– Cross-sector collaboration delivers high-spec office refurbishment for Focus Ireland
The renovation and refurbishment of Focus Ireland’s offices on High Street, Dublin 8, was completed by a team comprising over 60 construction professionals, specialist contractors and tradespeople, all of whom provided their services free of charge. Robbie Cousins reports.
Headed up by project managers KMCS, the core project team on the refurbishment of Focus Ireland’s head office in Dublin 8 included MOLA Architecture; Ethos Engineering; fire safety engineer Maurice Johnson & Partners; structural engineer Barrett Mahony; sustainability consultant Meehan Green; and main contractor T&I Fitouts.
Following a Focus Ireland presentation at an industry event in 2018, Nigel Spence, Managing Director, KMCS, and Fiona Mullally, Business Development Director, met with Aisling Nolan, Head of Partnerships & Philanthropy, Focus Ireland, to see if there was a way in which the project and cost management consultant could use its expertise to support the homelessness charity.
“Following this meeting, Focus Ireland asked if we would look at their accommodation buildings and suggest interventions that could be made to make them more comfortable and user-friendly for customers,” explains Fiona Mullally. “With two of our regular project collaborators, MOLA Architecture and Maurice Johnson & Partners, we assessed one of Focus Ireland’s buildings for architectural and fire safety concerns and devised a standard specification that they could present to main contractors to use to make premises fit for purpose.”
In 2019, KMCS, MOLA Architecture and Maurice Johnson assessed Focus Ireland’s head offices on High Street, Dublin 8. This survey revealed that the building needed an urgent and complete refurbishment to make it fit for purpose and more comfortable for staff, customers, donors and supporters.
“The building was in a very poor state of repair and needed vast upgrading,” Fiona Mullally explains. “Focus Ireland’s commitment to providing services to their customers meant that over the years, they spent the absolute minimum on maintaining the building. The brief was to ensure that the building was brought back to full health and safety compliance in the first instance and then provide a fit for purpose space for staff to carry out their incredible work. The building also needed to provide a safe, private space for Focus Ireland’s staff to meet with customers to discuss their needs and with donors to discuss programme plans,” Fiona Mullally continues. “At no stage did Focus Ireland ask for anything frivolous like a nice canteen for themselves, for instance. Everything was customer and service driven.
“We proposed to put together a team to carry out this refurbishment work and proceeded to this end with the ask that all collaborators provide their services and materials pro bono,” Fiona Mullally continues. “The response to the request was overwhelming, with everyone we asked coming on board straight away.’’
At that stage, in addition to MOLA Architects and Maurice Johnson & Partners, mechanical and electrical engineers Ethos Engineering and Barrett Mahony came on board.
“We then met with several fit-out contractors that we regularly work with, looking to split the main contracting job on a floor by floor basis,” Mullally adds.
“T&I Fitouts stepped up and offered to project manage the full fit-out, as they had the resources and specialist subcontracting expertise to deliver the project more efficiently than would be the case if the project was split between a number of main contractors.”
The project team intended to meet all of Focus Ireland’s requirements but also to provide them with an easily maintainable building that was a comfortable place for staff to work and for clients to use.
With a project team on board, plans were put in place to start the work in March 2020. But the Covid-19 shutdown of March 2020 resulted in the project being put on hold.
It would be just over a year before the project got back on track, with the T&I Fitouts project team eventually getting on site in April 2021. However, the extra year meant that another important collaborator, sustainability consultant Meehan Green, was able to join the team.
“When initially planning the project, we had resolved to recycle, reuse and repurpose all materials used on the project,” explains Fiona Mullally. “When Meehan Green came on board, this brought the project to a new level of sustainability. They analysed all site movements and materials sources. They measured the environmental impact of the project, which ultimately recorded a CO2 emissions reduction of 35% against a standard project of this type, despite having workers travelling to site separately in line with Covid-19 guidelines.”
Cathal Heneghan, Sustainability Engineer, Meehan Green, explains that the consultant’s role was to monitor and report on the project’s embodied carbon savings.
“The project team made my work easier than usual,” explains Cathal Heneghan. “We had workshops with the design and construction team and identified where the savings were to be made. We then took this data and modelled the carbon savings.
“Meehan Green strongly believes in the Focus Ireland mission, and we were grateful to be associated with the overall effort that went into this project,” he adds.
As already pointed out, the embodied carbon study demonstrated that a 35% carbon saving was achieved with the reusing and upcycling of materials across the project.
Mechanical and electrical fit-out
Paul Tighe, Director, Urbanism, Ethos Engineering, explains that as the mechanical and electrical design consultants on the project, Ethos designed mechanical systems that included new heating, ventilation, air conditioning, water services and drainage for the building. On the electrical side, Ethos designed new power, telecoms, lighting, and fire alarm systems. It was also involved in the upgrading of the building’s passenger lift.
Paul Tighe comments. “We attended regular design team meetings and contractor meetings once the project went to site. We also liaised closely with the client to ensure that our designs met their needs.”
Speaking about what the project meant to the Ethos team, Tighe adds: “Office fit-out projects sit nicely within our area of expertise, so this project suited our team. The best part of this project, which differed from other office fit-outs, was the industry engagement, where services, components and equipment that we designed were donated free to the project. In some instances, we tailored our M&E designs to incorporate either new or recycled products from other projects. These included stripped out works from new Cat A installations that would otherwise have gone straight to landfill. It should be noted that in no way have the functions or efficiency of operations of the M&E systems been compromised at all by reusing components.”
Dave Merriman, Managing Director, T&I Fitouts, says when T&I proposed the project to their specialist subcontractors and supply chain, all got on board with great enthusiasm.
Before any fit-out work was done, T&I Fitouts stripped the building back to a grey box, so a complete mechanical, electrical, fire safety, and insulation fit-out could be completed. With services installed, the T&I Fitout team was able to start the fit-out of the four-floor building.
“Having spent most of the previous year working from the comfort of our own homes,” Dave Merriman comments, “there was an even greater appreciation of the massively challenging and essential work that Focus Ireland does. We all wanted to give Focus Ireland a premises that would not only enable them to better deliver services to those who are homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless but also would be comfortable for staff and volunteers to work in, be easily maintained and be of a specification that would match any high-end offices operating in Dublin at this time. All of our people and specialist subcontracting team were delighted to be involved in this project at that time and to use our specialist expertise to support the invaluable work of Focus Ireland.”
Merriman continues: “We put a strong team in place. This team was headed up by our contracts manager Phil Breen and site manager Brian Whelan. We treated it like any other project. The only difference was that we had a wider range of subcontractors on the job, which added to the complexity of managing the work.
“On a normal job, we would place a package for one element of the job with a specialist subcontractor. But on this one, we might have three subcontractors supplying one element of the job, and they worked alongside each other. Any sense of rivalry was put to one side, as all the subcontractors worked together to get the job done. It was great to see competitors come together in this way to deliver the job.”
He adds: “Everyone gave 100% with no corners cut. Materials and furniture were saved from going to landfill, sourced from long-term storage or from left-overs on other sites, but all finishes are of the highest quality and equal to anything seen in any high-spec office fit-out in Dublin.”
The original layout comprised a series of small rooms embedded across the four-floor building. There were no proper meeting rooms and or even a defined canteen space.
“It was a complicated job,” Dave Merriman expains.“We had to fit out the building to suit the materials that were available to use, whether that be a certain type of carpet, flooring, screening, etc. We sourced products from clients, subcontractors and suppliers. We recycled, reused and upcycled materials from other sites. Stuff that might normally be sent to waste was rejuvenated and incorporated into the scheme.”
The project took 14 weeks to complete and was handed over in July 2021.
The ground floor now comprises a high-spec reception, meeting rooms and customer-facing rooms. There is also a breakout space with sofas and chairs with room for about 30 people, where they can have informal staff meetings, conduct workshops and meet with local community stakeholders.
The first and second floors are mainly open plan offices with more breakout meeting spaces and staff canteen facilities. The fourth floor has an open plan space with meeting rooms and a senior management team suite of offices.
Dave Merriman explains: “We installed new M&E services, partitions, acoustic panels, ceilings, flooring, joinery and furnishings across all floors. This was all down to the incredible generosity of our subcontractors. There was no element overlooked. The overall job is stunning. Every floor has feature graphics and acoustic interventions. The comfort of those using the spaces was foremost in everyone’s minds during the project.”
Ralph Bingham, Director, MOLA Architecture, says that Focus Ireland is tirelessly providing essential emergency services to the most vulnerable in our society.
“We in MOLA Architecture were delighted to have provided support to this wonderful agency through the design and construction delivery of their newly refurbished offices on High Street. Focus Ireland has operated from its headquarters for many years under suboptimal and over-crowded conditions, with no working lift, poor storage and within an outdated workplace environment. Through workshops with the Focus Ireland team, we devised a new working model to meet their operational, marketing and front of house needs.
“Focus Ireland was a wonderful client to work with, always engaged in the brief, enthusiastic about the project and pro-active in its delivery. As a team, we collectively used our contacts within the industry to support the project through supply and services donations, providing a high-quality fit-out with minimal cost.”
Focus Ireland’s new offices now house over 100 support staff. They have essential space for frontline teams to have meetings with customers and donors, conduct research and complete critical work to support those experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
Commenting on the refurbishment, Focus Ireland’s Head of Partnerships & Philanthropy Aisling Nolan said: “When we all think about ending homelessness in Ireland and the work that needs to be done, the renovation of this building and the dedication of the teams involved are moving us a step further on this journey. A massive thank you to everyone that did this work. You have changed Focus Ireland, and you are now a part of our team forever.”
The last word on the development must go to Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, founder and Life President, Focus Ireland, who, on seeing the new offices, said: “I would like to say a big thank you to all the people involved in this project. I could not believe my eyes when I was taken around the building. It is so fabulous and artistic. It was a huge surprise for everyone to come back to as it has transformed our way of working.”
Subcontractors and suppliers who provided services free of charge on the Focus Ireland head office refurbishment
Alpha Mechanical; DMG; 13 Painters; ACEC; Acoustic GRG Ireland; Alliance; All Spec; Allwood; Allied Ireland; Alma Valves; Argand; Automatic Fire; Aviva; Blueprint; Boyne Park Interiors; B&M Insulation; Bretland; BSS; BSG Design; Burke Joinery; Cableplan; CEF; Chadwicks; Concept Hardware; Cronin Movers Group; Crystal Shades; Daikin; Davies; DCD; DE Power Solutions; Dlight; Digicom; Dropbox; Earthridge; ECTS; Edmundson Electrical; Elite; ETAG; Eurofluid; Evros; Flaktwoods; Fridge Spares Wholesale; Gallant; General Lighting; Glamox; Greyhound; Grundfos; Hamilton Robson; Heat Merchants; HEVAC; Ideal; Ironmongery; Keane Environmental; Keddington; Kellihers; Laceys; Legrand; Lindab; LinkedIn; LMC; Matheson; MCR Group; MJ Flood; MJP; Polyflor; Powell; REW; RSL; RWL; SAS; Sew It Seams; Slack ; Signify; SIG; Sound Production; SRS; Tarkett Concept; The Reelists; Thermoparts; TLS; Tilestyle; Truwood; Universal Floral; Versatile; Ventilux; Visualise; Vision; W2W; Wilo; Wilson Controls; Winroy; Zip