our clients and to the contractors. It meant the contractor would not pay damages for late completion as a result of delays incurred but would need to pay their own costs arising. On the other side, the client, whilst needing to accept the time consequence of any delay, would not be required to reimburse the contractor’s loss and expense incurred as a result of such a delay.
Fortunately sports halls by their nature have very large open spaces and whilst all three of our projects were at varying stages of construction none of them were yet watertight so it was less challenging than trying to complete finishing works at a social distance within small internal rooms.
Our project at St John’s School in Northwood was the furthest advanced, though, and inevitably this led to the biggest impact. Problems such as the scaffolding company shutting, materials not being available from abroad or from closed factories in the UK, a UK wide shortage of plaster, brickwork gangs not being able to arrive in the same van etc meant delays were incurred but they were minimised and everyone did their best through regular daily communication. Many of the problems were overcome through looking at alternative materials or re-scheduling activities.
Our other two projects, which were both at earlier stages are both still expected to meet their original completion dates. This would be an outstanding achievement. However, at no point on either of those projects has it been straightforward. For example, at Tunbridge Wells Girls Grammar School, the next major activity after the lockdown was the installation of the roof. Unfortunately, the roofing contractor who was not local had planned to accommodate their workforce in a hotel near to the site. When that option was removed it was no longer possible for them to carry out their works. A quick decision was made to re-schedule the programme to bring the floor slab forward whilst pushing the roof back. This re-programming was done and whilst the critical path of activities was changed it did not cause a delay.
Looking back at our experiences on all three projects, we think we can be proud of what has been accomplished and we know our clients have been appreciative. On reflection, we think this is due to a number of factors; firstly we tried to act by following the government’s lead “We are all in this together” and we were very much onboard with the advice to avoid penalising either party within a contract; secondly, our resourceful contractors took up the challenges they faced and in conjunction with ourselves came up with some excellent alternative plans; thirdly, the time we spend building transparent and respectful relationships with our clients and the construction teams meant that trust and professional understanding quickly came into play. We were able to provide updates and report progress so that the shared aim to safely move the projects on as quickly and smoothly as possible, was achieved, despite the unpredictable circumstances. As well as predicting and mitigating ‘known unknowns’, good Project Management is also about the effective management of ‘unknown unknowns’ when they arise, the lockdown falls into that category and we are satisfied with the outcomes on our projects.
One final thought, highlighted by this pandemic, is the inextricable link between sport and well-being. The nation’s realisation that for our mental health’s sake as much as our physical fitness, we all need to be active.
Most of us miss either participating or spectating in sport, and children with smaller gardens or limited access to outdoor space are so very reliant on their clubs and schools for the opportunity to take part in sport.
These are our reflections on our experience of the lockdown and specifically its impact on our construction projects. More importantly, of course, we hope everyone continues to stay safe and well in these challenging times.
Every one of the 50+ sports halls that we have delivered, has been designed especially for the client with their sporting needs at heart.
Whether you are a school, an academy, a university, a local authority or a sports club, we understand that, when it comes to a new sports facility, you will have your own set of special circumstances.