How engineers are saving Murphy’s Pub

… And other Nicholas St updates

By Easter next year, Ipswich’s new mayor should be in a position to re-open Nicholas St to the public.

Behind the renovated façades, some shop fronts will be starting to exhibit shiny new logos, new cafes will display fresh menus, a public plaza area will oversee the Bremer River and connect to Riverlink, and there will be new-look paving along Nicholas St.

By day, Nicholas St will be shared by vehicles and pedestrians. Of an evening, automatic bollards at either end will rise, signalling that the area is for foot traffic only.

Ipswich City Council interim administrator Greg Chemello this week offered his first insights into the timing of the Ipswich Central renewal, now under his and council CEO David Farmer’s watch.

“By mid-2020, we’ll have a new library, and by mid-2021 a new council administration building will add an extra layer of life to the precinct,” he said.

A decade after the council bought the former Ipswich City Plaza, if Mr Chemello’s predictions are correct, a finished project isn’t far away, and in his words, the city “has something to get very excited about”.

“The Nicholas St works are continuing, and the result … will be the catalyst for an Ipswich Central revival,” he said.

“Ipswich Central encompasses Top of Town, an expanded health precinct, Queens Park and Riverlink. All these areas will benefit from a reinvigorated civic heart which proudly represents our city.

“Easter 2020 will be the first critical focal point. Nicholas St should be reopened, with retail outlets thinking about spruiking their wares and the plaza finished. Work is happening now, and we’re happy with the progress.”

The (almost) impossible dream

The mission to reconstruct the old Commonwealth Hotel – better known as Murphy’s Pub – was never going to be easy.

The building structure was at risk of falling over. The footings below the front wall had been undermined which meant they were no longer effectively supporting the building.

This caused the brick wall to the front façade to fail. If left, it could have collapsed at some stage.

Add to that the big dollars spent over the years trying to patch up the old watering hole.

“There have been lots of modifications over the years, and while it might never have been the intent of the previous owners to mistreat the building, that’s effectively what they’ve done,” James Trowse Pty Ltd director Simon Mountford said.

If all that wasn’t bad enough, stormwater over the years had washed away plenty of the soil, which meant innovative engineering was required to ensure a safe foundation for any new structure.

Mr Mountford and his James Trowse team won a tender which gave them the responsibility to reconstruct solid foundations.

It’s been likened to building a table, upon which the restoration work could later take place – yet another big job which is being tendered separately and is soon to be awarded.

“We drilled about half a dozen screw piles which went about 7-9 metres below the surface. We then poured a concrete pier on top of it,” Mr Mountford said.

Add to that pier caps, hydraulic jacks and grouting – and you have a layman’s view of what was required over a 200 square metre block.

To ensure the existing building would be right for restoration, the team had to jack the walls up in order to close a 70-80mm gap which had developed in the brickwork.

“The biggest piece of work was underpinning the southern façade, trying to jack up the piece of wall that had broken,” Mr Mountford said.

“It had been underpinned before, but because the stormwater had taken away a large volume of foundation material, the level had dropped. So we put pile caps under the footings of the building and used a hydraulic jack to raise it up.”

James Trowse crew are still working on pavement inside the building. Once that’s finished, whoever wins the tender to restore the building will be able to start on new flooring and foundations.

They’ll also begin the task of individually replacing bricks which have been numbered and stored while the underground work takes place.

Follow the brick road

One of the first landmark unveils of the new Nicholas Street development will be the road, opened to vehicles and pedestrians during the day, and only to foot traffic in the evening.

JMac Constructions (JMac) has already demolished most of the centre of Nicholas Street. Tired seating, ageing structures, and worn paving – it’s almost a thing of the past.

Inground works such as stormwater, electrical, communications and water feeds have started and, weather permitting, will be completed soon.

Next week, concrete will be poured on Nicholas Street, laying the foundations for paving which will be bought by Ipswich City Council and then laid by JMac.

Work is almost complete on Union Street, while the footpath on Bell Street will be closed from Wednesday April 17 to allow inground works to start on that section of the road.

Warren Priest, Project Manager, JMac said the project involved removing and upgrading existing services that have more than 100 years of history within the ground and is pleased with the project’s progress so far.

“JMac is excited to be part of this project which will redefine the heart of Ipswich, and I’m confident that we are on track to have the project complete by late 2019,” Mr Priest said.

JMac has a history of helping revitalise mall precincts, having successfully completed the Noosa Junction Placemaking project and the Brunswick Street Mall upgrade in Fortitude Valley.

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