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Antarctic lifeline for Christchurch construction company struggling after Covid-19 crisis

Life after Covid-19 is looking a bit brighter and chillier for Christchurch company Leighs Construction, which has secured the deal to build the new Scott Base redevelopment.

An artist's impression of the Scott Base redevelopment plan. Source: Supplied

New Zealand's current research station is being ripped apart and a shiny new structure is taking its place, with work already underway on the multi-million-dollar redevelopment.

The contract will mean hundreds of jobs for workers in New Zealand at a time when the future's been anything but certain.

After Covid-19's challenges, Leighs Consutrction's managing director Anthony Leighs says it means an enormous amount to be picked as the preferred main contractor by Antarctica NZ.

"It is a huge honour for our team to be selected, a responsibility we don’t take lightly," he told 1 NEWS.

"As for a lot of businesses, Covid-19 has had a significant impact on Leighs, through the lockdown, disruption of our supply chain and creating economic uncertainty. 

"It reinforces our position as a trusted delivery partner for complex infrastructure projects for the NZ Government and it provides an improved sense of certainty in a very uncertain economic environment post Covid-19."

Antarctica remains the only continent in the world without Covid-19 cases and Mr Leighs says they're going to do everything they can to keep it that way.

Antarctica NZ has already slashed the science programmes set to take place in the coming season, with only a few core teams still heading to the ice.

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Antarctica is the only continent free of the virus, and the new travel limits are designed to keep it that way. Source: 1 NEWS

But the cuts aren't expected to impact the long-awaited Scott Base redevelopment programme, chief executive Sarah Williamson says.

"There's a bit of surveying work which we think we'll still be able to conduct around Scott Base, but there wasn't a heavy schedule of Scott Base redevelopment work in this season anyway," she says.

"Our intention wasn't to start work until not this season, but the following season."

It won't be easy building in Antarctica, so Mr Leighs says it's planning to construct most of the new base in New Zealand and take it down in big sections.

"This has the advantage of creating jobs in New Zealand, and minimising the risks and challenges associated with building in Antarctica," he says.

Planning will need to be "impeccable" so things go smoothly.

"It’s incredibly remote, with the nearest hardware store about 3000 miles away."

Working conditions will also be tough, with harsh weather and snow storms making things challenging, Mr Leighs says.

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"Finally it’s one of, if not the, most pristine, untouched parts of the planet, so we will ensure that the construction activities don’t have any adverse effect on the natural environment."

The build will generate around 450 jobs in New Zealand, Mr Leighs says, with another 50 staff expected to be involved in the installation in Antarctica.

Antarctica NZ was given $18.5 million in the Government's 2019 Budget to develop the design, and Ms Williamson says they're planning to submit another request for funding in Budget 2021.

The last major infrastructure investment in the key scientific outpost was in the mid-1990s, Antarctica NZ says.