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Shetland builds on home-grown talent

SITE REPORT - Shetland firm DITT is putting the finishing touches to the island's prestigious museum project. Steve Menary reports

SHETLANDERS are seeing a flurry of construction activity on a level not seen since the boom times of the early 70s when offshore oil was discovered.

Millions of pounds have been spent on construction work in the islands in the past two decades (see page 30) and the Shetlands still has a small but thriving local industry.

One of these local firms managed to bag the biggest package of work to come up for some time, but DITT was no shoe-in to build a £10.5 million museum and dock in Lerwick.

A handful of other local firms, such as Garrick Brothers, Hunter & Morrison and Irving Construction, were also capable of doing the work and the project had to be advertised in the Official Journal.

DITT was short-listed along with Irving and two firms from the Scottish mainland, Elgin-based Robertson and Morrison.

Balfour Beatty is working at the islands' airport in Sumburgh but did not apply for this job.

'Balfour Beatty didn't reply to our ad, which was a shame, but we were glad to keep the work with a local firm, ' says John Mackenzie, project manager at client the Shetland Amenity Trust.

Maybe the giant contractors from the mainland were put off by the island's dour climate. While the summer months enjoy long, light-filled days, winter temperatu res regularly fall to a couple of degrees and the days have just six hours of light.

With getting some specialist trades a perennial problem, the islands' main contractors tend to have large workforces and DITT is no exception.

'The fact that we're so remote means that the cost of transport is such that it makes it uneconomical to use subbies a lot. If work gets held up and they have to go back home, it can cost us up to £3,000 just to get them back here again, ' says DITT project manager Ron Douill.

DITT ? the initials stand for the surnames of the founders Dalziel, Inkster, Tulloch and Tail ? employs 85 people. This may seem small for a main contractor, but only 22,612 people live on the Shetlands. Despite keeping as many people as possible on the books, DITT still finds problems hiring some trades. 'It's impossible to get a plumber; it's ridiculous, ' says Andy McAlpine, DITT's surveyor.

Like many Shetlanders, Mr McAlpine quit the islands to train as a surveyor and worked in Aberdeen for McLeod & Hunter before following a well-beaten path back home to a job with DITT on the museum.

DITT used local subcont ractors for trades such as scaffolding but brought other specialist trades ? such as mechanical outfit Richard Irving Building Services, which is based in Aberdeen and Inverness ? over from the mainland. DITT also runs its own builders' merchants and brings materials over on the 12-hour ferry trip from Aberdeen.

The project uses a steel frame and blocks, but getting these traditional materials over to the Shetlands was not DITT's biggest obstacle.

'The amenity trust wanted us to re-use as many materials as we could, ' says Mr McAlpine. 'The rubble walls came from three derelict croft houses here in the islands and the wood flooring was reclaimed from Hull.' Six thousand tonnes of rock was also dug out of the site to make way for the main museum building.

The rock was then re-used in the foundations.

'They did not need piling, but were going to use rock anchors for the foundations. But they did away with that and just used a reinforced concrete slab, ' says Mr McAlpine.

The biggest test for DITT came from the high specification needed for a museum. 'We want to be able to bring travelling exhibitions to the museum so we need to be able to meet the standards for museums everywhere, ' says Mr MacKenzie.

This meant services consultant Faber Maunsell specifying a trickle ventilation system.

'Our brief was to arrive at a low-energy low maintenance solution, while meeting strict environmental control criteria in what's undoubtedly a demanding climate, ' Faber Maunsell's project engineer Richard Mann says.

Designed by arch itects BDP, the museum's focal point is a 20-m high boat hall. Smaller vessels will be suspended from the ceilings.

The walls of the museum, including the boat hall, are almost completely glazed and the latest specification for museum glass nearly held up the job.

'It was a combination of security for the exhibits and the ultra violet transmitting values for the glazing, ' says Mr Douill. 'The particular types of glass that we needed came from Belgium and had a 12-week delivery time. Because the museum specification is high to take in travelling exhibitions, they needed to be able to get insu rance.

To get that the glass had to be bandit-proof.' The issue of UV values also meant that Faber Maunsell and BDP opted to produce a model to work out where the effects of the sun would be on the museum's exhibits.

In the Shetlands' winter, darkness falls by three o'clock in the afternoon but at the height of summer daylight can be almost constant.

'We introduced blinds at high level but there is no shading on the glazed front façade, so we worked with exhibition designers to ensure particularly sensitive exhibits were placed in areas receiving relatively low levels of natural daylight, ' says Mr Mann.

The high specification also included fire protection with a one-hour standard for the main museum. The building will also store all the island's written records, so a higher specification was needed for the repository.

'Because of the risk, we asked for a four-hour fire standard in the repository, ' says Mr MacKenzie.

The capital cost of the actual museum is £6.5 million, with another £1.5 million being invested in the fit-out work and £1 million eaten up by fees. The museum is not the only part of the project, which was partially funded by a £4.9 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Another £1.5 million of the overall cost is being taken up refurbishing a dock, also being built by DITT, situated in front of the museum.

Built two centuries ago to import timber by merchants Hays & Co, who still trade on the island, the dock had fallen into disrepair.

Securing the museum may have been relatively simple but the dock needed a more complex solution. 'We had to bore down the middle of the pier and put in stainless steel roads that were then grouted , ' says Mr McA lpine.

The islands also had to be scoured to find materials to repair the stone walls and an old dock warehouse.

'We found an old invoice showing that it was stone slate used on the roof and we then found a derelict building on an outer island and Historic Scotland said we could use the slates left there, ' says Mr MacKenzie.

Project team Client: Shetland Amenity Trust Architect (museum): BDP Architect (dock): Nicholas Groves-Raines Quantity surveyor: Turner & Townsend Structural engineer: Woolgar Hunter Building services design: Faber Maunsell Exhibition design:

Griff Boyle Design Management Main contractor: DITT Building management: Campbell Controls Electrical contractor:

Shetland Electrical Services Flooring: G&S Floors Leadwork: L&S Hunter Lighting: Insutech Mechanical contractor:

Richard Irving Building Services Plant hire: MK Leslie Scaffolding: Access 2000 Steel frame: Isleburn Structural Project details Project: Shetland museum & archives Location: Hays Dock, Lerwick Value: £10.5 million Start on site: February 2004

Boom times

WITH a populat ion of just 21,612 people spread over more than 100 islands, construction opportunities on the Shetlands were limited.

But the discovery of oil in the early 1970s changed all that. The Shetlands Islands Council cannily taxed incoming producers 1p for every barrel produced at the Sullom Voe oil terminal and this levy has generated a windfall of an estimated £500 million.

Millions of pounds of oil money still flow in each year ? though at a relative trickle compared to the boom times ? as the council ploughs cash into the local economy.

The money has been invested in two trusts ? the Shetland Charitable Trust funds much of the capital work, including 60 per cent of Lerwick museum and dock project.

Lerwick also boasts a huge, subsidised sports centre that was built in 1984 then extended ? by DITT ? in 1992 at a cost of £9 m illion, which was the firm's biggest job until the museum project. Even smaller outlying villages boast leisure centres with Hunter & Morrison building a £2.5 million facility in Aith.

All the roads have been upgraded, the airport at Sumburgh is being extended and a multi-million pound music centre for Lerwick is also in the pipeline.

The scheme that should generate the most work is a 200-turbine wind farm planned for an unpopulated windswept section in the north of the islands.

The council invested millions in an attempt to farm salmon that has mostly failed due to viruses and Norwegian producers dumping cheap fish on the market. The Shetland islanders are hoping that farming the wind will be a better use of their oil cash.

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