Purcell Construction – Pursuing Excellence

Award-winning projects are earning building contractor Purcell Construction an unrivalled reputation for excellence. Cian Molloy reports.

Founded in Galway in 1988, Purcell Construction has grown to become one of Ireland’s top 20 construction companies, with a projected turnover of €40m for 2015 and with a portfolio of works contracts that stretch across the country.

The company’s growth has not happened by chance, says Managing Director Michael Bane. “The growth of the company results from a fully-certified and ISO-accredited quality management system; from our pursuit of excellence and attention to detail; from high-quality workmanship and from our maintaining close working relationships with customers, design teams and subcontractors to ensure that critical information and resources are in place at the right time.”

Michael Bane
Michael Bane

The company was established by Gerry Purcell but Michael has been at the helm since an MBO in 2005 and the company’s other principals are Billy Coyne, Gerry Dolan, Nigel Tighe, Derek Timlin and Tom Whelan. At present, Purcell Construction directly employs 80 staff, with between 400 and 500 employed indirectly through subcontracting.

At first Purcell Construction was a development company that operated only within County Galway, but during the early 1990s it moved into contracting and by the early 200s contracting accounted for 80% of turnover. The company also steadily expanded its client base, firstly by moving into the Dublin market and then gradually growing to take on projects across the country. Michael says the company was able to weather the recession because it has a strong project portfolio, particularly in public works contracting.  Today, as well as the head office at Ballybrit, the company has a regional office in Dublin.

Purcell Construction’s portfolio includes hotels, hospitals, schools, swimming pools, pharmaceutical facilities, offices and apartments together with public and private housing. Michael said: “We have also successfully undertaken major restoration / conservation works to a number of landmark buildings, including Tullamore Courthouse, Pearse Museum, Ballymahon Library, Limerick Courthouse and, more recently, the €30 million restoration of St Mel’s Cathedral in Longford as a Joint Venture partnership, GemPurcell Ltd.”

St. Mel's Cathedral
St. Mel’s Cathedral

Ireland’s Favourite Building

St Mel’s needed to be restored after a disastrous fire in the early hours of Christmas day morning in 2009, when the building was burnt to a roofless shell.  The St Mel’s Project Committee appointed Interactive Project Managers (IPML) to project manage the restoration of the cathedral and IPML chose GemPurcell, a joint venture formed by Purcell Construction and Gem Construction, to take on the job, which was completed on schedule for Christmas Eve Mass to be celebrated in the building on Wednesday December 24th last year. “This amazing project could only be completed by incredible teamwork and collaboration from start to finish,” said Michael. “The collaboration was greatly assisted by clear lines of communication from St Mel’s Project Committee to the IPML project management and design team and then to the GemPurcell main contractor team.

“The logistical challenges of carrying out the substantial scope of restoration works, within a limited programme period, prompted us to devise a detailed ‘three-pronged approach’. This involved the design and installation of a complex tube and fitting suspended scaffold network, which spanned across the nave and facilitated the safe implementation of works to the ground floor areas, the replacement columns/existing walls and the roof/vaulted ceiling, simultaneously.”

Purcell Construction staff member Roan Moore was named ‘Project Manager of the Year 2015’ at the Chartered Institute of Building Awards for his role in managing the difficult restoration.

The eminent architect Kevin Roche described the project as ‘a tour–de-force of faithful architectural restoration, wrought by exemplary teamwork into a physical expression of indomitable community spirit’. More prosaically perhaps, in this year’s RIAI Awards, the restoration was chosen for the ‘people’s choice awards’, earning the cathedral the title ‘Ireland’s favourite building’!

Also in the last year, Purcell has completed a major pharmaceutical project for Hollister in Ballina and five buildings on the new DIT campus at Grangegorman. Michael said: “We are currently working on the following projects: Arklow library, Corduff Primary Care Centre, Ardgillan Community School; Crookstown  NS, Portlaoise Hospital, Asia Markets Dublin, Glanmire Community School, Ballinfoyle Community Centre and an apartment development on Anglesea Road, Dublin.”

Since 2001 Purcell Construction has constructed a significant number of award-winning buildings in the state (See Panel). Michael said: “These awards are a major benefit to our company as these buildings are normally very complex and challenging to construct but are incredibly satisfying  for the management teams and subcontractors involved.”

The company also has a steady pipeline of projects in the life sciences sector, Michael explained. “In recent years, we have developed the healthcare/pharma and fit out sectors within our company and we have developed specialist management teams with the expertise and skills to deliver outstanding quality projects.

“Looking to the future, we are confident that Purcell can consolidate and strengthen our position at the forefront of the Irish construction industry.The healthcare and pharma sectors are obvious areas of growth for our company over the coming years, however we are determined to develop and improve the full spectrum of construction services nationwide.

“Our industry is going through major change and upheaval , most of it for the better, as building becomes more focused on the end users and on long term sustainability and cost-effectiveness. This is an exciting time for the construction industry with the introduction of building information modelling (BIM) and all its benefits. The implementation of BIM within the construction industry is changing the dynamics and behaviour s of all involved. We are delighted to have adopted BIM, which is unlocking new, more efficient and collaborative ways of working in a new digital construction era.”

Surviving and thriving

As with nearly all firms in the construction industry, Purcell Construction experienced a significant reduction in turnover during the downturn. “We were fortunate to be operating predominately in the public works sector prior to crash,” said Michael. “This sectoral experience and portfolio enabled us to continue to tender for the reduced number of public works projects in the industry during the downturn.

“We made all possible efforts to retain our core staff and we were fortunate to be able to do so during this difficult period. We focused on improving efficiencies in running our projects, eliminating waste on sites, reducing overheads and ensuring that suppliers and subcontractors were recompensed for their work on time. Our survival and success has been founded on the appreciation that we must bring our supply chain with us through our projects and deliver the highest level of service  and quality end product. We adopted a team work philosophy, not only internally but also with customers and design teams. Customers and design teams identify Purcell’s greatest strength as being the quality of our people and find working with our company to be an enjoyable experience.”

So far Purcell Construction has not sought work outside Ireland and has made a deliberate decision to concentrate on the home market where it has an established reputation. However, Michael did say: “We may decide in the future to work outside Ireland, but it will be a well-planned and sustainable move rather than a reactionary one.”

Industry View

Looking at the issues affecting the industry at present, Michael says he welcomes the new reforms to public procurement contracts: “Reverting back to a situation where the Bill of Quantities again forms part of the contract will be hugely beneficial to contractors, both in terms of risk transfer and the time and costs associated with checking of measures.

“Also, the situation whereby it is now intended to pre-appoint specialist contractors will be hugely beneficial to all concerned, as the previous situation was wholly dissatisfactory and was creating a tense and uncooperative  relation between the main contractors and specialists.

“Given current inflationary pressures for main contractors, we feel the tender validity period for all public works should be set at no more than 90 days.

“We feel the number of tenderers on any public works project should be limited to a maximum of 8, as the current situation with 10 or more in some instances are counter-productive in terms of generating competition amongst medium size contractors, in that it can detract from the level of interest. Also, a move to electronic submission for both pre-quals and tenders would be of benefit, both in terms of costs savings and affording contractors the maximum time to compile tenders, within the afforded tender period.”

In addition to a quality management system certified to ISO 9001:2008 standard and an environmental management system certified to ISO 14001:2004, Purcell Construction operates a safety management system certified and accredited to OHSAS 18001:2007 standard.  Michael said: “Having worked in my early career on a €1.2bn ESB project at Moneypoint Power Station in Co Clare, I became acutely aware of Health and Safety, its importance and the relentless efforts required to maintain a safe workplace. Our highly-prioritised approach to Health & Safety, aims to minimise the risk of injury or damage to people and products. The successful implementation of this policy assigns responsibility, not only to the board and management of staff, but also, to all individuals involved in our projects, requiring both a proactive and preventative approach.

“The health and safety of all those who visit and work on our sites, together with protection of the environment have been and will remain key priorities for Purcell.” 


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