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Source: University of Otago

A fine finalist
Rob Wilks
One of the University’s own is a finalist in the Property Professional of the Year category of the Property Council of New Zealand South Island People Awards – Building Information and Compliance Manager Rob Wilks.
To reach the finals, nominees must display excellence in their profession, consistently demonstrate a passion for the industry, support opportunities for their industry peers, and be ambassadors for their organisation and the property industry.
University of Otago Chief Operating Officer Stephen Willis describes Rob as one of the most outstanding property professionals he has encountered in about 20 years of working with significant property portfolios across Australasia.
“Rob is quite simply a fantastic person who … wants to ensure he is delivering the best and safest buildings to students, staff, and visitors alike”, at a University with one of New Zealand’s largest, most complex, and diverse property portfolios.
“We are proud to have him representing our University,” he says.
Emergency responder
The Property Services Division’s nomination for Rob also says that when the Wellington School of Medicine buildings were discovered to be earthquake prone, he immediately flew to the capital as the University closed the facility, displacing hundreds of staff and students, and interrupting vitally important medical research and training.
Only six days later, the country went into pandemic lockdown and Rob took a University-wide leadership role as our Acting Incident Control Manager.
Despite working exceptionally long hours, the quality and quantity of Rob’s work continued undiminished, and his good nature stayed intact – “we would be a much poorer organisation without him”, the nomination says.
Rob often collaborates to create co-ordinated outcomes, and ensure tricky issues are resolved as effectively and efficiently as possible.
Formidable fire
Rob’s expertise also prompted six New Zealand Fire Service risk managers to request a site visit to see innovative and unusual fire risk management and life safety systems.That included the Foundation Studies atrium which has one of the few natural smoke control systems in the South Island. When smoke is detected, rams open the entire roof and shutters open around the ground floor perimeter, forming a natural chimney for smoke, keeping escape paths clear. More than a dozen smoke curtains also close to keep evacuees safe from smoke.Fire refuges Rob initially co-created at our Mellor Laboratories building are believed to be the most comprehensive in the country. They are resistant to smoke, can withstand heat of about 200 degrees Celsius and have Talkaphone speaker panels and CCTV video connected directly to Campus Watch for people with disabilities to seek any special help they need. Refuges are now in guidelines for our University buildings, the nomination says.
Super separations
Both the refuges and a guide Rob co-developed that helps keeps people safe as they escape burning buildings and fight the fires have set new standards for building design and construction across the industry.
Organisations that have used the University’s Passive Fire Guide as a base document – to adapt to their specific needs – include the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington, the Auckland District Health Board, Waikato District Health Board, Southern District Health Board and Mercy Hospital in Dunedin.
They wanted the guide because of a nationwide lack of robust information about effective ways to maintain and manage buildings’ “fire separation” walls, floors, and ceilings – which can be designed to withstand a fire for between 30 minutes and four hours, while being made of anything from fire-resistant plasterboard to concrete.
The guide also clearly states what tradesmen must do to maintain the “fire separations” while installing services like wires or pipes, using gap-filling products, and to document maintenance the systems (e.g. sealants/collars etc) will need in the future, the nomination says.
Quality Compliance
Rob has also been asked to make presentations about the building Compliance Schedule documentation he developed for more than 200 buildings, which provides value to our University every day by describing the buildings’ key safety features for maintenance staff, designers, consultants, and engineers, as they develop and enhance the University.
Rob’s vision and knowledge are enhanced by representing Universities New Zealand on the Standards New Zealand committee that reviewed NZS 4512:2021 and NZS 4514:2021 where the experience in operating in a complex tertiary environment provided opportunity to enhance the life safety of students, staff and the public while improving buildability and operational reliability.
The work Rob put into the University’s Design Facility Standard – the document that describes how we build and alter our environment – was of particular benefit to the Standards NZ Committee. The work co-developed by Rob on Visual Alerting Devices for Fire Alarms significantly informed the clauses published in NZS 4512:2021.
An active member of the Otago Southland chapter of the Institute of Refrigeration Heating and Air Conditioning Engineers of New Zealand Inc, Rob was chairperson from 2015 to 2018, and continues to be a committee member.
The journey
Rob’s started out as a Dunedin Electricity Department electrical apprentice in 1987 then worked for various commercial, industrial, and domestic electrical contractors to gain wide experience before 17 years at Chubb Fire and Security (formerly A & T Burt’s). There, Rob earned Trade Certificates in Heating, Ventilation, Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Systems, and Fire Detection to bolster his Advanced Trade Electrician Registration.
As an adult apprentice, Rob represented Otago/Southland in the Wallie Askew competition. Rob also obtained certification as an Independent Qualified Person (IQP) in Fire Detection, Mechanical Ventilation and Smoke Clearance Systems.
After joining the Property Services Division’s Building Compliance Team in 2014, Rob’s responsibilities expanded to Building Compliance and Manager in 2016, with his team expanding to include the Design office at Property Services in 2019 as he became Building Information and Compliance Manager.
The team
He leads seven specialists focused on meeting built-environment regulatory commitments, providing building consent services, and managing as-built records (created during construction to show what has been built).
To help with decision-making about buildings and their infrastructure (fire, safety, ventilation etc), Rob and the Campus Development Division are also expanding the University’s building information modelling capability – the digital description of every aspect of a building – using Pointcloud, Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) and Building Information Modelling (BIM).
Winners will be announced during an awards dinner on 18 February next year.