Clarence Correctional Facility

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Location: Lavadia, NSW.

Builder: John Holland

Photography: Black Bee Studio

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When construction company John Holland was tasked with building Clarence Correctional Centre, a large new jail in northern NSW, it was quickly decided that precast concrete panels would play an important role. After a competitive tender process, the group chose Austral Precast as its provider.

Since construction began in 2018, Austral Precast has delivered more than 4,500 panels (worth a combined $18 million) to the Clarence facility, which will become the largest operational jail in Australia when it opens to inmates next year. Precast concrete can be found in every building in the complex as well as along the perimeter fence.

John Holland chose concrete for the bones of the correctional centre due to the material’s superior safety profile. “Timber, brick and steel can be manipulated or damaged or played around with in such a way that prisoners can either hurt themselves or hurt someone else,” explains Austral Precast project manager Michael Elms. “You can’t do that with concrete.”

But the developer was reluctant to pour so much concrete in a remote location where the quality of the work could not be assured, so it decided to use precast panels instead. “It can be quite difficult to control the quality of site work,” says Elms. “With precast, the client could place the responsibility for manufacture with us.”

Once the client had delivered its specifications, Austral Precast set to work at its state-of-the-art factory. “The way that we make precast in our factory goes through a number of milestones and quality control steps that you wouldn’t necessarily get on site,” says Elms. “The factory-controlled environment means better quality for clients.”

In a prison context, better-quality construction means enhanced security. Using precast meant John Holland could feel confident that the facility it was building would be secure. “In a prison environment where you are duplicating floor plans over and over for inmate housing, consistency is key,” says Elms.

“An additional benefit of precast for clients working on secure facilities is that they can flag with us the items they consider really critical, and we can control those items every step of the way, from design through to manufacture, delivery and installation.”

Large construction projects often fail to be completed on time, but using precast is helping John Holland stick to its timeline to open Clarence Correctional Centre in 2020.

“We were able to take a lot of critical path items away from them so they could work on other items like their steelwork,” says Elms. “They weren’t waiting for things to be made and cured onsite – they could be made offline, out of the way, and, once they were delivered, they could be immediately fitted out.”

In addition to housing up to 1,700 inmates, Clarence Correctional Centre will provide about 600 permanent jobs once operational. By 2037, it will have pumped an estimated $560 million into the local economy.

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