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Our History with the Antarctic

Out of the blue one Friday afternoon, Anthony Leighs receives a call from a Project Manager in Christchurch that would see the beginning of a monumental relationship with Antarctica New Zealand, changing the trajectory of Leighs Construction forever. “It was funny, actually, because the phone call came in at about four o'clock on a Friday afternoon and there are a heap of the guys in the office. They're coming in and having a beer while they drop their timesheets off, as they did back then; I looked around and it was most definitely a resounding “Yeah!” Anthony recalls of the conversation.

Leighs Construction’s journey with Antarctica began at the turn of the century when Scott Base, originally designed for a life of only a few years, was outgrowing its capacity. A pivotal point for Scott Base, this would be the first project to be completed by an private, external contractor – the Military completing all of the works on the base up until that point. The base storage and logistics were housed in an old aircraft hangar which was isolated from the other buildings, unheated, and generally in poor repair. What experience did Leighs Construction have building in polar climates? Well, to be frank, none; but the opportunity was a real challenge and Anthony and his team were up for it. A history constructing for the primary industry, building cold stores, meat processing facilities, and the like, meant that Leighs Construction wasn’t going in blind, and this experience, applied correctly, was all they needed.

Construction in Antarctica, by nature, comes with a plethora of obstacles to navigate; with it’s unique environment, a risk focused approach has been undertaken by Leighs Construction to ensure there is no room for error on all of their works completed to date. The biggest obstacle faced by the company during it’s first expedition was curating a team of specialists that would be able to operate in such a harsh climate with extreme winds. It’s obvious distance from New Zealand shores brought several significant logistical challenges that required large amounts of planning to be put into the containerisation of the requisite materials for the project, throw a tight budget into the mix and they were cooking with gas.

The proof has always been in the final product and Leighs Construction’s ongoing relationship with Antarctica New Zealand, which shows no sign of slowing. As pictured, the crew were lucky enough to be on the ground for Sir Edmund Hillary’s visit to the site, a real career highlight for many, says Matt Searle, Senior Site Manager on the company’s first expedition on the base.

The first build completed by Leighs Construction was what would come to be known as the Hillary Field Centre (HFC), followed by various works such as upgrades to the kitchen bars, laying the wind turbine foundations, Arrival Heights remote laboratory, link corridors, and extensions to the HFC, completed in 2016.

A close working relationship with Antarctica New Zealand was key to the success of the project and enabled the team to work through several possible options and reach completion with some difficult budget constraints. “The project went really, really well and everybody was extraordinarily happy” comments Leighs, with Lou Sanson, CEO of Antarctica New Zealand at the time, commenting “Leighs have done a wonderful job and made us very proud to work with you on such a challenging project.”

Leighs Construction is thrilled to see the government provide significant funding for the Scott Base redevelopment in 2021, a crucial research facility, not only for New Zealand, but for the world. We're proud to be working with Antarctica New Zealand to realise their vision to construct the most sustainable solution possible, in an extremely unique and challenging environment, and look forward to works beginning and our partnership continuing.


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