High-priority recladding project avoids Covid disruption

Jolanta Kolodziej
Remedial recladding remains high priority for owners and residents of accommodation affected by cladding concerns. Collaborative working kept Chapter Spitalfields student accommodation on track during lockdown, finishing seven weeks ahead of schedule.

Chapter Spitalfields is a 33-storey student residence, situated close to Liverpool Street Station and accessible for many central London universities and colleges. Owned by real estate company Greystar, the 4000m² building has 1113 student units, 11 private residential units and six ground-floor commercial tenants.

A 30-week programme of recladding works was under way, with Faithful+Gould as project managers, when the Covid-19 lockdown happened in March 2020. The project included replacement of flammable cladding panels containing aluminium composite material (ACM) on the five-storey podium of the building, and repair or replacement of damaged insulation.

Greystar was keen to safely continue the high-priority recladding works, and, as project managers, we put in place a detailed plan for project continuity. In the light of other projects being cancelled across the construction industry, we were able to proactively accelerate the Chapter Spitalfields project on site with the contractor.

The project continuity plan included the procurement strategy, where we collectively arranged early delivery of materials, and storage on site, avoiding supply chain issues as lockdown took hold. Site arrangements were put in place, focusing on maximum safety and comfort of residents, tenants and site personnel.

Site safety included provision of operative transport, to avoid use of public transport; separate toilets and access/egress routes, maintaining distance from residents; hand sanitising stations and operative temperature checks; staggered breaks; lunches delivered to site; additional canteen cleaning, and operatives working independently where possible. These measures enabled the team to maintain a live site, without disruption, in spite of Covid cases among the resident community.

Collaboration with Innovate, the cladding contractor, was vital during this difficult time. To minimise numbers on site, management and consultants worked remotely whenever possible. Quality inspections and site visits were restricted to just one person, and the SnagR inspection platform enabled collective monitoring of the quality of the works.

Chapter Spitalfields remained occupied throughout and every consideration was given to those affected. Our programme took account of the needs of the retail tenants, for whom business continuity was especially important as the lockdown progressed. For residents, the retail and catering outlets are vital amenities, and the tenants also wanted to avoid missing passing trade opportunities.

Liaison with the tenants began well in advance of the construction works, when we led discussion of the programme and its key dates, and arrangements were made for provision of clear signage. We continued daily liaison with the retail tenants during construction, on behalf of Greystar, doing everything possible to minimise the impact on their business, and addressing any issues arising.

The needs of the 1300 residents were also taken into account. Chapter Spitalfields aims to provide a friendly and fun student living experience and Greystar wanted to do everything possible to minimise disruption. Excellent communication kept residents informed of progress, and some minimal temporary re-rooming helped those most affected by the works.

Despite the constraints presented by the pandemic, the construction phase was completed in May 2020, seven weeks ahead of schedule. This led to the awarding of additional works to the contractor, which were delivered within the original project timescales. Throughout the project, our strong project management has led a collaborative response to the constraints and potential problems. The client, contractors and site team were exceptional in their cooperative efforts, resulting in this successful outcome.

In addition to our ongoing work on projects like Chapter Spitalfields, Faithful & Gould has been appointed by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), to seek solutions to Covid-19 impacts on remediation of ACM cladding (as found on Grenfell Tower) and also any non-ACM cladding assessed as unsafe.

In the March 2020 Budget, the Chancellor announced that the government will provide an additional £1bn to fund the removal and replacement of unsafe non-ACM cladding systems installed on high-rise residential buildings in both the private and social housing sectors.

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