Ben Helmers, Managing Director of Woden Contractors, discusses the company’s history and how it has shaped Australia’s infrastructure with enthusiasm, experience, and excellence.
COMMITTED TO CIVIL INFRASTRUCTURE
As a privately owned civil construction company, Woden Contractors (Wodens) was established in 1958 by the Fryer family.
The company experienced rapid growth while constructing general community projects, including many of Canberra’s early bowling greens, tennis courts, and earthworks contracts.
By 1959, the workforce had expanded to 30, and during that time, the company won its first government contract – a 12-lot subdivision off Schlich Street in the inner suburb of Yarralumla.
“Over the past 66 years, Wodens has successfully undertaken hundreds of contracts for all facets of civil infrastructure. Indeed, in the last 15 years, we have become a leader in complex road and bridge projects,” opens Managing Director, Ben Helmers.
In 2019, Helmers and the previous Managing Director, Peter Middleton, purchased the company from the Fryer family using a management buy-out process. Today, Wodens employs over 100 staff, some of whom have worked with the company for over three decades, as well as many key subcontractors and suppliers.
Operating in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and New South Wales (NSW), the company continues to spearhead the industry at mid-tier level with an enviable reputation for high-quality workmanship.
“We have delivered projects to several large private developers and a diverse government client base for many years,” Helmers informs us.
Furthermore, Wodens has been recognised at state and national award ceremonies, and recently received the National Business Excellence Award for Large Civil Construction Company of the Year.
CONSTRUCTING A COMPANY CULTURE
With such a long and illustrious history, Wodens has seen plenty of changes in the construction industry.
“The projects have become larger over time, and brownfield infrastructure construction is almost standard nowadays. However, Wodens has always been an early adopter of new technologies; an excellent example was when we introduced GPS to our operations over 20 years ago,” Helmers reveals.
The company has invested heavily in the technology ever since, whilst it has also grown by introducing safety, quality, and environmental management systems.
“We look forward to enhancing our sustainability by investigating and investing in new technologies.
“Moreover, we pride ourselves on delivering high-quality work which future generations can enjoy. We continuously seek ways to improve the business and the experience of everyone we deal with,” enlightens Helmers.
Alongside adhering to standards to improve life at Wodens for staff, clients, and the community, the company culture is underpinned by a positive attitude.
“When faced with a challenge, our team efficiently overcomes it. With that kind of mentality, it means we don’t heavily rely on subcontractors.”
This mindset is made possible by formal and on-the-job training for the workforce, a crucial differentiation for Wodens as the industry has shifted towards subcontracting.
“We genuinely believe in producing world-class work, and we can achieve this with high-quality materials while paying close attention to detail,” Helmers notes.
All this, combined with effective project management, has established Wodens’ strong reputation as a trusted industry leader.
Having been recently awarded Stage 1B of the Monaro Highway Upgrade Package, an AUD$80 million design and construction project, Wodens’ enthusiasm is palpable as the task has been on its radar for several years.
“Our team has put significant effort into securing this job, which is expected to be completed over the next two years. There will also be several more stages of the Monaro Highway Upgrade Package, which will be very exciting to tender and construct,” confirms Helmers.
The Monaro Highway Upgrade Stage 1B project involves constructing approximately 2.3km of dual carriageway, upgrading existing carriageways, a building a 196 metre (m) concrete girder bridge.
This also includes replacing a bridge over Dog Trap Creek, adjusting local roads, and undertaking associated infrastructure upgrades.
“We have some exciting work in hand, and the Monaro Highway Upgrade Package is a landmark project for us; we will make an additional effort to ensure it is delivered on time for the community,” he assures us.
The company is passionate about the civil engineering industry and believes in the strong foundations it established in the early years. With this in mind, Wodens will continue to build upon what it has already created.
“We are also targeting the William Hovell Drive Duplication project located on the western side of Canberra this year. This is a significant infrastructure project for the ACT government, which involves upgrading and duplicating 4.5km of the drive.
“Additionally, it will include the construction of a 7km, 3m-wide asphalt off-road shared path, and nine architecturally designed retaining walls, ensuring works remain within the road reserve and limit impacts on sensitive environmental areas,” Helmers details.
A COMMENDABLE COLLECTION
Highlights in Wodens’ portfolio include the Kings Avenue Bridge in Canberra, which was completed in 2011 and is seen by the National Capital Authority as the most significant infrastructure project since the construction of the new Parliament House.
This is quite an accolade for the company, as the bridge, located at the Kings Avenue/Parkes Way roundabout, carries the most traffic of any intersection in the city.
“The architectural design was based on the new Parliament House, and as a result, the curved surfaces added another degree of difficulty to this extremely complex project,” recalls Helmers.
Another key project completed by Wodens was the Molonglo Link Bridge and associated trunk sewer, which represents a high point in the company’s history.
“Built in partnership with Civil Bridge & Wharf (CBW), the 243m bridge is the longest and highest ever constructed in the ACT. At 30m above the Molonglo River, it posed significant engineering challenges, such as construction and environmental management in a sensitive area,” Helmers says proudly.
The associated 2,992m of trunk sewer, with depths of 5.5m and ranging in diameter from 300 millimetres (mm) to 600mm, was laid to a minimum grade of 0.4 percent. One of the requirements was the separate construction on each side of the bridge, with the infill section attached before each 35m section of the box girder was launched.
Varying from the traditional approach of commencing at the low point of a sewer and laying towards the upstream direction posed survey and construction control issues in achieving the grades and tolerances required by the client.
The unconventional technique resulted in an outstanding finished structure quality, with no visible cracking on the bridge.
Wodens also worked on the Bowen Place Crossing, constructing two bridges across Bowen Drive between the National Gallery and Kings Avenue Bridge, to enable pedestrians and cyclists to use the path around the lake to avoid conflict with a difficult road.
“As with all projects within the Parliamentary Triangle precinct, the architectural finishes were of the highest quality. This included curved bridge parapets constructed with specially-made steel forms, weathered steel retaining walls, precast concrete panel retaining walls with panels made in Brisbane, and high-quality exposed aggregate concrete path finishes,” Helmers concludes.