Luke Gibbons of BAM Ireland discusses the success story that is the Uninest New Mill building.
Constructed by BAM Ireland, the seven-storey Uninest New Mill building in Dublin 8 is as opposite from what we have come to expect from student accommodation as is possible. The design and construction of this student accommodation building, which includes 400 Bedrooms across 61 Cluster Flats in a 4-7 storey Courtyard Block made up of 6 cores with a gross floor area of 12,500m2 was delivered for GSA Group for a budget of €31m last September. The project at Mill Street was so successful, that BAM are in the process of developing Uninest Mill II, an additional residence being built next to the flagship project, and are on track to deliver the project this coming summer.
The project has been an exciting one for BAM, says Luke Gibbons, Construction Director. “It was exciting to be involved in the regeneration of that area first and foremost,” he explains. “It was one of the first projects to transform it. It’s great to have the visuals of what a project is going to look like but when you see how it changes the dynamic of an area so significantly in real terms, that’s when you see the success in a project like this.”
A firm fixture of an area that is receiving major development, Luke maintains that this is an excellent, and much-needed rejuvenation opportunity for the area. “We have an adjacent development in progress now, so its really exciting to be involved in a neighbourhood that has had a lot of derelict buildings and is now getting invigorated with new developments. It’s a very historical area of Dublin and while there were archaeologists on board, it didn’t have any material impact in terms of delaying the project.”
With an aim of providing accommodation for 5000 students within Dublin by 2021, GSA’s model of high-end student accommodation is filling a much-needed niche in the market, says Tim Mitchell, GSA’s Global Head of Real Estate. “While Ireland maintains its reputation for having some of the best academic institutions globally there will continue to be high demand for well-maintained purpose-built student accommodation from both home and international students.” The project and its counterparts at Broadstone Hall and Kavanagh Court are changing the construction landscape of student accommodation in Ireland.
Uninest New Mill is well placed for students studying at Trinity College Dublin, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, and the Dublin Institute of Technology’s City Centre campus at Grangegorman. The seven storey, energy efficient development offers students a variety of en-suite cluster flat rooms and studios, as well as shops, a restaurant and an incubation hub for local businesses. The design and build process, came with several important caveats, says Mr. Gibbons. “There are very exacting specifications in a project like this,” he asserts. “From the point of view of the end users, acoustics were a major part of the design brief. Even though the apartments feature communal spaces, it’s essential that students can find quiet when they need it. From a safety point of view, fire is a major concern in a building as high as this, and that was one of the key points of the design.”
It is essential to be mindful of the end user, and what GSA as a client expected from it, says the Construction Director. “Obviously we have the communal spaces – the courtyard is a huge feature of the project. We were creating living quarters, so it was essential to be mindful that this was going to be ‘home from home’ for residents.” Student accommodation, and its requirements have come a long way, according to Luke. “The way we view it is that it’s not really the student that’s the client, it’s their parents and obviously they want the highest specification and best environment for their children. It was essential that the apartments blocks were fitted out to top star rated hotel specification, and that’s what we achieved.”
In terms of project challenges, none were insurmountable for BAM, says Gibbons. “The main challenge was that the programme was relatively tight and the consequence of not being ready and having 400 disappointed students trying to source alternative accommodation meant that being late was simply not an option.” While supply chain resources across the market are still suffering, BAM are happy to report that they had no problem sourcing the right people for the job. “The current market has its pressures in getting adequate trades people and having adequate numbers on site,” explains Luke. “We have a very strong supply chain and we have good alliances with them so we were able to use proven sub contractors to ensure the project was adequately resourced to finish on time. “There were over 60 subcontractors employed throughout this project.”
As with all projects, Health and Safety was paramount for BAM throughout the project at New Mill. Due to the height of the building,” says Luke “Add to that the craneage on site, the oversailing of adjacent buildings and the proximity of the convent and the proximity of the façade to the pedestrian footpaths. To facilitate our neighbours there was strict requirement to maintain the public thoroughfares. It involved putting up adequate scaffolding and protecting the public from the building works, which was a major consideration for us throughout the project. Due to our excellent safety culture there were no accidents or incidents throughout.”
BAM feels that good communication with the local community is the key to success in any project, according to the Construction Director. “You’re going into a community and you’re building in an area that hasn’t had any construction activity for a long time so it’s important to open channels of communication to listen to their concerns, so that they feel positive about the project. Respecting the planning restrictions in relation to noise, vibration and working hours and being a considerate neighbour are essential. Understanding a community’s needs and making sure that there’s positive engagement so that if there is a concern or complaint, they know that it will be dealt with quickly and efficiently. Lack of engagement is often the biggest concern during projects like this.” There is no doubt that engaging the local community and fostering a level of trust can only help BAM and GSA during phase two of New Mill as it nears completion.
New Mill is an extremely energy efficient building, and this is what we should come to expect from all new builds going forward, says Gibbons. “If anything there will be continuous improvement in energy efficiency as techniques and technologies improve.” The key to maintaining and improving knowledge of the ever-changing intricacies of energy efficiency is in employing an expert design and build team, he maintains. “We have an expert design team who are constantly keeping up to speed when it comes to the latest innovations in their fields. We then incorporate that into the design. On a design and build project like this you have the design team and you have the build team, but they are working in unison to find the best way to deliver a design within an efficient buildable solution, within the programme and budget set out by the client.”
GSA is an excellent client to collaborate with, says Mr. Gibbons. “The key with GSA is that they are accustomed to building student accommodation and have experience delivering it around the world. They know what they want and set a very high standard from the beginning.” This high standard of delivery was specified at the negotiation stage of the contract, and for BAM, this set the pace for the project. “We were committed to give Clients the excellence they require and within the timeline they set out because we see them as a long term client. Understanding their needs and delivering the high standard they require was key to the success of the project and set the foundation for a long term successful relationship.
With the 296-bed Uninest Tannery on Dublin’s Merchant Quay set for completion this summer coming, it will mark another accommodation solution for the housing-starved students of Dublin, and a reinforcement of the need for this kind of accommodation in the capital. Having developed a successful relationship on New Mill, we are delighted to be continuing our relationship with GSA on the new scheme adjacent to New Mill on Blackpitts Road. BAM is very proud to be involved in both of these purpose-built student accommodation developments in the heart of Dublin, which will provide essential bespoke accommodation in the city.”
With a firm objective of improving the lives of the students who accommodate them, and of rejuvenating the communities in which they are located, these accommodation solutions are set to change the landscape of Dublin’s city centre for the better.
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