It’s all go at the site of Auckland’s old Downtown Shopping Centre as Peter Ward and his Ward Demolition team prepare the site for the arrival of a new multimillion-dollar business and retail development. As CAMERON OFFICER discovers, you have to run to keep up.
PETER WARD DOESN’T have a reputation for sitting on his hands when it comes to getting demolition projects underway.
That fact is highlighted once more during a guided tour of the interior of Auckland’s Downtown Shopping Centre, which is being deconstructed at a stereotypically lightning-quick pace ahead of the start of construction of Precinct Properties’ new Commercial Bay development.
Also stereotypical is Ward’s attention to detail; walking around the multi-level building with him (already essentially a three-storey shell at week four into a 16-week project), he is quick to point out to his crew items that need removing ahead of machine access or newly established collection points for material to be hauled out into the open.
Out of habit he removes stray bits of metal and other detritus as he goes. Juggling camera and notebook, I’m almost running to keep up.
But thinking five steps ahead seems to be a pretty crucial part of the demolition game.
“You’ve just got to have a feel for how everything is going at every point of the process,” Peter tells me as we stride along.
“Projects like this have a lot of moving parts and every one of those parts is bound by legislation, so by necessity we have to watch what we’re doing. It’s just about working as efficiently and safely as we can.”
At present the old Downtown Shopping Centre – inside at least – is almost unrecognisable. There’s the odd shop hoarding still in situ here; a silent and unmoving escalator there. For the most part though, the second and third floors are already stripped, with Ward’s team working hard on their compact track loaders to get the ground floor prepped as well.
Big crew on board
Peter’s son Dalton Ward tells me the Ward crew working on this project is pretty sizable when compared with most projects these days.
“We’ve got between 18 and 24 guys working on this project. We’re very machine-orientated these days, which usually means less manual labour and more machine work. So, this is quite a big team,” he says.
“It’s reasonably fiddly too because we have structures abutting the building which have to stay put. We have HSBC House at the rear which will become part of the new building complex and the air-bridge connection with the PwC Tower needs to stay as well.”
Ward Demolition will level the site and take the old foundations out too. Once the interior is stripped, the team will cut and crane larger sections off the site.
“This is a nice building to work on actually,” continues Dalton.
“Malls are actually very, very sound because they have to handle a lot of foot traffic on a daily basis. This means you can place a five-tonne digger on a floor and there will be no vibrations or anything while it’s working.
“It also means we have nice wide walkways and access points to work in and remove material from, so from a deconstruction point of view, it makes for a pretty rapid work rate overall.”
Commercial Bay beckons
Replacing the Downtown Shopping Centre – a low-lying structure which has been the CBD’s sole nod to suburban mall culture, albeit with a tourist-centric bent, since 1975 – will be a new 39-level office skyscraper integrated with a revamped shopping centre.
To be known as Commercial Bay (an historic name; the entire area is reclaimed land), the development features the new PwC Tower, which will sit alongside Precinct Properties’ other developments; 188 Quay Street, AMP Centre, 1 Queen Street and Zurich House. The retail at Commercial Bay will be a laneway environment with around 100 shops, including international and domestic fashion outlets, plus a number of restaurants, cafes and bars.
According to reports, the Downtown site was purchased for $90 million. The $681 million development will create an entirely new business and retail hub on the waterfront.
The main building work is to be completed by Fletcher Construction.
There is plenty going on below ground too. The City Rail Link (CRL) will snake under the old Downtown site as it exits the extended Britomart Transport Centre, before turning and tracking a course under Albert Street on its way to new railway stations at the Aotea Centre and Karangahape Road, then linking with the Western Line at Mount Eden Station.
A mix of cut-and-cover and tunnel boring work for the CRL project will result in some of the most extensive construction work the CBD has ever experienced. By comparison, for the most part the Commercial Bay project will be contained to a single city block.
Eyes on everything
Not only does Commercial Bay promise to be the most transformative project Auckland has seen on its waterfront since the development of the Viaduct Basin, but, says Peter Ward, the deconstruction of Downtown is one of the most public working environments his company has ever progressed on this side of the Grand Chancellor Hotel demolition project in Christchurch, in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake.
“Look around you; every single side of this work site is bordered by high rises. That makes for a very public work site,” he says.
“This is a pretty big project – certainly about as big as the Convention Centre project we were recently engaged on – but it doesn’t matter what scale we are working at; we just want to get through it on time without anyone getting hurt. That’s always the overriding goal.”
Peter says that another facet of working right in the heart of the CBD is dust mitigation.
“It’s a major issue here; every single surface around the site is made up of glass windows, so we are very conscious of dust. No one wants their expensive buildings coated in the stuff, so we’re using dust cannons on the Britomart side. We’ll be using high amounts of water on the Albert Street side too.”