Early in 2010, CampbellReith along with other design consultants was invited to look at new hotel opportunity in Freetown, Sierra Leone, by International Development Enterprise Associates (IDEA). At the time, the client was bidding for the opportunity to conceptualise, build and operate an international branded hotel on a Government owned site on the Aberdeen peninsula in Freetown. IDEA successfully secured the interest of Hilton Worldwide and having co-opted them to join their team developed and put forward a proposal that allowed them to be awarded the concession by the National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT) later in August 2010.
Whilst the client prepared to clear and demolish the existing structures in the site, the design team carried out surveys, investigations and studies so as to work up an integrated scheme for the new 200 key hotel that met the client’s requirements. In September of 2011, a sod turning ceremony on the site by His Excellency the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, marked the physical commencement of the project and saw the first contractors move in to demolish the structures.
In developing the Hilton Freetown Cape Sierra Hotel, IDEA has a set out a clear vision to create a world class environment founded on their established project design principles of
- Identity – uniquely Sierra Leonean
- Standard of Living – desirable, practical and comfortable
- Function & Utility – for living, working, business and leisure
- Connectivity & Access – ease of movement and connectivity within the estate
- Security – by physical design with complementary management system
- Sustainability – in social, environmental and economic terms
- Quality – to maintain safety, cleanliness, aesthetics and longevity
As with any design contract, tough negotiations took place over the design and available budget which led to robust value engineering of the scheme prior to a full tender process being entered into late in 2012. The international design team had worked hard with the client, IDEA, and Hilton Worldwide to deliver a scheme that was befitting of the clients aspirations, Hiltons requirements, the local environment and the construction budget. The team obtained approvals at key stages in the process from the Government, funders and operator, including Building Permits and Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIA).
Three years after the Sod Turning Ceremony, and having secured the commitment of Hilton, assembled a design team, got the design approved and tendered the project to several international building contractors, the client now had to secure a willing contractor prepared to build the hotel for the available budget. It had been a long and hard journey for both the client and the design team. There had been times when it looked an almost impossible mission. However IDEA appointed Shapoorji Pallonji Mideast LLC (SPML) as the main contractor, and they mobilised on site to construct the new hotel in June 2014. What could possibly go wrong?
In December 2013, the first case of a haemorrhagic viral disease was recorded in the Guinea, to the north of Sierra Leone. This was to be the start of a 27 month long epidemic that swept across West Africa and brought devastation to Sierra Leone. The Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) epidemic claimed its first victims in Sierra Leone (Kailahun District) in May 2014 and was traced back to a traditional healer from Kailahun who had been treating Ebola patients across the border in Guinea. By June 2014 Sierra Leone was forced to close its land and air borders, cutting itself of from the rest of the world. As the epidemic took hold and spread, Sierra Leone became the focal point both in the media and in the diagnosis of new cases.
The spread of the epidemic through Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia brought to an abrupt end much of the development within these countries. The focus was, quite rightly, centred on disease management and recovery. Earlier attempts by the contractor to secure the construction site and protect it from the effects of the Ebola outbreak saw construction initially progress. However, as the epidemic took a firmer hold on the country and movement orders to prevent the spread of the disease took effect progress on the site understandably faltered. Travel to Sierra Leone was hampering both personnel visits and material supplies. In the light of the escalating EVD epidemic in Sierra Leone, the Shapoorji Pallonji expatriates were evacuated from the country in mid-September 2014. However prior to their evacuation, IDEA encouraged SPML to engage a local company Ground Work Services Ltd (GWS) to perform and complete the groundworks (excavation and earthworks) package so that construction activity could be progressed whilst SPML were out of the country.
At the end of January 2015, following the marked decline in confirmed number of EVD cases in the country, SPML expatriate staff began to return to Sierra Leone. But the absence of the full team affected the delivery of the excavation package and at one stage the project was approximately 6 months behind programme. In August 2014, IDEA released one of their directors to provide full-time support to the Ebola Response efforts. Initially this included spearheading a recruitment campaign in the UK aimed at encouraging Sierra Leonean Diaspora in the health sector to travel to Sierra Leone to work Ebola Treatment Centres (ETCs). This however culminated in this individual serving as the Director of Planning the Sierra Leone National Ebola Response Centre (“NERC”) in January 2015.
Sierra Leone was the first of the three West African countries to be permanently declared Ebola free in March 2016. Over 27 months, this epidemic had claimed the lives of 11,310 people with 28,616 recorded cases. Sierra Leone had lost nearly 4,000 people with over 14,000 recorded cases.
After the events between December 2014 and March 2016, it would have been quite understandable to assume that the construction of the hotel was lost to the devastation of the epidemic. Such catastrophic events would in most other circumstances have resulted in terminal actions but not for this project. The concerted efforts of the client, the design team and the contractor have allowed construction activity to continue on the site throughout the Ebola affected period.
As the country looks to rebuild itself through a managed period of post-Ebola transition and recovery the construction of the hotel is almost symbolic of that recovery process. All too often we look at construction contracts and consider the devastating impacts of a ‘force majeure’ event but rarely experience anything quite as significant. Remarkably, the hotel construction is due for completion later this year and hopefully opened by the end of 2017.
This fantastically interesting project (which is the largest private sector single asset project owned and promoted by Sierra Leonean Indigenes) is now inspiring Sierra Leones at home and abroad about belief resilience and taking responsibility for the development of their country. It is also inspiring a new generation of engineering students and, working with a visiting professor from CampbellReith, students from Surrey University recently took 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes for their Masters projects in Engineering.
CampbellReith has provided civil, structural, geotechnical, marine and environmental engineering to this project, including project management from design through to main contractor appointment.
By Simon Boots, Partner at CampbellReith
For more details of CampbellReith and the project please visit http://www.campbellreith.com/cape-sierra-hilton-hotel-sierra-leone/