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There are loads of rumours circulating about the construction of Mareel, some of which are devoid of fact, some of which have foundation and others that are surprisingly accurate. There’s nothing new in rumours about Mareel of course - it’s a project that continues to stimulate much debate, passion and excitement of different kinds.

The tricky thing for us here at Shetland Arts is that we have to be very careful not to step on contractual toes, and that means there are details we cannot share with the public.  Some people may interpret this as cagey behaviour, but it is in the interests of the project. Our objective is simple - to deliver a building for the best possible price, of the best possible quality and in the best possible timeframe for Shetland.

Let me try and explain the issues around us being fully open on details of the Mareel construction, please bare with me I need to set the context a little first:

Mareel is a complex construction project. Much of the design includes detail and materials that have never been used in Shetland before. As with any large building project, there are things you discover as you go along - things that are hard to build, things you can do differently to save money and things that have to be redesigned because they are too expensive in their original form. It is the job of the Contract Administrator and our Quantity Surveyors alongside our Contractor to ensure the right party picks up any additional costs and any savings are realised for the Client (Shetland Arts).

Shetland Arts agreed a price for the construction of Mareel with D.I.T.T. Construction Ltd. The Contract, which includes a ‘Bill’ of items (that’s everything you can imagine needed to build a building), is the cornerstone of that agreement. However, just like with any building project (to varying degrees), as you go along you have to makes changes. Every change is carefully documented and will either save money on the agreed price, have no impact or add cost. Sometimes changes are requested by the Contractor at their cost and sometimes changes are requested by the Client, at the Clients cost.

We have a very detailed project management process in place. No changes are made that have a financial impact of £500 or more without a Change Request being issued and signed by the Client.

So, Shetland Arts started out with a contingency (a percentage of the construction contract amount budgeted for unforeseen circumstances or design changes identified after a construction project commences) to deal with the unknowns and changes that are the responsibility of the Client, and the Contractor picks up the other costs from contingencies that they have built into their agreed price. There are sometimes gray areas when the Client feels the costs should be picked up by the Contractor and visa-versa.  It’s the job of each others Quantity Surveyors to work this one out. Sometimes it’s a matter of “OK I will pick this one up, if you pick up that one”. It’s about finding a balanced fair way forward using the original Contract as the baseline.

So here’s where comment on rumours is not a good idea. If we were to suggest, for example, that there was a problem with a D.I.T.T. Sub-Contractor, we would be publicly placing blame and, with it, cost on D.I.T.T. Construction Ltd. That would not be fair, as it might not be the case. Likewise if D.I.T.T. were to suggest that a problem on site was due to the architects' design, they would be passing cost onto the Client which might be equally unfair. These or suchlike discussions and suggestions need to be worked out between the relevant parties in private. Establishment of who picks up which cost is a detailed process (understandably, giving the monies involved) governed by the Contract and negotiated within a clear framework away from the politics, pressures and latest rumours of the day.

I act as the Client on behalf of Shetland Arts and have a detailed understanding of progress of the project. I spend around 3 days a week in construction related meetings or responding to Requests For Information (RFI’s) from Gareth Hoskins Architects and D.I.T.T. The Project Team are required under the Contract to respond within fixed timescales to queries to reduce delays. I’m either on site or with various members of the Project Team made up of our Project Manager (Ewen Balfour) our QS (Stephen Johnston), our Architects (Gary Johnston & Sarah Murphy) and our Contract Administrator (Ian Irving). We have a strong team of specialists advising and driving the project forward. Shetland Arts brings expertise in venue operation, cinema, events management and arts development, and the above team know their stuff when it comes to new builds. Progress is reported monthly to the Mareel Construction Board made up of key funders, Shetland Arts Trustees and members of the Project Team. Monthly updates are also made to The Mareel Sounding Board comprising Shetland Islands Council Elected Members.

So, when will Mareel be open?

Alas, at this time I don’t have an exact answer to that question. It’s frustrating I know, for all of us - including all those involved in building Mareel. I hope to be able to give more firm details on when we will open at the end of April. What I can tell you is that: progress on the building is continuing inside the building; D.I.T.T. have done what they can to mitigate the loss of their roofing contractor a couple weeks ago; much of the inside of the building is wind and watertight, and plasterboard and sound proofing is progressing throughout the building.

Shetland Arts has been taking bookings for Mareel since last October and we now have everything from weddings to club nights and jazz sessions to Christmas parties booked in. If you are interested in hiring Mareel and would like a look around the building do get in touch with us at Shetland Arts on 01595 743843.

For an independent take on the construction of Mareel, take a look at Pete Bevington's article published on the Shetland News website yesterday - Inside Mareel

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