Porter Press Extra: Wellington Pipelines

By: Cameron Officer, Photography by: Cameron Officer

Porter Equipment-supplied Hyundai and BOMAG equipment are making work easy for Wellington Pipelines at one of the biggest correction facilities in NZ

Contributing to Deals On Wheels certainly gets you into your fair share of interesting work sites. No two assignments are the same and while one month you might be checking out screening gear in a South Island quarry, the following month will see you at a fertiliser store in the Far North. Case-in-point: my last visit to, of all places, one of the biggest correctional facilities in the country.

Wellington Pipeline’s big 13-tonne BOMAG BW213D smooths the rough

Located in Upper Hutt, Rimutaka Prison is a sprawling medium-to-high security complex that was built in 1967. But it isn’t just focused on incarceration. It also offers a swathe of offender training facilities, including motor industry, carpentry, printing, bricklaying, and engineering tutelage as well.

The Hyundai R210LC-9 works alongside one of the prison’s perimeter fences

While it’s indisputably bittersweet that the facility now requires an extensive upgrade and additional buildings to house a larger population, the fact the place needs to grow is a good news story for Wellington’s civil construction industry.

The work site, towards the rear of Department of Corrections land, encompasses around 30,000 square metres, all of which is to be built upon. At present, preliminary groundworks and drain laying are taking place, which is where James Fruean and his Wellington Pipelines team come in.

A new focus

Wellington Pipelines’ new smaller BOMAG roller alongside an off-road dumper

Having been heavily involved in a multitude of drain laying projects throughout the Wellington region for nearly two decades, James says his company’s focus shifted last year following a change in direction for a major supplier.

"Up until last year, the bulk of our business was built around council infrastructure work," he says. "We enjoyed the work and were a firm part of Wellington Water’s Capex Contractor Panel. However, we found ourselves without that work at the end of last year, which forced us as a business to re-evaluate our direction and strategy. 

"When the tender for work here at the prison came up, we decided to add earthworks to our contract offering, something we hadn’t done to this extent before. And I think it has been the best move we ever made.

"If you want to go forward in business, you can’t stay doing the same stuff over and over. We’ve had lots of valuable help from subcontractors, but our entire team here has really pushed on with this project and we’ve all added to what we are able to give clients as a result."

The prison job poses plenty of challenges. While some of these have been under-wheel (the departure of the long, dry summer has meant James’ team has been dealing with plenty of mud since autumn began), other challenges are operational. The entire team has to surrender mobile phones at the gate every day, for example.

"I love it," says James. "You get so much more done in a day when you’re not answering phone calls every five minutes. Mind you, when I leave  each night, the thing won’t stop dinging with all the voicemail messages." James has 35 staff in total, with 16 employed full-time on the prison project, including him.

Brand power

James Fruean, director of Wellington Pipelines 

Wellington Pipelines has a wealth of experience on other large-scale projects, including the mammoth Transmission Gully project—where they remain involved now—and extensive pipe laying and drainage work at the Wellington Children’s Hospital.

It was on this latter job, completed in September last year, that James had his first exposure to Hyundai machinery and Porter Equipment.

"At the hospital, we had two 40-tonne Hyundai excavators doing deep trench work. I was impressed with both the machines and the service that Porters offered. It was all straightforward for us."

While James still brings in surplus plant from Porter Hire occasionally when it’s needed, these days he has invested in brand-new Hyundai equipment as well as BOMAG compaction technology, both brands supplied by Porter Equipment.

"This project for the Department of Corrections represents a significant amount of work for us. And obviously, we need the tools to do the job, so we have undertaken a significant investment in new machines to make sure we can meet programme expectations," says James.

A new 21-tonne Hyundai R210LC-9 crawler excavator made its first appearance for the company at the Rimutaka Prison site, as did a pair of single-drum rollers from BOMAG: a big 13-tonne BOMAG BW213D and a smaller 5.6-tonne BOMAG BW145D.

Mud has been a constant problem for the team as autumn makes its presence felt

Wellington Pipelines has plenty of other work on—for example, a large 1.2km 200 di pipe water main infrastructure job at Burma Road—so James had to be sure he could commit a certain portion of the company’s fleet to the Rimutaka Prison project.

"The Hyundai and BOMAG gear are great," James continues. "Having worked with Porter Equipment, especially Josh Hunter, has made it all so easy for us to get the gear here and into work.

"These machines are pretty new, so when it comes time to do the scheduled servicing, we’ll get the Porter guys visitor passes and they’ll be able to come in and complete the service on-site. There aren’t any barriers really, despite where we’re working; if you invest in good gear that has that sort of back-up then you know you’re onto a good thing regardless of where the machines are."

James says this project represents something of a full-circle turn for him. "Funnily enough, I came here to the prison as a 15-year-old on the first civil project I’d ever worked on after I left school. So, it’s good to see I have made it this far and still get to come in, do the work and go home again at night," he laughs.

I’m glad about that, too. With my temporary two-hour visitor pass due to expire, it was time to be escorted off the premises. In a good way.

As for James, he couldn’t wait to hand in his mobile phone at the gate and get back on-site.
"I never wanted a desk job and even now, as the owner of a company, I’m not happy unless I’m driving a machine. I love being out on-site with the boys and getting the work done; I love shifting dirt and laying pipe.

"I’ve got the best job in the world I reckon, even when it’s behind barbed wire fences."

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