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Student tradies complete Roar ‘n’ Snore pods for Melbourne Zoo

Nathan Wheeler, Wholesale Territory Manager at Position Partners with some of the TAFE students.

Nathan Wheeler, Wholesale Territory Manager at Position Partners with some of the TAFE students.

Chisholm TAFE students completing their joinery and carpentry qualifications took advantage of the latest laser levelling technology to build complex pod structures.


Nathan Wheeler, Wholesale Territory Manager at Position Partners with some of the TAFE students.


Chisholm building students constructed and installed 24 timber pods for Melbourne Zoo’s Roar ‘n’ Snore facility, which enables visitors to experience the zoo in the evening (when many of the animals are at their most active), before retiring to a pod for the night.


“This is the largest external construction project we have completed at Chisholm and it was a great challenge for our apprentices and pre-apprentices to rise to,” Mr Malcolm said.


Start to finish, the project took 18 months to complete and involved some 150 students in total. “We got as many people involved as we could so they could all benefit from exposure to the construction process. The zoo paid for the materials and we provide the workforce, so it’s a great way to give back to the community and also train the next generation. We had VET students, high school kids, apprentices and pre-apprentices all making a contribution.”


Mr Malcolm said that the work was challenging in different ways, from project management through to the design of the pods and lastly their installation. “There are a lot of constraints when working with the zoo, everything has to be thought through and planned meticulously to ensure there’s minimum impact to the animals and the environment,” he said. “For example, we needed to ensure the timber was harvested from sustainable forests and we needed to seek special approval to use lasers on-site.”


When it came to the pods’ construction, Mr Malcolm said that it was good to expose the students to structures that are very different to those you’d find on a typical building project. “The designs were quite complex and contained a lot of non-standard angles, so we used the PLS HVL-100 line laser to set out the design from an AutoCAD file on a large table,” he explained. “The laser made it easy to ensure that all the components were measured correctly.”


To assemble the pods on site, the students used a Topcon RL-VH4DR and a PLS HVL-100. “All 24 pods needed to be installed on different levels, but with the Topcon laser we just set it up in the middle of the site and then we could make sure everything was set out correctly. The laser has such a good range we didn’t even have to move it,” he said.


When choosing which lasers to use, Mr Malcolm relied on his own industry experience and the advice of other teachers. “I’ve worked in the building industry for more than 30 years and Topcon has always been the best brand,” he said. “Also, we can ask the whole network of TAFE institutions which tools are able to survive in the world of students – they have to be extremely durable because kids are brutal.”


The completed sleeping pods at Melbourne Zoo.


Mr Malcolm said the PLS and Topcon lasers they used for this project were ideal. “They are very intuitive and although the students aren’t using them to their full capacity, they pick up on how to operate them very quickly,” he said. “Both lasers are excellent quality, which is what we needed on a long-term project such as this with so many students involved.”


The use of lasers and basic levelling is an essential part of the curriculum for carpentry, joinery and construction. “It’s important that our students learn their trade using the latest technology,” Mr Malcolm said, adding “you don’t see spirit levels on jobsites these days, everything is set out with lasers.”


Chisholm TAFE is looking forward to the next challenge with the zoo. “It is always very rewarding for everyone involved and next time we will also include some of the students in project management, which will be a great step for them towards obtaining their Certificate IV.”

The completed sleeping pods at Melbourne Zoo.

The completed sleeping pods at Melbourne Zoo.

For more information please contact us on 1300 965 2737 or 

For more information please contact us on 1300 965 273 or 
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