“There aren’t many construction projects where you’re working with 7 metre cats”
It was devised by kids for kids, but when it came to developing the new EUREKA! Science + Discovery centre on the site of Wirral’s old space port museum, Walker Sime discovered the project was far from child’s play.
Shaun Bretland, Senior Quantity Surveyor at Walker Sime, takes up the story.
One of the most exciting things about the new EUREKA! in Seacombe was that kids helped create it. Lots of the ideas that have gone into the Science and Discovery Centre came from the children at local schools. The huge cat that fills the Home Zone came straight from their minds.
EUREKA! had worked with a design team to convert the children’s ideas into something feasible. It was at that point they needed a Quantity Surveyor (QS) and Employer’s Agent to help them turn the designs into reality.
Fixing a hole
The first major challenge was the budget. When we first became involved the project had funding aspirations considerably higher than were finally agreed. That effectively left a hole which meant we needed an intensive round of value engineering to deliver the original vision. We’re extremely proud of the fact that, despite this, not one element of the exhibition has been changed from the original plan.
We did, however, need to be really clever about the way we delivered the original base build design and we workshopped and coordinated everything with the Eureka! Project team, Contractors and Consultants to find efficiencies. We were working with an existing Grade 2 listed building so, for example, we were able to retain a significant amount of the mechanical electrical engineering (rather than replacing it) and find savings there.
Value engineering can be a painful process but there was huge buy-in from EUREKA! and the contractors and it meant that we could make the savings we needed without compromising the magic of the project – the Science and Discovery Centre.
Design and build challenges
Challenge two was the fact that we were working with a Grade II listed building that was still a live ferry terminal, which by nature made the refurbishment quite complex. Stripping out the old spaceport museum and reinventing it meant working with two separate design teams and two separate contracts: one covering the base build; the other the exhibition fit out.
That’s unusual – usually you’d have one contractor and one design team, so doubling numbers doubled the coordination and management challenges and made it all the more important to get the communication right between ourselves, the design teams and Mersey Travel who run the ferry terminal.
Right in the middle of the project Covid hit and, just like everyone else, we really didn’t know what was going to happen next. It would have been easy to stop, but we’d built momentum and funding was in place so we tried to keep everyone calm and carry on while managing the risks. I don’t think we met the design team face-to-face once through that period. That was the first time in my career we’d done an entire project via Zoom and Teams!
And then there were the unexpected elements that you get with every project. We came across concrete walls we didn’t know were there and didn’t appear on any plans. We even found a hidden time capsule under a slab in the floor which we had to recover and pass to Mersey Travel.
Employer’s Agent and Quantity Surveyor
For Walker Sime, Tom Burrows led the QS service, while I was Employer’s Agent, managing the contracts on behalf of EUREKA!. That involved raising instructions, managing delays and assessing changes, of which there were many – around 350 during the lifetime of the project caused by the unique challenges we faced. Because we’d controlled the costs so well pre and post-contract, this allowed the process to be managed well.
A real success
Construction can be a tough industry. Conflict between contractors and developers is commonplace. At Walker Sime we’ve always worked hard to avoid that, but EUREKA! was something else. Perhaps it was the nature of the project, the challenging times we were living through and the fact we all wanted this project to be a huge success, but everyone was working in the same direction, led by the project team.
From a personal perspective, this was a really inspiring project. I live on the Wirral just a few miles from the site so it was great to be part of the play test team and let our kids run wild. Since the Science and Discovery Centre opened officially I’ve only heard positive feedback.
You won’t get a better calling card and testimonial for Walker Sime than EUREKA!. It’s been a real success and a pleasure to work with all involved!
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