05/12/2018 - 08:29

Heritage build fits Emco niche

05/12/2018 - 08:29

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Having sat vacant for the better part of a decade, the 111-year-old North Perth police station is again a place where lessons are learned, with EMCO Building having converted the site into an early learning centre.

Ron Keogh says Perth tradesmen are well equipped for heritage restoration projects. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Emco Building’s latest project in North Perth combines two areas of expertise – heritage restoration and the education sector. 

Having sat vacant for the better part of a decade, the 111-year-old North Perth police station is again a place where lessons are learned, with EMCO Building having converted the site into an early learning centre.

Emco utilised its broad construction experience to incorporate a modern three-storey extension into the existing heritage-listed structure, which was opened for use in August.

The build is understood to have cost about $7.5 million and includes multiple classrooms and play areas, administrative offices, a commercial kitchen and a basement carpark.

Emco chief executive Ron Keogh said the Osborne Park-based builder had been approached by North Perth School of Early Learning to complete the project, which was designed by North Fremantle-based Tom Godden Architects.

“I think one of the reasons they came to us is it’s an incredibly difficult site – you’ve got the heritage police station at the front, which was a full refurbishment,” he said.

“Then it’s been added onto with the early learning centre, there’s a basement, it’s in a residential area with properties right on the boundary, and we were building right to the boundary.

“Those sorts of projects take a lot of planning and management to make sure that they run smoothly.

“From our point of view it all went really well – the client, the architect, the consultants and ourselves (sic) really seemed to gel as a team.”

The police station underwent extensive structural strengthening to allow for wider openings in the walls, as well as well as the installation of numerous skylights.

The heritage element also included the restoration of the original hardwood floors, while the old jail cells have been converted into storage areas.

“The refurbishment of the police station could be a standalone project,” Mr Keogh told Business News.

“I think the key with heritage works is understanding the sensitivity of the building and understanding the fundamentals of the building and what you’re actually trying to achieve.”

Emco has completed a number of restorative projects, including a $35 million renovation and extension at St Mary’s Cathedral and the redevelopment of Subiaco Hotel, and Mr Keogh said Perth had the tradesman qualified to complete that line of work.

“There are a lot of very skilled tradesmen in Perth, you just need to manage and coordinate the works,” he said.

The modern extension includes a series of playgrounds, while a number of tree trunks have been installed inside the facility to give the sense of a lightly wooded forest.

“Because the site is so tight there is a very small play area to the front of the site, but then beyond that there are no extra play areas at ground level, so we had to create play areas on the upper levels,” Mr Keogh said.

“That obviously has some challenges because you want it to feel like an external area but also have all the safety requirements of being on an upper level with small kids.

“Another really nice feature is the aerial walkway which links two of the play areas in the sky – I think the kids will love that.”

Established in 1985, Emco previously specialised in retail projects, but pivoted to education following the introduction of the GST, according to Mr Keogh.

“We had been looking to diversify and one of the areas that we looked to diversify into, because we saw it as a growth area, was education,” he said.

The builder has completed more than 20 education structures in recent years, including the $41 million South Metropolitan Tafe building at Murdoch, the John Curtin College of Arts theatre and year seven building, and Edith Cowan University’s student accommodation.

Mr Keogh said despite his company holding a strong pipeline of work, the local building industry was tight.

“At the beginning of this year we were expecting to see growth in the final quarter of this year,” he said.

“We’ve revised that and we’re thinking really second or third quarter next year we’ll start to see some more activity.”


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