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Challenging the model of building services in high-care high-rise facilities

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The Uniting Communities organisation carries out over 100 private and government community programs for 25,000 clients, with 700 volunteers and 800 staff in South Australia. Programs ranging from retirement living, family violence, alcohol & drug dependency, disabled welfare and homeless support.

Last month, Gary Neare of Uniting Communities and Nick Grice of First 5 Minutes gave a very interesting talk to CIBSE members on the unique and radically mixed 20 story Adelaide CBD ‘U-City’ development that has just commenced construction for Uniting Communities.

This new building will cater for all of the organisations clients, volunteers and staff with a 400-seat auditorium, car park, 4 levels of offices, 18 room respite hotel for severely disabled patrons and carers, 3 floors of long term disabled accommodation and 6 floors of retirement living. This building is designed as a BCA Category 5, 7A, 3 & 6.

With such a diverse range of occupants, including those with disabilities, mental illnesses, deafness, blindness and drug dependency, the fire and evacuation procedures had to be completely reassessed and redesigned, assisted by the emergency consultants – First 5 Minutes.

Standard fire detection and evacuation would not be possible in a building of this nature, considering the challenges faces by its occupants. Instead, innovative thinking and design was required to meet the challenges of health and safety. Safe havens, shorter escape routes, lift evacuation with lift shaft pressurisation, dual hand rails, wheel-chair stair lifts, vibrating alarms and strobe lights were some of the features designed for this unique building.

The building will have a 24/7 concierge with 3 x 3 person Emergency Response Team available for any emergency. An app has been developed to assist in evacuation and resident/ occupant accountability. Training and simulation in evacuation is paramount and will be undertaken every 1 to 2 months.

The exterior facade has been redesigned using local fire-resistant material following the London Grenfell Tower Disaster and all furniture and fittings will be have certified fire rating. As an additional precaution, no gas will be allowed in the building.
Emergency generators will be supplied to run not only life support systems, but also air conditioning and lifts for severely disabled people.   

Twenty-two CIBSE members and guests attended the talk at the British Hotel followed by drinks and nibbles sponsored by First 5 Minutes.

For more information on this project visit

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