MEP Site Visit: Prime Tower, Business Bay, Dubai

Elemec's MEP project on Prime Tower in Dubai's Business Bay is ready for handover

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The mechanical room on the 36th floor.
The mechanical room on the 36th floor.

Elemec's MEP project on Prime Tower in Dubai's Business Bay is ready for handover but, as two members of the construction team explain, the commercial building has been some time in the making

Prime Tower in Dubai’s Business Bay area appears to be finally ready for handover – and it’s been a long time coming. Work on the 37-storey commercial tower project began in 2008 but, like so many projects in the city which broke ground around that time, it has taken much longer than expected to reach completion.

This has been through no fault of any of the party’s involved on the project, according to Jeffy Zacharia, construction manager for main contractor The Kuwait Company for Process Plant Construction & Contracting (KCPC).
As he explains, market realities as a consequence of the global financial crisis simply made an earlier completion of the project unnecessary.

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“More than [a lack of] financial resource [from the client] being the issue, the demand for the project at the time was low,” he says.

“It was pointless for the client [Sidra] to invest all their money at that time without the prospect of returns shortly after. Now that the demand is there, the client is pushing to get the project completed.”

Unlike many other projects that got underway in Dubai at just the wrong time, work on Prime Tower did not stall at any point.

Sidra’s response to the changed market conditions was to reduce the pace of construction on the project by filtering smaller sums of capital to the project team, with the aim of reaching completion around the time the market recovered and demand increased. Zacharia says there was a willingness from the client to be patient with the project – a trait he believes is perhaps much more common to companies from where both KCPC and Sidra hail.

“Like the client, our company is 100% from Kuwait. In Kuwait, work doesn’t happen as fast as in Dubai, I suppose, in terms of construction speed, methodology and decision-making. In 2010, the financial crisis was still having an effect, but we didn’t decide to stop work,” he says.

Delivering the MEP project on the tower has been Elemec, which won a $10.3m (AED 38m) contract for the MEP works
in 2010. Shortly after mobilising on site, the company realised it would have to settle in for the long haul as the scheduling of the project was stretched. Initially, the MEP project was expected to complete by 2011, but Elemec had no choice but to adjust its pace to match that of the client and main contractor.

“The work we completed was based on the payment provided by the client,” says Chandu Dayanandan, project manager for Elemec.

“There was a limit to what could be done based on the payment made. This situation continued until 2012. We were working from a cashflow chart. The biggest challenge was simply getting it to completion. The client had agreed to release a certain amount of money each month. This allowed us to plan our activity as well as schedule the installation of equipment.”

The trickle of cash from the client saw Elemec’s MEP team reduced to around 30 to 40 technicians for most of the project’s duration.

However, when Dubai’s property market showed strong signs of recovery in the second half of last year, the client became keen to get the project wrapped up and handed over. With cashflow to the project increasing, a greater commitment of labour to the MEP project was requested by the main contractor – a request which sounded simpler in theory than it was in practice.

“They had a problem when we asked them to be faster,” explains Zacharia. “They faced a little problem in the last six to eight months with pulling people back from other jobs. They had similar projects in Dubai that were running at a different pace and pulling people from them wasn’t easy. They had committed to complete other projects so that was difficult for them.

“We had just got power from DEWA, so it was time for the building to be commissioned,” he continues. “But only about 80% of the third fix was balanced so there was still a lot or work to do over the 36 floors. In the eight parking floors we had about 2,000 to 3,000 lights that needed fixing. They had to compensate for the lack of man hours earlier in the project with more towards the end.”

Although it took some time for Elemec to increase its manpower on the project, Dayanandan says that it was fortunate enough to have resource on other projects in the vicinity that could be tapped.

“We had another project nearby. When they had men free we were diverting them on to this site. That was an advantage for us,” he says.

While the slow progress of the project was generally unwelcome for each of the Prime Tower parties, it did offer the occasional benefit. Although most of the procurement for the MEP project had been completed in 2010, there were some crucial items that took a bit longer than expected to arrive on site.

“There was a hiccup with the delivery of the busbars,” says Zacharia. “In this project most of the items are being sourced from the US. Our specifications were high and the equipment had to be factory-tested in the US. The busbars didn’t delay the project but the project delay helped avoid this. With this item especially, it helped.”

As for the design of the MEP project itself, Dayanandan says that it is fairly “standard” for such a commercial tower, with some special attention given to the fresh air handling system.

While there were no major difficulties in delivering the installation, he says that some changes were required during construction which added to the MEP contractor’s workload.

“There were minor changes to the shop drawings for some finishes and the installation heights, but the technical aspects remained the same,” he says. “The MEP variations were approximately AED 13m to AED 14m [$3.5m to $3.8m].”

“One of them was a change to the HVAC design, which was a new requirement from Civil Defence,” adds Zacharia.

“They were asking for an extra smoke extract duct that had to be extended from each office. It was a new regulation that came in around 2011 or 2012 and we had to incorporate it. We had to do a lot of modifications on every floor. The initial ducting was completed at that time so we had to open the ceilings to incorporate that. We also added some more mechanical equipment as a provision for future expansion.”

With the official handover of Prime Tower set for October, as we meet on the project in late September, Elemec has a skeleton staff delivering the finishing touches to the MEP project.

“The installations are all complete and we have all the authority approvals,” says Dayanandan. “Currently we are just looking into small snags, final tuning for the air balance and other minor adjustments. The final handing over is in progress. Some tenants are now moving in.”

Given that the Elemec and KCPC teams on the project have been holed up in the tower together for four years, negotiating their way to completion at a sometimes glacial pace, it is interesting to learn how their relationship has evolved in that time.

“At the moment we are very good, but at times ...” KCPC’s Zacharia says, stopping himself from going into too much detail before resuming. “These things happen on a project. We want more resources at a certain time and they cannot provide it.

This fight is always there and it’s common to every project. This is my fourteenth year in this country and from day one this is what has happened. But you can see how we are talking now – there doesn’t seem to be a problem.”

Asked if they are both looking forward to finally walking away from the project once it is handed over, Dayanandan simply smiles, while Zacharia replies with a chuckle: “Yes, maybe that’s why we have a better relationship now.”

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