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AECOM expects Phase 2 of Sol Plaatje University precinct to be completed in mid-2022

From the initial involvement in 2014, premier infrastructure delivery company AECOM is forging ahead with Phase 2 of the R800-million Sol Plaatje University (SPU) precinct in Kimberley in the Northern Cape. While the current involvement is expected to continue until at least mid-2022, AECOM has been awarded a further contract extension, reveals Toit Scheepers, AECOM Team Lead and Programme Manager.

Billed as the largest tertiary education development in post-apartheid South Africa, AECOM’s role as the principal agent for the client means that they are overseeing 30 projects at present, from refurbishments to new-build infrastructure, all managed by the 18-strong AECOM team.

The works are divided into three categories, namely large-, medium- and small-scale projects. The major projects are assigned to two different teams of architects, engineers and contractors, while the rest of the projects also have individual professional teams. There are six separate teams working in tandem on the SPU precinct and all managed by AECOM.

The project consists of three campuses in proximity, namely: North Campus, which houses the administrative functions, South Campus, catering for the student residences and sports facilities and Central Campus, for all the academic functions, including the award-wining university library.

The designated SPU Library C004 was the overall winner in the ‘Buildings Greater than Three Storeys’ category for Architectural Concrete at the 2017 Fulton Awards. The judges’ citation lauded this “bold and original project that pushes the boundaries of architectural and engineering design” for deploying concrete as both a structural and aesthetic material.

With Kimberley officially designated as a semi-arid area, AECOM has been diligent in incorporating the latest sustainability features at the project. These range from synthetic surfaces for the sports fields to water-saving measures such as artificial landscaping materials for the landscaping, making the SPU precinct one of the most advanced of its kind in Africa.

Apart from providing employment for around 1 000 residents, a specific focus of the project has been community involvement. Specific targets for local participation, empowerment and skills development have been set in conjunction with the Department of Higher Education.

“We are training a significant portion of the local workforce and these are skills that will remain in the Kimberley area long past the project’s completion. This ranges from small business development to community upliftment and local procurement. We are putting in place a legacy that will stand by itself, not only for the students, but for the local community as well,” comments Kevina Kakembo, Candidate Quantity Surveyor at AECOM.

The biggest challenge to date has been the remote location, which has complicated the logistics of procuring specialist materials and services. “These are the types of challenges that we have had to manage effectively,” stresses Scheepers. Another major challenge, the hard lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, was turned into an opportunity for a breathing space for the team to finalise the design evaluation for 12 new projects and carefully plan how to ensure the best collaboration.

“During the stricter lockdown we managed to make major inroads into the design development process, to the extent that we have already been able to commence with these programmes now that the restrictions have eased.” Scheepers further notes how future-proofing has been additionally incorporated into the entire SPU precinct, for example, classrooms are now fully equipped for remote learning.

“It is rare to get a project that embraces the core values of your business. For us these are safety, collaboration, innovation, anticipation, delivery and dream,” comments Dean Narainsamy, Project Cost Consultancy Director.

“Education is key to unlocking the potential of future generations, and I am proud that AECOM has played a pivotal role in making this dream a reality.”

Dean Narainsamy, Project Cost Consultancy Director.

The AECOM team’s commitment, effort and passion to help the local community has significantly added to the success of this project. “Like any project, we have had to overcome challenges: From design issues to contractor delivery schedules, managing socioeconomic commitments in a difficult environment and the challenging NEC target cost framework contract in Kimberley.

“Our hard work and dedication are showing as we continue to meet and exceed expectations. The development of increasingly economically active and functional communities that are local to project sites are an integral part of our project delivery plan, and we are excited to see the local community reap the many benefits of this project,” concludes Kakembo.

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