BAM – A Lesson in PPP

It’s been a good year for BAM Contractors. The country’s largest public works construction business recently reported a 47.5% rise in annual profits. Turnover was up by more than 2.6% and the group’s profit margin rose to 2.5% – figures that clearly indicate strong financial health despite recent economic uncertainty. 

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The group expect this upward trend to continue into 2014 and beyond, with strategic strategies in place to improve its position  in both the Irish  and international markets. Current major projects include the Glanbia Facility at Kilkenny, the N7 and the N11  PPP road projects, the National  Children’s Detention Facility and the €20 million Clinical & Translational Research Facility in  NUI Galway.

2013 also marked a strategic turning point for BAM; completed projects like Finn Valley Leisure Centre in Donegal and the PPP  Colaiste Ailigh  project in Letterkenny have allowed the firm to expand its building operations in the west and north west of the  country.

Located just a short distance from the prestigious Finn Valley Leisure Centre, Colaiste Ailigh is the first of the Schools Bundles  3 PPP Scheme  (which started on site in Nov 2012) to be successfully completed and handed over. The bundle comprises the  design, build, finance and  maintenance of eight schools (seven post-primary schools and one primary school) on seven sites,  providing approximately 5,700 pupil spaces in  total. Over the next few months, pupils in Gorey, Tramore, Doughiska in  Galway, Athlone, Ballinamore in Leitrim and Doon in Limerick will be relocated to brand new bespoke facilities.  These projects  are delivered in conjunction with the Department of Education and Skills and working with their agent, the National Development Finance Agency.

BAM-PPP-School-Letterkenny The 5,500 sq m Colaiste Ailigh was designed to replace the existing outdated school in the town, where staff and pupils were operating in very  compressed conditions with little or no recreational space for the pupils. During the construction the headmaster, Micheal O’Giobain paid  particular  interest in the construction programme, paying regular visits to the site to review progress. Student trips were also arranged  between BAM and the  School to engage the interest of the pupils in the construction process from the outset. “It was great for us to see the  interest the kids had in  construction and how the works progressed’’ said Luke Gibbons, Project  Director. “Nearly all of the schools in the PPP  bundle are located in rural  areas; many of these kids wouldn’t have been on a building site before so they were interested to see the processes  used to build the school.”

 There was much emotion when the teachers and staff saw the school for the first time.  This was to be understood given the very confined  and totally  unsuitable conditions they had been putting up with for a number of years. It’s a bright, spacious, airy building with all the  latest  technological advances incorporated into the overall design. The feedback from students and teachers has been excellent,” says  Padraig Walsh, Contracts Manager at BAM.

The school can accommodate up to 350 secondary school pupils, with space for future expansion available to the north of the building.  Construction was completed, snagged, fit-out and handed over in just 51 weeks; handed over on the 6th November 2013 and available for  school use on the morning of the 7th November 2013.

With an extremely demanding construction programme, it was a huge accomplishment for BAM to meet their tight deadline. According to  Padraig, the site itself presented its own challenges. “The school was situated on the side of a hill with very high rock outcrops, so the  difficult topography was a challenge from the outset.” The steep, rocky undulating site meant that 35,000m3 of rock had to be removed before work could commence. Combine this with the severe weather conditions that Donegal is renowned for and you have a real challenge on your hands. “Having to remove such a large quantity of rock prior to construction proper had the effect of shortening our construction period significantly, so going for traditional solutions such as blockwork or insitu concrete wasn’t really an option.” as both are severely weather dependant trades. “Employing a precast structure was an essential part of delivering a tight programme. It also meant we weren’t as weather dependent as we would have been if we had used insitu concrete or traditional block,” said Luke.

It was during the rock breaking process that the design for the precast frame and its construction off site was undertaken. Once the site was prepared and foundations ready the precast frame works commenced. It has been said locally that “the structure went up overnight”.

A combination of innovative engineering, long working hours  and choosing the right subcontractors, with proven track records, ensured the challenges encountered on the site were overcome.

“The use of local labour played an important part in ensuring that the project was completed on time and that the local community as a whole, benefited from construction,” says Luke Gibbons. “Hotels and other forms of accommodation also benefitted as travelling staff and specialists contractors were also employed on the project. We are very happy with the way that the project turned out from an aesthetics and quality point of view and are also proud that the entire process was completed incident and injury free.” BAM-PPP-School-Letterkenny 2

Before moving into the new facility, the school held physical education classes at the Letterkenny Community Centre and also used local GAA facilities. Events were held at the Mount Errigal Hotel, An Grianán Theatre and the Regional Cultural Centre. The new school’s state-of-the-art facilities mean that the days of moving classes to outside locations is over.

Designed by Dublin-based McGarry Ní Éanaigh Architects, accommodation at the school consists of; general teaching areas, specialist classrooms like language labs, multimedia and woodworking rooms, a very spacious physical education hall and ancillary areas, a library, outdoor teaching areas, an art room, a special needs room, kitchenette and hard play courts.  Parking spaces, engineering services and all associated site development works also formed part of the development. There is also space on the 8.5 acre site for future expansion. One of the most striking aspects of the design is the way each room has access to natural light, through creative use of space, windows and skylights. Prior to construction, the site was also contoured so that the two-story building will not obstruct the views of those on the upper side of the school.

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One of the benefits of employing a PPP model to deliver infrastructure projects  is that they allow the public sector to meet  one of the  biggest challenges currently facing the country – overcoming the significant infrastructure deficit.

According to Luke Gibbons, PPP’s offer real value to clients while at the same time delivering the highest standards possible

Value for money over the lifetime of the project is a huge consideration with all projects but particularly with PPP projects and none more  so than with Colaiste Ailigh. Despite the site’s challenges, this was the shortest programme of any of the schools within the SB3 Bundle and  it was delivered on time.”

BAM will facility manage all the PPP schools for the next 25 years. “Our association with the building will continue for more than two  decades whereas with a traditionally procured project, you’re more or less done with it once the maintenance defects period expires.


According to Luke, the feedback from all the stakeholders involved in Colaiste Ailigh has been extremely positive. “Everyone feels that the project has been completed to a very high standard and that the teaching environment provided is hugely beneficial to the on-going learning and development of the students.

BAM are no strangers to the PPP market; their first Public Private Partnership contract was signed in 1999. BAM PPP was formed in January 2006, as a result of Royal BAM Groups’ increasing involvement in PPP across Europe. Through its sister companies across Europe, the Irish PPP branch are able to offer their public sector clients world-class expertise and local knowledge that makes for a smooth execution of projects, both large and small.

“We definitely feel that we have now a very solid supply chain in the north-west area having completed these projects. It will stand to us when we’re bidding for future work in the area. This coupled with the excellence associated with the BAM Brand and the ability by BAM to carry out large scale multidisciplinary projects ensures that they continue to maintain a strong position in this current market.

This Article first appeared in the December 2013 issue of Irish Building Magazine, click here to read the full issue.