Small Scott Base project a big winner for Leighs

Published: 20 August 2005

Anthony Leighs (left) & Matt Searle went up to the stage to collect the first award at the NZ Institute of Building’s annual awards ceremony in Auckland last night. And they just kept coming back.

All for some sheds at the South Pole which the evening’s MC, Brett Rutledge, jokingly referred to as looking like a bunch of Skyline garages.

It was a little more complicated than putting up a garage in the back yard. Everything was made in Christchurch and the whole construction checked there before being transported to the New Zealand Antarctic expedition’s home at Scott Base.

It was a zero-footprint exercise – even the tiny white polystyrene packing balls were cleaned up every day and removed. And it was an exercise which didn’t allow for any mistakes in ordering up materials & equipment. Mr Searle & his crew of 9 went down to the snow for 3 months last summer, coming out only when they’d finished the job.

Leighs Construction Ltd has a fair local workload in Canterbury but also looks for different, challenging projects. For Mr Searle, out of town didn’t mean Timaru, it meant somewhere the cellphone was out of range. In this case he had to learn what to look for in a job interview where he was choosing a crew that had to work together 12 hours/day, live in 2 bunkrooms for a frozen summer and do most of their socialising together because their work schedule meant they needed to be a little isolated from the base’s 80 other residents.

I asked him if the selection process & success of the job meant he’d come up with something akin to a Canterbury forward pack in commitment. He said he had 9 front-rowers. They were so committed they got the job done 22 days ahead of schedule, though they had to be careful how much they exerted themselves – in the heavy clothes they were obliged to wear, getting too strenuous could mean being bathed in frozen sweat.

The team built the Hillary Field Centre at Scott Base, and Mr Searle will return in January with a team of 4 to spend a month building a new laboratory.

Mr Leighs got his construction company going 10 years ago and in 2002 was named the NZIOB’s young achiever of the year. Returning with project manager Mr Searle this year, he began the night by collecting the award for projects under $5 million, sponsored by specialist recruitment company Hays Construction.

The duo went on to win the Placemakers innovation award and completed their evening by collecting the NZIOB supreme award, sponsored by Gib & James Hardie.

As well as awards for excellence in the building professions, there was also an award for the convenor of judges for the young achiever award, John Bullen, of the Bledisloe Estate Trust, who received the NZIOB Medal for his services. He’s a fellow of the institute, has been a national councillor for 8 years, northern chapter president & awards organiser. “I got involved in the NZIOB many years ago to upskill a little bit,” he said.

The NZIOB awards:

Under $5 million (sponsor Hays Construction): Excellence, Anthony Leighs & Matt Searle (Leighs Construction Ltd), Hillary Field Centre, Scott Base.

$5-15 million (Colorsteel Endura): Excellence, Hans Stoffel (Ebert Construction Ltd). Highly commended, Hamish Boyd (Jasmax Ltd), Sancta Maria College, Silverdale.

$15-50 million (Holcim Projects): Excellence, Bryce Solomon (Carson Group Ltd), Waitakere Hospital redevelopment. Highly commended, Nick Page (Canam Construction Ltd), Waitakere Regional Sports Trust’s Trusts Stadium.

Over $50 million (Davis Langdon): Excellence, Lale Ieremia (Arrow International Ltd, in Fletcher-Arrow joint venture), new Southland Base Hospital. Highly commended, Alan Gray (Fletcher Construction Ltd), Sky City Convention Centre & Grand Hotel.

Innovation award (Placemakers): Excellence, Anthony Leighs & Matt Searle (Leighs Construction Ltd), Hillary Field Centre, Scott Base. Highly commended, Graham Hawkins & Bert Denee (Kalmar Projects Ltd), Papatoetoe pedestrian bridge over railway lines.

Young achiever award (NZIOB & Progressive Building magazine): Excellence, Tim Jones (Hawkins Construction Ltd, Auckland). Highly commended, Aaron Muir (Fletcher Construction Ltd, Wellington).

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