The process to select the builder and the modular contractor for Victoria’s first purpose-built COVID quarantine accommodation facility is underway.

The Victorian Government has issued a call for expressions of interest for the head contractor and modular contractor roles on construction of its ‘alternative quarantine accommodation project’.

The move follows last week’s announcement that the state had received a Memorandum of Understanding from the Commonwealth in support of the project.

Set to commence construction in September once a final investment decision is made (and contingent upon that decision), the new hub will serve as the state’s only purpose-built facility for COVID-related quarantine.

Initially, it will have a capacity of 500 places, which will be built in around five months.

However, it will have the capacity of to be scaled up to 3,000 places, which would provide the ability to cater for up to 1,100 arrivals per week (see below), subject to future quarantine requirements.

It is being undertaken amid several concerns with the existing hotel quarantine system, which was established as an immediate response to the virus.

These include that:

  • Some features of hotel facilities have created challenges for infection prevention and control (IPC). These include soft surfaces which are difficult to clean; a lack of open spaces to facilitate physical distancing; a lack of dedicated handwashing stations and clinical waste disposal facilities; and ventilation which is not specifically designed for IPC.
  • The location of hotels in densely populated inner-city locations means that any outbreak which originates out of hotel quarantine may spread quickly – especially as workers return to the CBD. This is particularly concerning as new COVID variants are more infectious and more easily transferrable.
  • An increasing likelihood that quarantine will be needed for several years is leading to concerns over the supply, availability and capacity of hotels and is driving uncertainty for government, business and individuals.

The new facility will operate alongside the existing hotel quarantine system.

This will provide greater flexibility in managing the quarantine program.

It could enable, for example, travellers from high-risk locations to be accommodated within the facility whilst lower risk cohorts continue to use hotel quarantine.

Two potential sites have been identified.

The first is a vacant portion of a site currently occupied by the Post Entry Quarantine Facility (pictured above) operated by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture in the outer northern suburb of Mickleham.

This site is around 29 kilometres north of the CBD, 24 kilometres from the nearest airport (Melbourne Airport) and 18 kilometres from the nearest hospital (Northern Hospital Epping).

It sits on land owned by the Commonwealth and has a total area of 709,800 sqm – 400,000 of which would be available for the new hub.

This is the preferred site of the Victorian Government.

Mickleham site

The second site – which is understood to be preferred by the Commonwealth – is located on land leased by the Australian Department of Defence to Avalon Airport Geelong Pty Ltd as part of the Avalon Airport precinct north-east of Geelong.

This site is further from the Melbourne CBD (50 kilometres) and Melbourne Airport (63 kilometres) but is immediately adjacent to Avalon Airport to the east of the runway and terminals.

It is 22 kilometres from the nearest major hospital – University Hospital Geelong.

With a total area of 2,020,000 sqm – 1,450,000 of which has been identified as being potentially suitable for the hub – it is larger than the Mickleham site.

Avalon site

As mentioned above, the facility will have capacity to be scaled up to 3,000 places subject to future quarantine requirements.

This will allow it to cater for up to 1,100 returned travellers per week with an allowance of two days for room cleaning turnaround and additional latency to allow for rooms being unavailable for maintenance, deep COVID cleaning or relocation of residents due to becoming COVID-positive.

Specifics of the master plan will be finalised after selection of the final site. However, an indicative master plan has been developed.

Under this plan, accommodation units will be separated into secure ‘quarantine blocks’ of 250 places.

Each block will be self-contained with its own residents and staff.

To help to minimise interaction and potential infection risk across separate parts of the site, each block will be segregated and separated from other quarantine blocks.

Blocks will be aggregated into ‘suburbs’ of 1,000 places – an arrangement which will allow for a large number of separately quarantined cohorts and will facilitate multiple concurrent arrivals.

Each accommodation block will have:

  • Dedicated staff, with access to a separate staff area for each staff cohort within the block. Staff cohorts will need to remain separate from each other to limit possible close contact with other staff members to minimise exposure to a positive case. Staff cohorts include, but are not limited to, residential support officers (RSO), health and support services, Victoria Police, catering, health workers, cleaners and logistics operations.
  • Dedicated and in many cases separate areas for different staff cohorts.
  • Its own dedicated drop off point and check in (red zone) and separate departure point (green zone) for the arrival and departure of residents at the beginning and completion of their quarantine period.
  • Areas for the receipt of goods, meals etc. into the quarantine block.
  • An indoor training space to ensure regular training sessions can be undertaken in a safe and socially distanced manner for each staffing cohort and to facilitate activities such as PPE fitting and use or emergency response.
  • Covered walkways to enable weather-protected travel within each quarantine block.
  • Its own identity, using means such as different colours to assist wayfinding.

Within each block, accommodation units will be separated into ‘clusters’ – each of which will feature 10-16 units that will hold around 50-60 guests.

This will help to create a higher level of privacy and ‘outlook’ for residents.

To maintain a low profile on the site, the accommodation modules themselves will be single story.

Each module will be a detached building and will be adequately spaced.

Each will have a covered veranda/balcony for continual access to outside air, placement of exercise equipment and delivery and swabbing zones.

The accommodation units will need to cater for various cohorts including single people, couples and family groups of various sizes.

A mixture of accommodation options (including built-in flexibility where possible) will be needed to aid in the management of fluctuating cohort requirements.

Accommodation unit design will also make specific consideration for residents with special needs including people with disabilities and elderly people. These units will be located closer to staff hubs and entries for ease of access.

Accommodation for the care and isolation of residents who have tested positive to COVID-19 will be functionally similar to standard accommodation blocks. Residents who become seriously unwell will be transferred to hospital.

Healthcare facilities will also be provided for residents who are not COVID-positive but otherwise have complex needs – albeit with residents needing major medical care and intervention being transferred to hospital.

To maintain flexibility, the modules will use prefabricated modular and demountable design and construction.

Consultants will shortly be appointed to undertake detailed design, which is expected to be complete by September.

In addition to functional requirements, the final design will aim to:

  • create a friendly and welcoming environment and provide attractive outlooks from rooms
  • where possible, incorporate architectural and indigenous cultural elements; and
  • maximise use of ecologically sustainable design.

In addition to the blocks, central facilities will service the entire site.

These are likely to include facilities for commercial catering, commercial laundry, central logistics, central staff and administration, waste management and police.

As with the ‘suburbs’, these central facilities will have ‘red’ and ‘green’ zones for entry and exit points.

Due to their likely size, it is expected that they will be built using either traditional construction techniques, ‘kit of parts’ prefabrication methods, or a combination of these.

outline of an individual quarantine block

Construction is set to commence immediately following (and contingent upon) a final decision to proceed, which is expected in September.

The first 500 places, along with ancillary facilities such as catering and laundry as well as infrastructure, are expected to be complete within five months of commencement.

Practical completion dates for additional tranches remain subject to government decision.

As mentioned above, the government has called for expressions of interest regarding the head contractor and modular contractor role.

The head contractor will work with the consultants to oversee the design completion and will manage construction of the facility in accordance with detailed designs.

The modular contractor will work with the head contractor, the principal and the principal’s nominated consultants to develop preliminary designs into shop drawings and will work under the coordination of the head contractor to undertake manufacture, transport, installation and commissioning of modular buildings and/or building components.

Either a single modular contractor will be appointed or several contractors may be appointed.

Initially, the modular contractor will be appointed by the principal. However, it is expected that they will end up working under the head contractor.

This will take place either through the government’s contracts with the modular contractor being novated to the head contractor of through the head contractor otherwise being required to engage the appointed modular contractor(s) (for example as a nominated subcontractor).

Master Builders Victoria (MBV) Chief Executive Officer Rebecca Casson welcomed the commitment of both governments to work on the project.

Casson says the building industry is keen to deliver a project of such importance.

She says Master Builders has sought input from its members on the most suitable project approaches.

This includes considerations about whether or not a managing contractor should be appointed to work in partnership with the Government at the start of the project and which project delivery model (lump sum contract, design and construct etc.) should be adopted.

Details of the tender are available here.

Expressions of interest must be submitted by June 17th.

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