Budget 2021: Leighs Construction’s Scott Base coup, $344m project confirmed

One of the most unique building jobs awarded to a New Zealand firm yesterday got confirmation in the Government’s Budget 2021.

Anthony Leighs, founder and chief of Leighs Construction, said today he was delighted when the $344 million Scott Base job was confirmed by Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

“We’re over the moon and it’s a very special project for New Zealand and globally from the perspective of the important research done at the base,” Leighs said today.

“We expect physical work will start next year. There are two key workstreams: first, the work at the base which is preparatory to enable completed modules to bedelivered to be founded on-site in several years’ time and then the actual buildings which will be built in New Zealand and shipped down in large modules.”

Work building the new modules would start first, he said.

“There will be some preliminary work carried out on the base. Demolition will be further down the track. The initial work is foundation testing on piles. We’ve got to understand the ground conditions and how we’ll go about building the foundations,” Leighs said.

For several years, a design team has been doing detailed planning for the project in one of the world’s most challenging environments: to demolish and ship from the ice the collection of many outdated buildings and rebuild modern fit-for-purpose structures to replace them.

Those new buildings must protect people there from -35C temperatures and endure some of the toughest conditions in the world.

“It will take several years. The overall programme of work is many years,” he said.

Leighs has been to the ice four times after his company has won extensive work there in the past two decades.

Leighs Construction is the preferred contractor for what was previously budged to be a $250m redevelopment, replacing the existing base with three interconnected buildings.

Leighs has said he struggles to put into words how excited he is for his company be part of that project.

The redevelopment is one of the most technically challenging building projects won by a New Zealand business for some years, he says.

Since 2004, Leighs has built or altered more than half the existing base, now set for complete replacement.

As part of yesterday’s flurry of Budget announcements, Mahuta confirmed $344 million funding for the Scott Base rebuild: a capital investment of $306m, including the windfarm’s replacement and project operating costs of $38m.

Mahuta said yesterday: “This investment through Budget 2021 will ensure Scott Base remains a place where our scientists can conduct world-leading science safely and effectively. Their research to understand how climate change affects Antarctica, and the flow-on impacts to Aotearoa New Zealand and the rest of the world, is critically important.”

The big investment in infrastructure – above day-to-day maintenance – was overdue, she said.

“The outdated buildings and facilities that keep the residents alive in the coldest, driest, windiest place on earth have deteriorated. Doing nothing would eventually lead to the closure of the base” she said.

The redevelopment project remains subject to Cabinet’s endorsement of the implementation plan for the project.

It will also be subject to a comprehensive environmental evaluation under the Antarctica (Environmental Protection) Act 1994 following consideration by Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties.

Leighs Construction said, in 2004, it had become the first private organisation to design and build for the New Zealand Government in Antarctica, with all previous work being carried out by the military.

In January 2016, the builder carried out refurbishment and extension of the Hillary Field Centre.

“The team worked in temperatures as low as -35C, and in endless daylight.When the Antarctic summer season closed, the team returned to Christchurch, once again journeying to the ice in late August to complete the works,” the company said of its work last decade.

Following the completion of the Hillary Field Centre, Leighs built a two-level 1800sq m logistics facility.

“These projects involved the planning, procurement and prefabrication of the buildings and their very complex services in New Zealand, along with the heavy-lift equipment, which was containerised and shipped to Antarctica on the one annual supply ship. Heavy lift carried out on-site by Leighs’ staff and plant have included a total of 650 tonnes of precast concrete and 150 tonnes of structural steel,” the company said.

Leighs is a Porsche motorsport racer, a passion also shared by house-builder Tony Houston of Auckland-based Neilston.

Leighs splits his time between an apartment in Auckland’s Viaduct Basin and a modernist home in Christchurch’s Riccarton.

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