When it comes to construction in Australia, Woollam is one of the most longstanding and significant names. Ever since 1883, when English migrant Thomas Woollam established a small building and joinery business in Brisbane, the company has been delivering a steady stream of high profile commercial projects to highly satisfied clients.
As the company has evolved a lot in the past 130 years, some things have changed while others have stayed the same. As far as changes go, the company has grown from a small family business into a national enterprise with roots in regional centres around the country. They have also become far more financially robust, and far more technologically sophisticated.
What hasn’t changed over the years, however, is the company’s character. Today, the company still believes in the same values it believed in back then – high quality work, personalised service, and honesty and transparency above all.
Woollam Constructions has always been dedicated to living up to those founding values, which has not gone unnoticed by the industry. Over the years, the company’s dedication has earned them a long list of customer testimonials, as well as awards recognition from industry bodies such as the Master Builders Association (MBA).
Recently, Woollam received an accolade at the 2013 MBA Regional Awards for New South Wales. For their exceptional work on the Lismore Base Hospital MRI & PET/CT Scanner, they earned the award for Health Buildings up to $5 million.
Depth of knowledge
The Lismore MRI/PET Scanner Project came to be as a result of the Lismore community agitating for the construction of radiation oncology within Lismore more than five years ago. After the government responded with the proper funds, the community turned their attention to the “next thing” that would help people with cancer – which they decided would be a PET-CT.
“The community rallied together and raised quite a bit of money to have one of those provided in Lismore,” recalls Denys Wynn, Manager of Medical Imaging for Lismore Base Hospital.
Due to the community’s efforts, the hospital was fortunate enough to receive COAG funding for not only the PET-CT, but for an MRI machine as well. The only problem was they needed a building to put it in. And since the design constraints for the two machines are quite different, they needed a contractor with an exceptional command of safety, scheduling, and precision.
That’s when Woollam Constructions entered the picture as one of only a few names on a select tender list. They had the necessary capabilities and skills, and they also had a local presence – both of which were necessary qualifications, according to Denys.
“We needed a builder who was capable of dealing with the intricacies of the healthcare sector,” he explains. “We’re bound by all sorts of rules and regulations that demand very specific standards, and we needed a builder that could handle that. Woollam is such a builder.”
The award-winning construction involved creating a new extension to the hospital to allow for the installation of the new scanners. Neville Smith, a Project Manager at Woollam, describes the works as “extremely exacting,” and stresses that they had to be undertaken whilst the hospital continued operating as usual.
Neville says the MBA recognised the difficulty inherent in Woollam’s, which is one of the main reasons they earned the award – an award they highly value.
“We did an enormous amount of hard work,” he says. “Getting an award at the end of the day really makes it worthwhile. It’s something we can put on our documentation and be very proud of it. Our client can be very proud of it too.”
The Lismore MRI/PET Scanner Project involved heavy piling, reinforced structural columns, structural steel lattice beams, and precast floor slabs. The new facility was built four storeys up, and Neville describes it as “separate but adjoined to” the existing hospital infrastructure – which is 30 to 50 years old. It sits over the hospital’s 24 hour / 7 day main loading dock, which was maintained and used throughout the whole construction process. This required constant communication with the client and staff to keep the work on schedule whilst maintaining all safety measures.
“It was like building a highway-type steel bridge, four storeys in the air, in an elbow of existing building infrastructure, with very narrow access that we needed to use cranes for,” Neville describes. “That should give you a bit of an image.”
Neville says that Woollam was able to overcome the challenges inherent in the project due to a whole list of factors. Near the top of that list, he cites the company’s vast experience.
“Our company is over 100 years old,” he says. “In that time, rather than going after general commercial structures, we’ve aligned ourselves and focused on particular industries – one of which is health and infrastructure. We’ve prided ourselves on understanding it and developing a knowledge base on it. We have people around us who have a history in it, and an expertise in it.”
Neville has even made the health arena something of a personal specialty. He says he’s lost track of the number of health buildings he’s built for Woollam. Over the years, he’s done everything from pharmacies, specialist meeting rooms, recovery theatres, and more.
As a representative of Woollam, he’s worked with a number of hospitals throughout the region, and has developed particularly strong ties with Lismore Base Hospital. He says that relationship has been built on mutual respect and understanding, and was maintained with weekly formal meetings, and daily informal meetings between Denys and John Hennings, the project’s site manager.
“We’d discuss what was going to happen that day, how it would impact each of us, and how we could mitigate that,” Denys explains. “We’d discuss what I needed and what he needed, and there wasn’t a single day where we couldn’t come to a solution that worked for both of us.”
That mutual understanding patience was particularly important, because Woollam’s team had to build the facility around an actively operating hospital. According to Denys and Neville, the construction team and the hospital’s staff was able to work together to make sure everybody got what they needed done.
Currently, Woollam Constructions is building another project in the Lismore Hospital, this time above the MRI and PET/CT facility. They’ve also worked on various other projects in and around the hospital. According to Neville, the fact that they’re doing so much repeat work speaks to the immense strength of the relationship they were able to form.
Denys has a story that speaks to the strength of the relationship from his perspective.
“One of the key guys I dealt with on the project was John Hennings, the site manager,” he says. “Another was a guy named Buzz. So I went out and bought a Buzz Lightyear figure and a Bob the Builder figure. I had one of the girls take Bob the Builder home and take off the ‘Bob’ and put on a ‘John,’ making him John the Builder. She also stitched ‘Woollams’ on his hard hat.”
“Both figures were about 12 inches tall, and they were hidden in the cupboard,” he continues. “When the Minister came for the opening, she also did the unveiling of John and Buzz.”
“John and Buzz still live in that cupboard, looking out over the work they did,” he adds. “They commemorate the effort and dedication and energy that Woollam put in to make this such a good project for us.”