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Wall partition choice cuts costs

Getting the contractor to make the decisions regarding the partitions in a building can help reduce costs and improve the overall quality of the delivered project, as Vinci Construction has found while working on student accommodation in Bagot Street, Birmingham.

Each of the 656 bedrooms in the £19.8m project has a partitioned bathroom pod, giving each resident their own ensuite bathroom. The original specification from client Bagot Street Limited Partnership called for pods made from glass-reinforced plastic. However, Vinci project manager Ed Biddle convinced the client that using a steel frame pod with Fermcell boards for the walls would create a partition that blended in better with the rest of the building. Additionally, the steel frame actually worked as being more cost-effective.

Mr Biddle says “With it being steel frame, when it’s positioned in the room, we can apply the plasterboard directly the frame on the outside. That forms our corridor wall and the walls in the bedroom.”

Improved acoustic qualities

In addition to making the selection for the partitioning material for the bathroom pods, Vinci was also involved in specifying the materials used for partitions throughout the building. The original specification called for the building’s frame to consist of in-situ concrete flat slabs and columns, with plasterboard partitions fed through following frame construction. However, Vinci realised that using concrete crosswalls as an alternative would eliminate the need for plasterboard. “We realised if we could do that with a concrete cross wall, rather than flat slab and column, we could avoid the issues caused by column details, and the thousands of metres of partitions we’d have to feed in,” says Mr Biddle. “By taking out the columns and using cross walls instead of plasterboard walls, we were able to take a big strain off the programme and improve the acoustic qualities of the rooms.”

Since the partitions are then essentially complete,  the walls are ready to paint and reduce the need to build acoustic and fire rated stud partitions.

Making these changes to the original partition specification was the result of good relationships and communication across the supply chain. “We came to the table with our ideas which gave the client better value and reduced our risk to get better savings and efficiencies, and improve margins,” says Mr Biddle. “We were given free rein to give them the best value. The architect was more than happy to work with us and wasn’t obstructive. Sometimes as a construction manager you don’t get the opportunity to work on design development before the project starts. However, I’d just finished working on a similar scheme, and I could see ways of engineering the project for better buildability and give better value for the client.”

With that in mind, the aim is for project completion in July 2011 in time for the new academic year, where hopefully the student residents will benefit from the expertise of contractors in selecting the best products for a project.

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