Kier Construction (Jamaica)

Kier Construction (Jamaica) is celebrating 50 years of building relationships in Jamaica. Kier Construction (Jamaica), a division of the U.K.-based Kier Group, has been constructing complex industrial facilities in Jamaica for 50 years. This is a significant achievement for any contractor, Caribbean area manager Steve Milner says, but what makes it an exceptionally special milestone from his point of view is the fact that the company has not just been building projects, it’s been building relationships, too.

This distinguishes Kier from other premier building companies in Jamaica, he says, because even though all contractors gain satisfaction from constructing buildings and infrastructure that will benefit the community, few actually go the extra mile to work with community leaders, employ local tradesmen or donate their time, money and resources to benefit the community as a whole. At Kier, this occurs not only in Jamaica, but in all areas of the world.

“Generally, Kier Group likes to be involved with the community everywhere we work,” Milner says. “It’s important to get out into the community and support local organizations, local schools and sporting facilities. But it’s very important in Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean because they are looking for the support of companies like Kier to be involved in the community in order to maximize employment.”

Kier has specific employment procedures in place to ensure all members of the community have an opportunity to work. “Before we start a new project, we use the help of local politicians to find community leaders and explain to them how we are going to operate with regard to donations to various organizations and how we are going to approach employment,” Milner says.

“When we set up an employment office, we invite everyone who wants to work to come and register and give us their qualifications,” he asserts. “When we are looking for specific disciplines, we look at a database we gathered from the people registered and select individuals from that register. Only when a particular discipline has been exhausted will we go outside the community to include all of Jamaica. If there is still a need, we will go to other Caribbean islands.”

Refining its Niche

Kier has worked in partnership with companies in the alumina industry, which is a major financial resource in Jamaica. Kier’s relationship with the industry goes back as far as 1963, when the refineries were first under construction. In recent years, major expansion projects at the refineries have provided Kier an opportunity to work in joint venture with Commer­cial Contracting Co. of San Antonio.

Kier-CCC (Jamaica) Joint Venture’s expansion projects were designed to increase plant production. According to Kier, the main aspects of the projects involved new washers, new precipitation tanks, a new rod mill, major modifications to the digestion process and significant modifications to the calcination process. Mechanical completion was achieved three weeks ahead of schedule.

Kier-CCC also has provided new mine facilities for the alumina business involving a screening operation and an elevated conveyor system that transported the raw material down an escarpment with an inclined length of 3.4 kilometers and a vertical displacement of 460 meters.

Despite the complexities associated with these multifaceted projects, Kier-CCC achieved 7.4 million man hours without a lost-time incident. This is quite significant given the amount of people that were working at the location. “We peaked out a few years ago, but at one point, we had 3,000 people working for us on our alumina projects,” Milner says, “98 percent of which were Jamaican people.”

‘Humanitarian Extraordinaire’

In addition to employing thousands of people from the Jamaican community on the refinery projects, Kier-CCC was heavily involved in a number of philanthropic endeavors, especially those regarding the improvement of local schools. For instance, Kier-CCC and other contractors donated $95,000 (Jamaican) to the rehabilitation of the boys’ and girls’ restrooms at the Hayes Primary and Junior High School. The renovated bathrooms were opened in June 2004.

In November 2004, Benjamin “Benjie” Beale, chairman of the school board, approached Milner and asked Kier-CCC to assist the teachers in their efforts to retile the Hayes Primary and Junior High School bathroom. Milner donated $15,000 (Jamaican) to the school’s principal, Mark Nicely. “When I went to meet with their headmaster, I was very impressed with what they were doing with the very limited resources they had,” Milner recalls. “From there, we developed a relationship with the school.”

In April 2005, when Kier-CCC found out there was an unsafe and rotting elevated water tank at the Hayes Primary and Junior High School, it volunteered to demolish it and put it out of harm’s way. In addition, the joint venture donated money to the schools surrounding the refinery to assist underprivileged students in purchasing textbooks, computers and other learning materials.

A football league in Clarendon was established in 1987 and consists of 14 local communities surrounding the refinery. From these 14 communities, 12 football teams were formed. As a sponsor, Kier-CCC provided funds for medical kits, football boots, refreshments, medals and trophies.

In addition, the joint venture is a reoccurring sponsor of contestants in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission Annual Miss Clarendon Festival Queen Coronation Show, with proceeds donated to the advancement of young women across the parish.

Kier’s involvement in the Clarendon community spurred a close relationship between Milner and Jeannette Brown, a respected community leader and 2008 recipient of the Governor-General’s Achievement Award for community work. “I met Mrs. Brown when I first went to work as the location manager at the refinery,” Milner recalls. “She appreciated the work that we did for the community, and even though we’re not located there anymore, we still keep in contact and I still support her communities.”

“As far as we’re concerned, he is a humanitarian extraordinaire,” Brown says of Milner. “He shows upmost respect to anyone and everyone, and his door is always open for anyone who wants to speak with him. We are very happy to know him and to work with him and his company. We think it is very important for companies like Kier to give back to the communities where they work because it creates an atmosphere for good working relationships. It gives the community a sense of pride where development and growth is concerned, so it’s a win-win situation.”

Transportation Projects

In addition to employing the citizens of Jamaica as tradesmen on its projects, Kier offers work to local subcontractors.

“We’ve got a number of subcontractors that we work closely with on the major projects that we get,” Milner explains. “These are companies we’ve worked with for many years, and we have a good relationship with them. We know how they work, they know how we work, and we know they can produce the quality we require.

“However, I’m always willing to listen to new companies and give them a chance,” he adds. “We ask them to do presentations to see what their company structure is like and what other work they’ve done. We’ll give them an opportunity to bid on the work if the prices are reasonable, they have safety as a high priority and the methodologies are sound; and if we’re satisfied, we’ll give them the job.”

Kier was impressed with the performance of the contractors who worked on the expansion of Jamaica’s Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston between 2006 and late 2007. Work included a 10,000-square-meter departure concourse to meet the capacity needs of the busy airport. In addition, crews constructed a ticketing concourse, access roadways and public car parks, and facilitated the reconfiguration of the customs hall for more efficient passenger movement and the creation of a cargo village for improved cargo-handling operations.

Between July 2005 and September 2007, Kier and its subcontractors constructed the Half Way Tree Transportation Centre in Kingston. The facility houses a two-level bus station and a 900-square-meter terrace, and serves as the central hub for buses transporting 200,000 commuters on various routes. The company also built a two-story administrative office building.

One of the company’s more recent projects is the construction and rehabilitation of Waterloo Road, which was completed at the end of March. The work entailed the demolition of an existing bridge and the reconstruction of a 25-meter, single-span, four-lane bridge along with 250 meters of four-lane road.

The logistics of the project were very complicated, Milner says, as the bridge is located on one of the major commuter links into Kingston. As a result, the road had to remain open throughout the construction period. Communication between Kier, its client and the surrounding communities was essential in achieving success on the project, he says. The bridge was completed in record time with minimal disruption to traffic.

Helping Haiti Rebuild

Following the tragic 7.0 earthquake that devastated Haiti in January, Kier was contacted by Digicel Group – the Caribbean’s largest mobile phone network – to provide emergency support on a number of relief projects, which included the site clearance of the former five-story Ministry of Education building and the erection of a new 2,000-square-meter temporary replacement; temporary work to stabilize a two-level concrete frame building that houses the main Digicel communications switch; and clearance of a collapsed primary school where 200 children and 18 teachers were killed.

In addition, Kier is working to restore former downtown market Marche En Fer, originally constructed in 1891. The Marche En Fer is an iconic building in Haiti, and its restoration will be the focal piece of the reconstruction of downtown Port-au-Prince, the company says. The development consists of two large, covered market spaces linked by bridges to a central pavilion, crowned by minarets. The north portion of the market was destroyed in a 2008 fire; the south market was damaged during the earthquake.

Kier was involved in the clearance and salvage work. According to the company, the salvage work was particularly challenging due to significant deterioration of the structure.

A crew of local ironworkers was called in to dismantle the steel members from the structure in the north market, which will be reused in the reconstruction of the south market. Many of these members were built from cast iron, a rather brittle material. Kier took great pains in transporting the easily breakable members to an off-site storage location. The market is due to reopen this December.

“It is difficult to comprehend the devastation in Haiti after the earthquake, and we were only too pleased to be able to give assistance when contacted by Digicel,” Milner says.

“I want to thank David Bowers, Caribbean contracts manager, and Conor Smyth, project manager, for taking on the responsibility of being the first Kier people on the ground, which meant having to work under horrendous conditions,” he continues. “The living conditions were very basic, and the initial works involved clearing collapsed buildings with bodies still inside. I also want to thank Graham Phillips, site manager, for assisting Conor Smyth on the iron market project.”

“The resilience of the people in Haiti is incredibly humbling, as the damage is unimaginable in scale,” Smyth adds. “Many have lost everything and are rebuilding their lives from nothing. We are very honored to be able to play our part in helping Haiti to rebuild.”

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