Crossrail productivity ‘slowed’ by COVID-19 outbreaks

Productivity at Crossrail’s Bond Street station is expected to be affected by a spell of COVID-19 outbreaks last year, according to a progress report from consultant Jacobs.
The station has consistently lagged behind other stations on the project and, in June last year, the Costain/Skanska joint venture working on it agreed to leave the contract early due to disruption caused by coronavirus. At the time, a spokesman for the JV said the station was “uniquely affected by the COVID-19 crisis, due to the number of operatives required on site to complete the station”.
The progress report for mid-October to mid-November and released late last week, noted: “A recent spell of COVID-19 outbreaks is expected to affect productivity at Bond Street Station.”
It added that, at the time, workers across the wider project had been affected by coronavirus. It said: “The COVID-19 second wave is resulting in positive cases and self-isolation of resources across the programme, causing Crossrail to maintain a heightened state of awareness. Crossrail’s focus has been on ensuring the safety and resilience of nearly 400 key people and protecting crucial physical assets for continuing operations.”
In response, Crossrail said that the project is still expected to meet its expected timeline, which will see passenger services up and running in the first half of 2022.
The impact of workers contracting COVID-19 added to the pressure of an “under-resourced” and “over-stretched” workforce, according to Jacobs. It said there are still 133 job vacancies that had not been filled, although this was an “improved position” from the 150 vacancies it found a month earlier. Crossrail has paused the recruitment process through Transport for London (TfL) and has turned to its supply chain to try and fill the gap in technical and assurance roles.
As a result, Jacobs said there is now significant pressure to move onto trial running, and warned over the timescale of the next stage of testing on the project.
In response, Crossrail said its funding problems had contributed to the issues around its recruitment. It said: “Recruitment is working effectively […] however, it is important that funding for the remainder of the programme is available to provide clarity and certainty to individuals that the phase of the programme […] to which they are allocated, is funded. This needs to be approved and communicated as soon as possible in 2021 to ensure the correct resources are available and retained.”
Last week, the London Assembly’s budget and performance committee highlighted a £275m shortfall in the funding required to complete Crossrail. In its report, the committee pointed out that London’s transport commissioner Andy Byford promised in December there would be “no further delays or further call on public funds” on the basis it was granted £1.1bn. So far, £845m has been secured, but the mayor himself has acknowledged that after this sum there is “nowhere else to go” and that “the government would need to step in”.

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Crossrail productivity ‘slowed’ by COVID-19 outbreaks – Megan Kelly – 2021-01-25 14:57:24

Architecture Billings continue to lose ground

Demand for design services from U.S. architecture firms took a pointed dip last month, according to a new report from the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

The pace of decline during December accelerated from November, posting an Architecture Billings Index (ABI) score of 42.6 from 46.3 (any score below 50 indicates a decline in firm billings). Meanwhile, the pace of growth of inquiries into new projects remained flat from November to December with a score of 52.4, though the value of new design contracts stayed in negative territory with a score of 48.5.

“Since the national economic recovery appears to have stalled, architecture firms are entering 2021 facing a continued sluggish design market,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA.  “However, the recently passed federal stimulus funding should help shore up the economy in the short-term, and hopefully by later this year there should be relief as COVID vaccinations become more widespread. Recent project inquiries from prospective and former clients have been positive, suggesting that new work may begin picking up as we move into the spring and summer months.”

Key ABI highlights for December include:

•    Regional averages: South (46.8); Midwest (43.6); West (43.4); Northeast (38.8) •    Sector index breakdown: mixed practice (48.0); commercial/industrial (47.2); multi-family residential (46.1); institutional (38.5)•    Project inquiries index: 52.4•    Design contracts index: 48.5

The regional and sector categories are calculated as a three-month moving average, whereas the national index, design contracts and inquiries are monthly numbers.

Visit AIA’s website for more ABI information.

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Architecture Billings continue to lose ground – dmalone – 2021-01-19 21:12:58

Colmore Tang targets cladding remediation

Colmore Tang chief operating officer Steve UnderwoodThe Birmingham-based contractor is targeting building owners, managing agents and surveyors seeking to replace cladding.

Colmore Tang has already built several tower blocks since it was launched in 2013, delivering more than 3,500 residential units and a 253-bedroom hotel, as well as 180,000 sq ft of retail space.

The issue of how widely flammable cladding systems have been used across the UK came to light after the Grenfell Tower fire in London in 2017. With liability not always easy to establish and many buildings owned by opaque overseas trusts, progress in replacing dangerous cladding has been slow over the past three years.

It is estimated that there are around 2,000 residential buildings that are still enveloped in high-risk, combustible cladding. The UK government launched a £1bn Building Safety Fund in May 2020 to help building owners with the replacement of unsafe cladding. Colmore Tang wants a slice of it.

Colmore Tang said that it would use its subcontractors and suppliers to offer ‘the full remediation process from initial fire assessment and design, to project management, tax advice and delivery’. It also offers clients a latent defects warranty.

Chief operating officer Steve Underwood said: “Nobody should have to live in an unsafe building. Through conversations we have had with building owners, managing agents and even cladding manufacturers, it’s clear that the complexities in cladding remediation are slowing down the ability to get this vital work done. The government’s target is also mounting pressure on building owners, who are being encouraged to complete all works before mandatory new legislation is introduced.

“Lots of specialist contractors don’t operate at the scale required to fulfil many of these projects, leaving clients struggling to engage with consultants when looking for a solution. That’s why we’re doing what we know best – tall, high-density residential buildings. We’re bringing together the moving parts to create a single cohesive product. Furthermore, we provide a fully-auditable digital record of the whole process ensuring that the ‘golden thread’ – as described in Dame Judith Hackett’s Grenfell recommendations – is delivered along with a comprehensively-insured end product.”
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Colmore Tang targets cladding remediation – The Construction Index – 2021-01-14 08:07:00

16 firms revealed on £80m London demolition framework

16 firms have been appointed on an £80m London demolition framework.
The framework procured by London housing association Central and Cecil Housing Trust covers demolition, site preparation and clearance work.
The trust had initially expected to appoint 10 firms to the framework but, out of 17 bidders, 16 firms have been appointed to the framework. They are:
DDS Demolition
Erith Contractors
Squibb Group
777 Demolition and Haulage
R Collard
Clifford Devlin
AR Demolition
Frank O’Dara and Sons
O’Keefe Demolition
Goody Demolition
Deconstruct UK
Bath Demolition
Evolution Enabling Services
The Coleman Group
Places were awarded with a 60 per cent weighting for quality of bids with price being 40 per cent. The framework is set to run for four years and will be available for use by all public sector bodies throughout the UK.
Construction News’s Specialists Index 2020 revealed demolition contractors had suffered the steepest drop in median pre-tax margins, as profit failed to keep up with a big jump in revenue. The sector expects demand in the London commercial market to drop off in 2021, but forecasts jobs in the infrastructure realm will step up.

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16 firms revealed on £80m London demolition framework – David Price – 2021-01-13 14:23:14

Workers on some of Virginia’s major construction projects sue subcontractors for wage theft

Laborers who worked on some of Virginia’s major construction projects in recent years have sued subcontractors that employed them, charging wage theft in two federal lawsuits.

The suits assert that workers were not paid overtime after being intentionally misclassified as independent contractors instead of employees. The legal premise for one suit cites the employer’s relationship with the workers that includes setting schedules, providing direct and indirect worksite supervision, setting or influencing worker’s rates of pay, and “maintaining, as a practical matter, the power to fire or demote workers.”

One court filing says that according to state law, an individual who performs services for money is presumed to be an employee of the person who pays them, unless they are classified as an independent contractor under guidelines from the Internal Revenue Service.

One of the attorneys representing workers told a Virginia television station that worker misclassification is extraordinarily widespread in the construction industry. Plaintiffs’ lawyers are seeking unpaid wages, employment benefits, funds for attorney fees, and two times the amount of unpaid wages as damages.

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Workers on some of Virginia’s major construction projects sue subcontractors for wage theft – dmalone – 2021-01-07 15:44:23

SEC Group wound up

Rudi KleinSEC Group is an umbrella representative body comprising British Constructional Steelwork Association, Building Engineering Services Association, Electrical Contractors Association, Lift & Escalator Industry Association, Electrical Contractors Association of Scotland, Scottish & Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers’ Federation and the Scaffolding Association.

A new engineering services sector alliance is being set up to replace it, with a wider focus. While much of SEC Group’s focus has been on supply chain issues and the treatment of subcontractors, the replacement body will encompass sustainability, skills and building safety.

The engineering services member bodies of SEC Group are working with other organisations to set up the new UK engineering services sector alliance, to launch in early 2021. The new alliance, which will include contracting businesses and professionals from across the engineering services sector, will aim to work closely with industry bodies and initiatives across all four nations of the UK.

News of the closure of the SEC Group comes just a month after long-serving chief executive Rudi Klein announced his retirement from the organisation. [See previous report here.] SEC Group board chairman Trevor Hursthouse has also stepped down from his role.

Speaking on behalf of SEC Group members, Steve Bratt, chief executive of the ECA, said “We would like to express our gratitude to the highly effective SEC Group team for their remarkable contribution to our sector and to the wider industry. Initiatives driven by SEC Group and industry partners over many years have significantly improved the commercial landscape for the construction supply chain.”

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SEC Group wound up – The Construction Index – 2021-01-04 07:51:00

Laing O’Rourke CFO: Whitehall ‘gets’ our offsite edge

Laing O’Rourke’s relationship with the government has been enhanced because Whitehall “understands” its offsite capabilities give it a competitive advantage, the contractor’s chief financial officer has claimed.
The company, which was officially recognised as a government strategic supplier this week, has invested more than £100m in its Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) offsite approach over the past 11 years. CFO Rowan Baker (pictued) told Construction News this was paying dividends in the public sector. “This [offsite capability] is coming to the forefront and indeed is well understood by government as to the kind of competitive edge that we have, and the differentiation that we have, and that’s probably part of the reason that we are on that strategic supplier list,” she said.
The contractor’s designation as a strategic supplier earlier this week means it will now get a crown representative to manage all work between the government and the firm, acting as a single point of contact.
In the government’s recently published Construction Playbook, modern methods of construction were cited as an increasingly important element of public sector procurement in the coming years. Combined with an expected increase in government construction projects, Baker said the company was well placed to benefit. “It will depend on exactly where we end up in terms of the work winning, but schools and hospitals, they really lend themselves to being produced there [offsite],” she said.
Laing O’Rourke is now supplying other contractors from its offsite facility, the CFO confirmed. CN revealed last year that the company was planning the move. Baker could not confirm the value of work the factory has done for other firms, and emphasised the priority of the facility was to fulfil O’Rourke’s needs on its own projects. “Primarily we would want to use it for the step up in our own activity if that is what is required, for example, by government contracts,” she said.
In 2019 the company revealed £35m of revenue was generated from work at the facility in Steetley, Nottinghamshire. The company has not revealed the equivalent value for 2020 and Baker said it was hard to break out as a standalone item. “It isn’t really thought of as being a separate standalone item, it is part of what we do,” she said. Baker added that the firm’s DfMA offering was now part of “almost every bid that we put in”.
MMC and offsite construction of the type Laing O’Rourke has invested in has been touted as means through which contractors will be able to cut emissions in the coming years. O’Rourke claims that its use of offsite manufacturing on its Liverpool Street Crossrail project reduced embodied carbon by 30 per cent and eliminated seven tonnes of wood waste.
O’Rourke has not issued a net zero carbon pledge, unlike peers such as Balfour Beatty, Mace and Kier. Baker said the company would unveil its sustainability targets soon. “We’re really quite engrossed in this process at the moment of finalizing our sustainability strategy,” she said. “So it would be too early for me to say something on it, but we are really focused on it as a business.”

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Laing O’Rourke CFO: Whitehall ‘gets’ our offsite edge – David Price – 2020-12-17 14:55:22

Can converting a landmark office to a clinic raise up a downtrodden Philadelphia neighborhood?

The 92-year-old Kensington Trust Company Building in Philadelphia is a community landmark. But in recent years, this limestone edifice—vacant since 2015, after its last tenant, Wells Fargo, left—had come to symbolize a poor and crime-ridden neighborhood’s despair. The intersection of Kensington and Allegheny Avenues, where the building sits, has been ground zero for the city’s devastating opioid epidemic.

Kensington Trust’s restoration and adaptive reuse as the Esperanza Health Center—which received an Honorable Mention Reconstruction Award from BD+C—aspired to elevate the location as a catalyst for community engagement. Esperanza’s myriad services include primary medical care for adults and children, dental care, prenatal care, behavioral health, on-site medication dispensaries, and social services assistance.

There’s even a bank branch that provides support and instruction to assist residents who are unfamiliar with financial practices.


This project’s site plan shows some of the features that were added, as well as the building’s proximity to mass transit and Philadelphia’s city center.


Accessibility is key. The building is adjacent to a stop on the city’s Market-Frankfort subway line. The building’s front steps, which had been closed off to pedestrians and visitors, now provide a ground-floor terrace leading to a café and seating area that are open to the public.

“Esperanza Health Center serves as a beacon of hope for a blighted community that feels it has been forgotten,” stated Brawer & Hauptman Architects, which submitted this project for award consideration. “This health center … demonstrates how preservation and adaptive reuse of a neighborhood’s architectural assets can build community and uplift its residents,”

The owner organization is a multicultural faith-based ministry that provides affordable, holistic healthcare to Latino and underserved communities in North Philadelphia. The Kensington Trust building is now its flagship location.


The vision for this project was to create a light-filled, transparent, and welcoming facility. A key design criterion was for informal gathering spaces that could be used by the community. And bringing back the grandeur of the lobby’s space was the focus of the project. Modern architectural materials and light fixtures were chosen to accent existing historical detail. For example, pendant lights resemble the coffers in the plaster ceiling, and draw attention to the height of the atrium.

The building’s atrium, seen from two perspectives, shows how the new and old intersect: the original building’s marble floors and vertibule were retained, while features like pendant lighting were added. Waiting rooms overlook the atrium. 

Connecting the clinical and public components of the building was important for community awareness. The dental waiting area has framed views of the atrium below and the street. Even the exam room has a view of the elevated subway platform outside. Patients in exam rooms can see the elevated subway platforms.

Many of the building’s original architectural elements—such as its plaster ceilings, marble floors and vestibule, and brass entrance doors—were preserved. Two large clocks at the building’s entrance, which hadn’t operated for decades, were restored to working order. The bank’s main vault, lined with brass safety deposit boxes and retaining its massive vault door, now serves as a staff lounge. A second vault on the ground floor became the facility’s chapel.

To guide the clinic’s many patients for whom English is a second language, the building’s wings are color coded for easier wayfinding.

Among this project’s design criteria was connecting the community to the clinic. A dental waiting room (above) looks out onto the building’s atrium and the street. An exam room (below) offers views of a nearby elevated subway platform.


Demolition of existing interior partitions and ceilings on the upper floors found concrete-encased steel on the bottom of the floor slabs. The redesign strove to exploit these elements and highlight the existing structure. However, having open ceilings in the corridors and public spaces of the upper clinical floors, while aesthetically pleasing, made new installations like electricals and ducts more challenging.

During the project’s investigative stage, it was also discovered that the building had been constructed over an active creek called Gunner’s Run that ran through an area toward the Delaware River. The building sits at the lowest point in the watershed, and that creek recharges after several days of rainfall. Consequently, controlling groundwater intrusion required extensive interior trenching and waterproofing.

Before its reconstruction, wrought iron fencing blocked visitors from entering the Kensington Trust building. Now the entrance terrace leads to the clinic’s cafe and seating area. The brass doors were preserved.


Above ground, the building had long been a tagging canvas for graffiti artists, with an estimated 60 layers of paint on certain areas of its exterior surface. A city agency, Community Life Improvement Program (CLIP), was charged with removing the graffiti as part of the effort to return the building’s stone surface to its natural beauty.

Kensington Trust’s monumental windows were replaced, its limestone cleaned, and exterior lighting installed to make its presence in the community even more prominent.  The entrance to Esperanza Health Center was made fully accessible, and greets its visitors and patients with an engraved message that reads “To the glory of God for the people of Kensington.”

PROJECT INFORMATION: Size 35,000 sf Construction start and finish Dec. 1, 2018 – July 1, 2019 Cost $12.5. million Delivery method Design-bid-build

BUILDING TEAM: Submitting firm and Architect Brawer & Hauptman Architects Owner/developer Esperanza Health Center SE Orndorf & Associates ME/PE Smith Miller Associates GC Target Building Construction CM Omnivest

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Can converting a landmark office to a clinic raise up a downtrodden Philadelphia neighborhood? – jcaulfield – 2020-12-18 20:04:09

Aberdeen Harbour expansion on track for 2021 opening

Aberdeen Harbour bosses have confirmed that there will be a phased opening next year of the Aberdeen Harbour Expansion Project (AHEP) – the largest marine infrastructure scheme under way in the UK.

Construction, which began in early 2017, is now 70% complete. Dragados had been appointed to the project in 2016 but withdrew earlier this year after reaching an agreement with the client.

The project will enable berthing of vessels up to 300m in length. Once complete, the South Harbour will have more than 1.3km of protective breakwater, 1,400m of deep-water quays, a water depth of up to 15m, more than 125,000m² of lay-down area and a 165m-wide entrance channel.

Keith Young, AHEP project director, said: “Since taking over the site in May, we have seen considerable progress and overcome several engineering challenges.  Much of the 70% of progress involves dredging work below the water line and construction of the North Breakwater and fixed quay areas.

“Approximately 2.4 million cubic metres of rock have been removed from the seabed using the world’s largest dredgers, and we are pleased that this material will be reused elsewhere within the project.  The second-half of this year has seen the arrival of three caissons for the Castlegate (north) and Dunnottar (east) Quays, and revetment work on what will be the open quay sections of the Harbour.”

The final eight caissons are expected to arrive from Cromarty Firth in 2021 once winter weather conditions have receded.  This will coincide with the beginning of construction of the South Breakwater and the Crown Wall – an 8m-high structure that will run along the length of the North Breakwater to protect the Harbour from significant waves.

“The knowledge, skill and innovation that is going into every element of construction is truly humbling, and I am very proud of everyone who is involved in this monumental project,” said Young.

Michelle Handforth, chief executive of Aberdeen Harbour Board, said: “Like any project of this scale we have encountered a number of challenges, but we are happy and confident in the position we are in at the end of this year.

“The expansion of Aberdeen Harbour has never been more important, both for the north-east and the rest of the country. South Harbour will open a world of possibilities and will position Aberdeen as a world leader in the changing energy landscape, while radically growing Scotland’s maritime industry and international shipping potential.

“We are working extremely closely with customers, port users and industry organisations around the UK to maximise the potential for the expanded port in Aberdeen as we gear up to our phased opening next year.”
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Aberdeen Harbour expansion on track for 2021 opening – The Construction Index – 2020-12-17 09:53:00

Kingspan insulation boss exits | Construction News

The head of Kingspan’s insulation boards business is to leave the business.
Peter Wilson, divisional managing director of the firm’s insulation boards business and a director of Kingspan Group, has announced he will retire at the end of the year. Wilson hit news headlines last month after it was revealed he was one of three directors who cashed in more than £6m in share options before the company was due to appear at the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire. A series of allegations against the firm were publicly aired at the hearings.
The materials supplier’s Kooltherm K15 foam board insulation was used on the Grenfell Tower refurbishment, alongside Celotex RS5000 insulation.
Wilson has not given evidence at the hearings but has been referenced on a number of occasions by other witnesses as the boss of the insulation division. He was also copied into a number of email exchanges published by the inquiry.
Kingspan said Wilson’s decision to retire reflected “his view that now is the right time to hand over to new leadership at an important time for the insulation boards division”. He will be replaced by the insulation board division’s chief financial officer Alan Lawlor.
Kingspan also announced it has appointed a head of compliance and certification, a newly created role responsible “for ensuring a rigorous approach to certification, testing and product compliance across all group divisions”. The firm has selected its insulated panel division’s operations director Jim Carolan for the post.
There have been a number of revelations regarding the conduct of some Kingspan employees at the ongoing inquiry into the fire at the west London tower block which killed 72 people. A development director for firm apologised after being shown an email he sent to a colleague about a consultant who raised concerns about the combustibility of its product, which said the person could “go f**k themselves” . Other documents published by the inquiry showed members of Kingspan’s technical team joked that they had lied about the fire safety properties of their insulation. Their boss said the company did not lie about its products and he could not explain why the two had said as much. It has also been claimed that Kingspan used rigged fire performance tests to lobby MPs over plans to ban combustible materials from high-rise buildings in the aftermath of the fire. The company denied attempting to deliberately mislead the lawmakers.

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Kingspan insulation boss exits | Construction News – Zak Garner-Purkis – 2020-12-17 14:22:06