Donal’s Dublin delight
This year’s Gold Medal winner at the CMYA in Ireland is Donal McCarthy for the Dublin Convention Centre. He tells Denise Chevin what makes the building special
“Another tremendous gig in the Convention Centre last night. I’ve worked in the event industry for years and we were just crying out for a facility like this. It’s lovely to see not only a venue that matches the best the rest of Europe has to offer, but one that betters most of them. I can’t say a bad word about the place, it’s definitely something the city should be proud of.”
Since it was completed in August 2010 Dublin’s new Convention Centre has been showered with plaudits — and not just from locals like Quentin D here, waxing lyrical on review site Yelp. It’s picked up a string of awards from the travel and events industries — and has 300 conferences already scheduled to take place there.
Now the man in charge of delivering this granite-clad trophy building in Dublin has also received due recognition. He scooped the Gold Medal in the Construction Manager of the Year in Ireland Awards this summer, after steering the project home on time and budget and snag-free. It was Donal McCarthy’s first year of entering the awards, which have been celebrating construction excellence since 1993, and are flourishing despite the deep industry recession.
The Convention Centre was a major feat for McCarthy, senior contracts manager with CMP (a joint venture between Sisk and Treasury Holdings), because of its technical demands and in the way it was procured, which meant that he had a multi-headed client to deal with.
Asked what kept him awake at night on the project, McCarthy says: “Most of it! It was constant pressure from beginning to end. It took a great deal of management.”
He puts his ability to pull it off down to his varied experience. “I saw myself going into engineering but I soon learnt that building buildings was what interested me. I’ve done a lot of different jobs which has given me the experience a good construction manager needs.”
This is the biggest project that the 43-year-old Dubliner has tackled in his 20 years in the sector — 10 of which have been at two stints with John Sisk in Dublin: first, when he graduated in electrical and mechanical engineering; and since 2002 when he returned from an eight-year stint in New York. “In the US I got involved with heavy construction and then high-end residential which is all about finishes and quality and an eye for detail.”
Designed by Pritzker award-winning Irish-born architect Kevin Roche, it’s the first conference centre of its type to be procured by a public private partnership and the largest-single use building constructed in Ireland in decades, with 44,000m2 of floor space.
The €225m (£198m) building provides a main auditorium with capacity for 2,000 delegates, two huge exhibition halls of 2,000 and 3,000-seat capacities, supporting kitchens for 2,000 guests, and a host of other break-out spaces and back-of-house facilities.
A defining characteristic of the building is a glazed drum which also houses all the vertical circulation. For McCarthy, the design and construction of the drum is one of the four main innovative and original aspects of the project.
McCarthy also cites construction of the 2,000-seat auditorium on the 5th floor — “effectively building a stage in the sky” on his list. The other two are the “planning and carrying out of Ireland’s single largest ever concrete pour of 2,598m3 in 17 hours — and the design and installation of what we believe to be the world’s first 25-tonne truck lift with a travel height of 30m from lower basement to stage level”.
Under the PPP arrangement, the contract to design, build and operate the building was put out to tender by the Office of Public Works, with the CMP consortium (Construction Management Partnership), submitting the winning bid.
“One of the biggest challenges on that job was the number of different stakeholders,” says McCarthy. These included representatives for and from the Office of Works Procurement, funders and Treasury Holdings.
It was McCarthy’s job to coordinate all aspects of the project from the development of the design from concept stage through to handover and client sign-off. Because of the type of building this included more than the usual collection of specialist designers as well as more than 90 subcontractors.
At its peak there were 1,100 people working on site, and still an enviable health and record of 1.3 million accident free hours was achieved.
Logistics were also a bit of nightmare because the site was so confined: “We had the river Liffey on one side, a canal on another, an office block on the third and light rail on the fourth,” says McCarthy.
The 40-month construction itself was a fixed-price lump sum agreed on concept design details and represented the biggest risk. “We priced the job on 70% of the design being completed,” he says.
Though the building was built during the recession McCarthy says falling prices weren’t a big help in keeping costs on track because most of the major contracts packages had been procured before prices started falling. That said, it did have its benefits: “During the boom companies were stretched to perform. What we’ve managed to get was good people on site. No cheaper but much better quality.”
In Dublin’s fair city… the Convention Centre with its distinct glazed drum won Donal McCarthy the Gold Medal at the Irish CMYA
New forecasts from Davis Langdon in Ireland point to tough times still to come. By the end of this year output will have fallen to around ¤8.9bn (£7.85bn) from a high of ¤38bn (£33.5bn) in 2007. By 2012 output is expected to fall another 5%. McCarthy points to flickers of life in the commercial sector – in terms of fit out and refurbishments, but adds it is “very difficult and very competitive, with many people putting in bids below cost”.
Reflecting on his time in the US, McCarthy says: “There is not really a great deal of difference between working in the US and Ireland. It’s all about quality, health and safety, managing contractors and clients.” Exactly the priorities that have brought McCarthy his well-earned success and Dublin a building of which it can be proud.”
Entries up for CMYA Ireland
There were a record number of entries in this year’s CMYA Ireland with contenders from a variety of building types, including leisure and education.
Donal McCarthy was the overall Gold Medal winner drawn from the Silver Medalists of the five award categories. There were six contenders in all because his category for projects of ¤100m plus, had two Silver Medalists. The other was Alan Coakley, for The Criminal Courts of Justice Dublin.
Silver medalists in the other categories were: ¤30-100m, Rob Fox, for the 02 Dublin; ¤10-30m, Jonathan Murphy, Ionas Building NUI Maynooth; up to ¤10 Glenn Gilmore, Craigavon Hospital Theatre & Orthopedic Centre; Green Buildings, Paul Stewart, Government Offices Roscommon. More details of the finalists and awards can be found at in the July/August edition in the Contact section on page 46.