MEP Site Visit: Kuwait University College of Arts

Drake & Scull offers a sneak peek at some of its latest work

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The mock-up classroom has its false ceiling installed.
The mock-up classroom has its false ceiling installed.

Drake & Scull offers a sneak peek at some of its latest work on the College of Arts MEP package at Kuwait University’s gigantic Sabah Al-Salem campus project

Ten miles south of Kuwait City, one of the region’s largest projects is slowly rising from the sand.

The 6km² Sabah Al-Salem University City, set to become Kuwait University’s primary campus, is an awesome behemoth of a project. Just accessing the heart of the site from the peripheral project HQ demands a 15-minute ride in a suitably equipped 4x4, with the barely visible tangle of cranes and concrete in the distance gradually swelling to consume the horizon.

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Among the complex of buildings under construction at project ground zero is the College of Arts, two separate buildings with an almost identical Perkins+Will architectural design, one of 18,000m² (total built-up area) for male students and another of 26,000m² for females.

Following the award of the main contract for the College of Arts package to a joint venture between Arabtec and locally-based Combined Group Contracting, Drake & Scull Kuwait was appointed to execute the MEP works in a KWD 15m ($53.2m) award in September 2011.

With a March 2015 completion date agreed upon, the MEP contractor mobilised on site almost immediately and got to work on its latest piece.

With the College of Arts project estimated to require a peak workforce of 400 and an average of 200 to install the MEP works, Drake & Scull wasted no time in setting out to secure the labour required.

However, due to a dearth of labour resources in the country at the time, Drake & Scull had to make the most of its existing workforce and be patient while permits for fresh labour came through.

“The arrangement of manpower in Kuwait is often a long, drawn-out and laborious process, as was the case with this project, in spite of the client's extremely proactive efforts,” Khaled Yamin, Drake & Scull Kuwait’s manager of projects, says.

Notwithstanding the manpower issue, progress during the first 21 months of the project was for the most part smooth and unremarkable. Working closely behind the civil team as the structures of both the men’s and women’s buildings took shape, Drake & Scull delivered the preliminary works for both in sync with the main contractor.

However, the project was to encounter a major hitch almost two years into its schedule, forcing Drake & Scull to completely reassess its approach.

“On 1 June last year, work on the women’s building had to be stopped due to circumstances beyond our control,” says Krishnakumar Srinivasan, project manager for Drake & Scull. “Since then, work on the women's building has been largely restricted and it now looks like it will be the end of 2015 before it is completed.”

The Drake & Scull team explain that the incident was minor and it has been working in close coordination with the clients to resume work as soon as possible.

While the stoppage was an unwelcome complication, it has enabled Drake & Scull to put greater focus on the men’s portion of the project. Since then, work on the men’s building has progressed largely unhindered, with around 80% of the first and second fix works now complete, according to Krishnakumar.

One of the more distinctive features of this work has been the installation of advanced low voltage systems that will enable the college to be among the most technologically progressive in the region.

“In education, there is now a concentration on technology and audiovisual,” says Yamin. “It is all about how to communicate and transfer information easily and quickly for the students. [The College of Arts] has a good design that will provide the latest technology for education.”

Client representative Toufic Sahyouni, electromechanical coordinator for Kuwait University Construction Program, adds that this demand for the most up-to-date technology in the college has led to an ongoing review of the original specifications for the facility.

“There is a big package for audiovisual in the college,” he says.

“With the main contractor, we are proposing to make an upgrade for the system from analogue to digital ... Some items related to the low voltage [on the original specifications] have had to be discontinued. Technology is always progressing. We are trying to solve this problem now and figure out which items will be obsolete in two, three or four years, and change these to more advanced technology.”

Another element of the MEP project affected by the need to provide the best possible learning conditions for the students is the HVAC design. Focussed minds require calm, quiet and a minimum of distraction and, while the architectural design has provided for some soundproofing in the college, Drake & Scull is also ensuring that its installation won’t be one to raise a racket.

“It’s a standard air conditioning system except that the noise level control is a little bit more stringent,” says Krishnakumar.

“With so many classrooms, when they are teaching in one it should not be heard in the next one. We are using sound attenuators between the class walls that were already incorporated into the design but, as a part of the air conditioning, we will install sound attenuators to make sure that the sound transfer is not through the duct or the air conditioning system.”

Something Drake & Scull does want to make some noise about is the project’s green credentials. According to Deepak Thomas, QHSE manager for Drake & Scull Kuwait, the College of Arts is expected to earn a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver rating, which will be a rare feat.

“This is very uncommon [in Kuwait]. We are working on another project for Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, which is the main administration building of 16 floors that is also expected to achieve a LEED certification and may be the first such project in Kuwait,” he says.

Yamin adds that while some features like solar water heaters will contribute to the project’s green accreditation, it is the reduction in the HVAC system’s energy consumption that will garner the most credit.

“Air conditioning is consuming more than 70% of the power supply,” he says. “By using the central plant, by using proper building automation, sensors and controls, we are reducing the power consumption of the AC system. The design of the façade and the architecture also facilitates the power-saving [by reducing solar gain].”

While the end-goal of a LEED silver rating is an undoubted source of motivation for the team, they
outline a number of challenges that must be overcome before any sense of satisfaction can be enjoyed.

“The timely and successful testing and commissioning of this project depends depends on various elements of the much larger master plan of the Sabah Al Salem campus, such as the utilities” says Yamin. “The challenge lies in reassessing our plans and pacing ourselves in coordination with the client, and the project management and construction teams, to deliver the project,” he adds.

Dr Hatem Romaih, construction manager for Turner Projacs JV Kuwait, reckons that work on the utilities needed for testing and commissioning to occur will run beyond that on the College of Arts, leaving Drake & Scull with the prospect of a lengthy wait before it can finally handover the project.

“There are two issues: the central plant and the service tunnel around the buildings,” Romaih says. “The progress in the tunnel is about 60% and we expect it to finish within one and a half years.
The central plant should be finished in two years around the end of 2016. When this is finished we will have power and water and be able to carry out the testing and commissioning.”

In numbers
- 27,500 Interior and exterior lighting fixtures
- 4,000 Smoke, heat and other detectors
- 250 CCTV cameras to be installed

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