HMS Collingwood is one of the British Navy's principal training bases. Joanna Booth watched contractor Mansell in a race to meet a tight deadline for making the outdated facilities ship-shape
ROWS OF seating arc around the room.A vast screen spans one wall.On the floor a huge grid is marked out, as if for a giant game of battleships. But this isn't the set of Dr Strangelove - this is the real War Room.
The tactical training theatre is where senior officers are put through their paces strategising war scenarios. Completed last year, it is just part of a mammoth building programme at HMS Collingwood.
Heavy, secure doors with interlocking hinges open out to display classrooms with banks of computers, specialist equipment and a fully fitted out ship's control room for skills training. Instructors mock up air or submarine attacks to train everyone from admirals down to junior sailors.
The training building was specially designed and constructed to replace the school of maritime operations previously sited at nearby HMS Dryad. By altering the way the space is used, facilities management provider Flagship (see right) has been able to move functions of the 26,000 sq m of training space available at HMS Dryad into three newly refurbished facilities on the Collingwood site and one new 2,600 sq m facility, the belligerently named Warspite building.
The Ministry of Defence released funds to allow this major project to go ahead and in May 2003 a peer group began to review the programme.The contract was awarded in September that year, with the goal to make some training facilities ready by September 2004.
'It was a very tall order, ' says Commander Steve Sayles, Royal Navy Estates project team leader.'I didn't know if we'd achieve it to time and cost but it was completed four days early. It's been internally audited and we're to cost and quality.'
HMS Collingwood was built in the 1940s, and many of the buildings are on their last legs.Under the prime contract the Naval Recruiting and Training Agency is upgrading or replacing as much of the estate as possible.
As well as the Warspite training building, Flagship has also provided a combined administration and health centre.The ground floor comprises a primary care medical centre built to the latest NHS standards, with a dental clinic and personnel office above it.
The agency was so keen to get the centre into use it moved in during the closedown.
'We were keen to move in during the snagging period, ' Commander Sayles says.'That's the benefit of our contract - we were comfortable the contractor wouldn't walk away.'
The other major drive of the programme so far has been accommodation, bringing the base up to Single Living Accommodation Modernisation (SLAM) standards with each room en suite.Mansell, Flagship's construction contractor, has delivered nine accommodation blocks so far, on HMS Collingwood and other sites.
It won the first two blocks on traditional tender from Defence Estates, and by the time the second was going up was in the process of qualifying with Flagship as a member of the prime contracting team.
'We won that as we understood prime principles, ' says Andy Duff, Mansell construction director.'It's not about waiting around for the designs to land in your lap.'
The majority of the accommodation blocks have been modularised, with specialist Caledonian Building Systems on board from early design stage to maximise the benefits of the off-site works.
As well as the price and cost savings, the prefabricated buildings have brought other benefits.
'The modules are welded together so we have no worries about progressive collapse, ' says Commander Sayles.'It's almost like a warship in construction.'
The team agrees that the long-term nature of the contract has reaped discernible benefits in honing techniques to work in the most effective ways possible.
Michael Webb, business manager of Caledonian, says the project has given the company chance to explore the possibilities within the modular envelope.'In the first one we just got the modules and plasterboard in together.' he says.'By the third building we had the first coat of decor on, and by the sixth all finishes in modules before they got to site.'
Practice has not only helped to perfect the prefabrication process but has also accelerated the construction.
'At the start it took us 37 weeks to go from site start to handover for a 100-bed block, ' says Mr Duff.'We've got it down to 30 weeks.'
Mansell has plenty of previous experience in the defence sector.One of the most challenging jobs it has undertaken was replacing an 8,000 sq m roof on a tank facility while keeping it fully operational.
'This was during the offensive in Iraq, ' says Mr Duff, 'so there couldn't be any downtime.We split the roof into sixths and put a crash deck on rollers.
The old roof was made of asbestos, so we had to make the area airtight and remove it.'
At Collingwood, the agency hopes to replace the outdated 1960s dining hall and build a sports pavilion. Enabling works are under way for a mixed retail and leisure scheme at HMS Raleigh in Cornwall and infrastructure works are going ahead at Dartmouth on the British Naval College.
At the moment enabling works are going on for phase nine of the works at HMS Collingwood, another modularised accommodation block, and phase eight is well under way.This block is of unusually traditional build.As it comprises dormitory accommodation it is not ideally suited to prefabrication methods.
'We've gone for a steel frame and hollow rib decking, with dry-line interiors, ' says Mr Duff.'The external frame is membraned so that the brickwork becomes non-critical - it's already weathertight.'
Mansell is again chasing the fastest turnaround time, hoping to finish the contract four weeks early.
'It's all about getting the right people, ' says Mr Duff.'If you have a good relationship people will start to put into a project before formal orders or site start.That's a real time-saver.
'Having such a hands-on client has also helped.We've had no problem getting close to the end-users.They had representatives in meetings very early on, which meant we did very little abortive work.'
Mansell and its subcontractors both work open-book to give the client confidence that it is getting value for money.
'The prime contract de-risks the programme for us, ' says Commander Sayles.'Everyone holds their nerves better than in a stand-alone contract.
We do have dispute resolution mechanisms in place but we've had nothing like a formal disagreement yet.'
By the sounds of it, the only fighting going on at HMS Collingwood will be in the War Room.
A Flagship agreement
ONE OF the first public sector clients to investigate alternative methods of procurement, Defence Estates was gearing up for long-term relationships with contractors at the time others thought partnering was a word you only heard from marriage guidance counsellors.
In 1995 the MoD imposed major cost savings across the board in terms of management of its assets, and the Naval Recruiting and Training Agency decided the best way to do this was to outsource previously in-house work to a long-term strategic partner. Its estate includes six establishments and a college.
By 1996 the agency had signed Flagship, a joint venture between BAE Systems and the VT group, to a 15-year arrangement as a support services provider.Three high-level enabling agreements govern the structural principles of the relationship, below which individual contracts are placed for specific works.
Initially Flagship's role was to market the Royal Navy's training facilities overseas and the industry as a whole, but its responsibilities grew to include support services and facilities management.
The agency was keen to involve Flagship in delivering capital works projects, and put the organisation through the hoop on a number of design and build contracts.Then the organisation was subjected to the same pre-qualification criteria as contractors going for SLAM projects, and in 2002 a fourth enabling agreement was signed for all capital works projects above £240,000 and below £10 million.
'At the same time as the Navy was testing us, we were assessing our subcontractors, ' says Kevin Turvey, Flagship construction and technical services director.
Many of the companies had been used by Flagship before when delivering its design and build projects. In the two and a half years since the agreement was signed, the agency has commissioned 20 separate projects worth more than £60 million.
'The speed with which we've been able to ramp up the works is a barometer of our success, ' says Commander Steve Sayles.
'Although we expand and contract the supply chain for specialist needs the core team already had a mature relationship when we began the works.'
A further £30 million is forecast to be spent up to 2011, when there will be an option to extend the contract.