Neom is a so-called ‘smart’ city planned for development in Tabuk province, northwest Saudi Arabia.
Aecom’s role will include oversight of masterplanning, design and construction services, through to testing, commissioning, and “operational readiness, activation and transition” – also known as ORAT.
“We are very pleased to be part of this innovative Neom project, which is set to transform travel between Neom and the world,” said Aecom president Lara Poloni.
“Our track record delivering large-scale infrastructure projects in the region, as well as our mobilised global aviation resources and project management experts will help ensure the successful delivery of Neom International Airport.”
“We are delighted that Aecom will be adding another chapter to its relationship with Neom,” said Hamed Zaghw, chief executive of Aecom’s Middle East and Africa region.
“This contract is a testament to our leadership position in the region and to our continuous commitment to Neom and the goals of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.”
Texas is a hot market for Minneapolis-headquartered Adolfson & Peterson Construction, and the general contractor is primed to take advantage of it. A&P recently tapped Tommy Meserole as director of preconstruction for central Texas.
Based in Austin, Meserole brings more than three decades of preconstruction, project management and estimating experience to the role.
Here, Meserole discusses opportunities and challenges in Texas, how the role of technology is evolving and the safety implications of a less experienced workforce.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
CONSTRUCTION DIVE: How has the construction industry changed since you first started your career? How is the role of technology evolving in particular?
TOMMY MESEROLE: In my 30+ years of working in preconstruction and estimating here in central Texas, two of the biggest changes I’ve seen are population growth and the size of the projects being built. It’s a thriving region and the continual influx of people and businesses requires bigger buildings and more transportation infrastructure.
Building design and construction technologies have evolved by leaps and bounds. We used to only work with building plans that you physically rolled out and we performed many calculations manually. Now, we can do model-based estimating without paper. Also, our field staff and trade partners can immediately access all the information on their tablets, which really enhances efficiency and collaboration.
In the old days of preconstruction, trade partners would address any constructability or scheduling conflicts as they arose on the job site. Today, we work with architects, engineers and trade partners as the project documents are being developed, reducing potential conflicts that could occur later on in the project.
What’s going on in the central Texas market? What challenges and opportunities are you seeing now?
Approximately 185 people move to Austin each day. It’s a flourishing region with ample job opportunities and big projects for employers ranging from automobile and semiconductor manufacturers to venture capital firms.
Most local construction markets are still seeing explosive growth, including the multifamily and industrial sectors, both of which are prime focuses for us at A&P.
The biggest challenge in construction is workforce availability. While the most critical needs are for semi-skilled and skilled labor, it’s often difficult to fill management-level positions as well.
During preconstruction phases, our team focuses heavily on putting together a cohesive and streamlined schedule. One of the chief reasons is to provide our trade partners in the field with solid start dates, to ensure they have adequate staff on hand to perform the work in a timely manner.
What are some of the biggest safety challenges for contractors in Texas? How do you maintain a high level of safety as more experienced workers leave the workforce?
Single-family residential construction in central Texas is continuing to slow down, prompting many contractors to jump into the commercial and multifamily housing markets. These sectors have more robust safety requirements, which is a big adjustment for companies staffed with lots of entry-level workers.
Our safety culture centers on having a high level of care and concern for both employees as well as trade partners. We provide constant safety training and monitoring and offer positive feedback to motivate people to help prevent incidents and injuries.
Some office projects are getting put on hold right now, is that happening in Texas? What kinds of projects are you seeing demand for?
Yes, office construction in central Texas has slowed.
The pandemic induced a widespread shift to remote work, leading many employees to re-evaluate their priorities and work preferences. In today’s environment, people are more selective in choosing employers that offer hybrid or remote work options, as well as businesses that prioritize health and safety measures and offer high-value amenities.
If you are going to design and build new office space, my recommendation would be to make your office a magnet and not a mandate.
But most other building markets are still very active.
You can’t build multifamily fast enough, both inside and outside of Austin, and industrial developments are also booming. Currently, there is a 4% vacancy rate for industrial space.
Educational projects are also on the rise. Just last fall, voters of Austin ISD approved a $2.4 billion bond that will modernize dozens of campuses in the coming years. In addition to K-12 construction, higher education projects — including on- and off-campus student housing — are filling the project pipeline. Austin Community College just approved a bond program exceeding $700 million with projects soon to hit the street.
What kinds of sustainable materials are you embracing? What do you see as challenges to wider adoption of lower carbon materials?
Our goal is always to make buildings — and the construction process itself — as efficient as possible, to minimize environmental impacts and support sustainability, among other benefits.
However, the challenge is ensuring these materials are readily available and do not exceed the owner’s budget. Anybody can go build the most efficient structure in the world, but can anybody afford to be in it? In preconstruction, our job is to identify the most efficient programs, processes and materials that are feasible for the owner’s budget.
When opportunities arise, we like to educate property owners on the whole life-cycle value of sustainable materials. Energy-efficient materials, for instance, can cost more upfront, but the long-term operational savings may make it a worthwhile investment.
Russells’ financial year runs to the end of June. It says that the first half of FY 2022 (i.e. July-Dec 2021) was the busiest period in its 25-year history, completing £165m worth of projects.
But in the second half – between January and June 2022 – it saw £150m of anticipated starts put on hold as the economy faltered amid the fall-out of the invasion of Ukraine.
“Reassuringly, however, several of those delayed projects are now making significant progress and are expected to generate turnover in the 2023 year,” said financial director Lee Downs in the company’s annual report.
“As the company marks its 25th anniversary, we expect the order book to recover significantly over the next 12-24 months. The forward pipeline is extremely positive and over the last 12 months Russells has been asked to deliver more pre-qualification questionnaires, bids and tenders than at any time in the company’s history,” he continued. “The team is currently awaiting decisions on more than £250m of tendered contracts.”
With turnover down by two-thirds in the year to 30th June 2022, pre-tax profit fell to £2.5m, down from £8.0m the previous year – “a significant achievement when reviewing the current marketplace,” said the financial director, “and in excess of many of our immediate competitors”.
Russells Construction was established in 1997 in Manchester by Andrew and Gareth Russell. In 2018 they sold a majority share to South Africa’s biggest construction business, Wilson Bayly Holmes-Ovcon Limited (WBHO) and trades as Russell WBHO.
Build-to-rent (BTR) developer and operator Platform plans to build a 1.3 million sq ft mixed-use neighbourhood on a brownfield site on Sweet Street West that has been vacant since 2009.
Construction is expected to start before the end of the year, once a contractor has been appointed.
The masterplan shows up to 1,350 BTR apartments with leisure, dining and entertainment amenities around a new public square. The development incorporates the refurbishment of an old pub, The Commercial.
The masterplan also includes two new office buildings of 96,000 sq ft and 48,000 sq ft respectively, with floorplates of up to 15,000 sq ft. Platform is targeting a BREEAM Excellent rating for the office buildings.
Platform, which owns the freehold to the site, intends to start enabling works straight away, alongside detailed design and a construction tender process for the first phase of the development to start on site before the end of the year.
Chief executive Jean-Marc Vandevivere said: “The green light from Leeds City Council is the news that we have been waiting for, and we are incredibly pleased that we can now progress with our development which is set to become one of the most desirable residential and office communities in the city.
“This will be Platform’s largest development yet, taking our portfolio to 4,000 apartments and value of over £1bn as we continue to add further BTR opportunities across the UK.”
The 53-acre site, close to the villages of Wheatley and Holton, has outline planning consent for 500 homes.
The development will provide a mix of houses, from two to five bedrooms, along with some apartments. There are also community facilities planned, including a sports pavilion, bowling green and cricket pitch.
Crest Nicholson hopes to begin works at the end of 2024, with the first completions to be expected in autumn 2025.
Crest Nicholson South land director Nicholas Daruwalla said: “This is a key purchase for Crest Nicholson, given the site’s prime location and scale. It is in close proximity to major employment, retail, leisure, and education hubs, making it a highly desirable location. These characteristics, coupled with the area comprising high levels of housing demand and low levels of supply, makes this deal an important purchase for the business.”
The university was advised by CBRE on the deal. CBRE director Jasper Masters said “The Wheatley sale represents the largest single family housing site to have exchanged in the UK since last September’s mini budget. A sale of this nature will provide the development land market with a strong sense of optimism.”
Thanks to high prices and an extra trading day in January 2023 compared to 2022, the amount of money passing through the tills increased, but only just.
The latest Builders Merchant Building Index (BMBI) report, which analyses point-of-sale data from over 80% of generalist builders’ merchants’ sales throughout Great Britain, reveals that total value sales were up by 0.2% in January 2023 compared to the same month in 2022. This nominal growth came largely from inflation as volume sales were down 16.5% while prices rose 19.9%. There was also an extra trading day this January, so like-for-like sales (by value) were 4.6% lower.
Nine of the twelve categories sold more in January 2023 compared to the previous year. Renewables & Water Saving ( up 46%) performed strongly, as did Decorating (up 21%) and Plumbing, Heating & Electrical (up 18%). Sales of Timber & Joinery Products were down 15% on the year, Landscaping was down 12%.
Month-on-month, volume sales were up 28.6% in January 2023 compared to December 2022 – December is always slower, due to holidays. With process up 1.9% over the course of the month, total sales takings were up 31.1% in January 2023 compared to December 2022.
However, there were five more trading days in January; daily sales were actually flat (down 0.1%).
For the 12 months February 2022 to January 2023 to total merchant ££ sales were 5.3% higher than the corresponding period a year before. But with price inflation at 16.5%, sales volumes were down 9.6%.
Emile van der Ryst, account manager at data firm GfK, which crunches the numbers, said: “Market turmoil in the past year has now reached the stage where some of the monthly figures need further context. This month, January-on-January sees a +0.2% value increase, with a -16.5% volume decrease and a +19.9% price increase. Logic dictates that value should therefore be around +3-4% if volume and price are balanced against each other. This month is however affected by Heavy Building Materials, Timber & Joinery and Landscaping distorting the total market view.
“These three categories combined make up around 75% of total market value, and therefore heavily influence topline trends. But they are each quite different in the mix. Heavy Building Materials has one of the lowest average prices of the categories but has seen a larger than market average price growth. At the same time, Timber & Joinery has one of the highest average prices, but has seen lower than market average volume declines, with prices declining against rampant total market inflation. Finally, Landscaping is a key volume driver in the market, but has seen a larger than market average seasonal volume decline. These factors in combination occasionally create hard-to-understand distortions, unexpected anomalies in topline trends which need to be seen in context.
“We expect these trends to continue through 2023 and into the first half of 2024 as inflation, demand and supply gradually return to a more normal stability.”