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Multibuild is in the frame for repeat business

A close relationship with the client and a willingness to adopt and adapt to new methods stand this contractor in good stead

Client Manchester Airport Developments
Main contractor Multibuild
Architect Leach Rhodes Walker
Steel contractor Smyth Steel
Electrical contractor John Dawson Electrica

Sticking with the same client makes for an easier life. Repeat business, after all, brings greater efficiencies when contractors come to understand the clients’ needs and get their head around what their designs involve.

Take Multibuild. Although it is diversifying to become a regional contractor, approximately one-third of its business comes from its long-term client, Whitbread.

The company has enjoyed a long and profitable relationship with its client since its humble beginnings a quarter of a century ago fitting out pubs. Its latest project for Whitbread is a 169-bedroom Premier Inn at Manchester Airport.

Multibuild is taking care of the construction and fit-out on the £6.8 million design and build contract.

The hotel is part of a plan by Whitbread to expand its hotels by 3,500 rooms a year.

Multibuild chief operating officer Iain Birch says the plan stands the contractor in good stead to pick up repeat business.

“It’s just the way the market is going,” he says. “If there are any Whitbread hotels that we built that they’re now considering putting extensions on, we will probably pick up the business as well.”

Co-operative approach

Multibuild won the 52-week contract through client Manchester Airport Developments and went on site in March after the customary search for the crested newt.

The company is building a seven-storey hotel using traditional steel frame with metal decks and concrete slab. The contract involves the internal fit-out, which will include the building’s central reception area and restaurant.

Multibuild has, over the past year, taken stock of its suppliers and has slimmed down its list of subcontractors from 1,180 to 250. This was part of a move away from the competitive tendering process to create a more co-operative approach to winning business.

“A lot of our supply chain was born and bread with Whitbread,” says Mr Birch. “Instead of subcontractors being up against seven or eight other firms, they’re up against three. We get them in at the tendering stage. We know them, trust them and get the best value out of them.”

Designing and building a hotel next to Manchester Airport presents its own problems, especially considering the airport has to rank among the noisiest of neighbours in the north-west, barring Kerry Katona and possibly Old Trafford on a match day.

The hotel has to be built to comply with Whitbread’s guarantee of ‘100 per cent satisfaction or your money back’. Since this one will lie beneath a flight path, it will feature acoustic partitioning and suspended ceilings for the bedrooms.

The airport has also stipulated that the project will feature flood defences and Multibuild is currently installing attenuation tanks designed for a one-in-100-year storm.

The close proximity to Manchester Airport also gave rise to problems with getting the job done.

“We designed the hotel around the budget and the logistics of the job,” says site manager Steve Ashton. “With it being Manchester Airport, there are certain constraints on the size of the building. There are permits that we have put into place.”

These even extend to what kind of cranes are allowed on the job. Multibuild had to develop a crane plan for the job in order to obtain the necessary permits. The firm made a crane position plan for every phase of the steel erection in order to obtain a two-month permit from Manchester Airport Developments for lifting operations.

The right cranage

The company agreed with its client to use cranes with a maximum jib height of 40 m. Multibuild opted to use a Liebherr LTM 1055 truck-mounted crane with 55-tonne lift capacity for the job.

“We know what is needed now. So, as the project progresses, it will be easier to meet the demands of the permits,” says Mr Ashton.
Getting the cranage right was essential for the job, as the construction of the hotel depended on craning in bathroom pods through the central reception area.

The final shape of the hotel will comprise a central reception area and restaurant sandwiched between two wings containing the bedrooms.

Mr Ashton says Multibuild phased the construction process to incorporate the delivery of the bathroom pods. The company originally planned to finish the decks sequentially but opted for what it hopes will be a smoother construction process. Multibuild will now finish construction of the central reception area and restaurant last and crane the pods through the roof and down the central stair core.
Each pod weighs in at 1.2 tonnes and comes fitted with detachable wheels. Multibuild will wheel the pods along each floor before fitting them and connecting the plumbing and electrics.

Quicker handover

“We’re putting the core in last,” says Mr Ashton. “We will crane the pods in floor by floor and then secure the roof.”

If Multibuild is putting its faith in using innovative bathroom pods to cut time off the job, why use traditional steel frame for the building?
Mr Birch says the shape of the hotel made modular construction too costly for the job.

“Modular build is great, provided you’re building in squares or rectangles,” he explains. “But this site is shaped more like a chevron, with the restaurant and reception in the middle of the building and the bedrooms coming out in wings at angles at either side.”

As part of its build plan, Multibuild will present a sample finished bedroom to act as a showroom for Manchester Airport Developments and Whitbread. Mr Ashton explains this will speed up the construction process and ensure a quicker handover at the end of the job in March 2009.

“We will do a complete fit-out of one of the bedrooms on the first floor before Christmas,” he says. “This will be signed off by the client and it will set the benchmark for the rest of the building.”

Unique conditions

Following the Premier Inn hotel, Multibuild is bidding for further work at the airport to refurbish Terminal 2, although the company’s strategy of becoming an established regional contractor in the north of England is taking it further afield into the retail, education, commercial and health care sectors.

How does working for new client Manchester Airport Developments compare with working directly for Multibuild’s long-term client, Whitbread?

Mr Ashton admits that the arrangement has had some getting used to.
“Sometimes it can be confusing,” he says. “A Whitbread man will assume that there is a Multibuild team dedicated to Whitbread.

“Then there will be some architects retained by Whitbread who are used to working with us and will go directly to us. But everything has to go through our employers - they are the client after all.”

As Multibuild goes for new business in other sectors, it will be called upon to show its versatility in order to get the job done.

It’s project at Manchester Airport has certainly ticked the boxes on that score. The company has had to develop a new relationship with a client and has also developed a construction method to suit the unique conditions of the project.

Perhaps now Multibuild can go forth with multiple builds.

Like peas in a pod

Multibuild opted for bathroom pods supplied by RB Farquhar on the Premier Inn job. The company even went out to Farquhar’s factory in the Czech Republic to discuss specification of the pods and to see them in production.

Mr Ashton says using pods was essential to getting the job finished within its 52-week construction and fit-out period.

“It’s still tight, but we’re going to do it and we’re ahead at the moment,” he says.

Using bathroom pods constructed off-site also ensured consistency of quality for Multibuild and removed the issue of snagging when it came to handing the job over.

“Their quality is second to none,” says Mr Ashton. “When you have trades on site, you’re not sure whether the plumber has fitted one room and his apprentice has fitted the next. When the pods come out of a factory, you know that each has a consistent quality.”

Farquhar will transport the pods on the backs of trailers from its factory in northern Bohemia to the site, where Multibuild will take charge of the installation. The visit to Farquhar’s facilities prior to the job allowed the two companies to get the timing right between production and construction.

“Their delivery suits our programme,” says Mr Ashton.

“It gives us the opportunity to concentrate on and to carry out work across the rest of the site.

“Although they’re making the pods, we’ve got the wherewithall within the company to install them. We have our own site engineer and operatives who have the experience and I have fitted pods on the Paradise Street project in Liverpool for Balfour Beatty.”