Sustainable refurbs are the hospitality sector’s big trend and offer huge potential for contractors. Lucy Alderson looks at the £50m green revamp of Park Lane’s Grosvenor House to find out more.
In 1927, a scandal broke out over one of London’s most iconic construction projects.
Contractors were busy demolishing the once privately owned mansion, Grosvenor House, to make way for one of Park Lane’s biggest hotels.
Later that year, the steel framework of the South Block would reach the eighth floor. The height of the development, which The Times reported would “dwarf the rest of Park Lane”, sparked a throng of angry letters to the newspaper from concerned Londoners.
“There are much worse architectural evils in London than the Albert Memorial [the Kensington Gardens monument built a few decades prior],” wrote novelist Arnold Bennett. “I see one rising in the vicinity of Park Lane.” Concerns were even raised in parliament, then presided over by Conservative prime minister Stanley Baldwin.
But when the hotel opened in 1929, it soon became one of London society’s hotspots. Even Queen Elizabeth used the ice rink, located in the lower grounds of the building, to practise her skating.
Nearly 90 years after the scale of building enraged some members of the public, in 2014 the Grosvenor commissioned a refurbishment aimed not only at improving the hotel but also serving the public good. The £50m revamp sought to reduce the building’s energy consumption by 10.7 per cent, making it greener and more sustainably run.
Improving the Grosvenor’s sustainability is not just a concern for Marriott Hotels, which now owns the building; it is part of an increasingly important trend both in the sector and wider society.
Grosvenor House Hotel ISG Charnic Corridor 2
Companies are coming under pressure to demonstrate their environmental credentials as the public demands more considerate corporations, reflected through initiatives such as the ‘ban straws’ campaign sweeping the food and drink industry.
Compounding this trend, London was one of 19 cities across the world to pledge earlier this month that all buildings will operate at net zero carbon by 2050. This means every building in the capital will need to use energy efficiently and meet some portion of its requirements from renewable sources.
As a result, hoteliers are increasingly looking to refurbish their existing sites – opening up a major opportunity for contractors, according to Grosvenor House chief engineer Gordon Ormond.
Need for green thinking
Marriott Hotels has a global sustainability programme, Serve360, under which every one of its hotels worldwide will be expected to reduce its environmental impact on local communities. Across its global portfolio, the company is aiming to reduce its carbon footprint by 30 per cent and water usage by 15 per cent.
As part of the Marriott group, the Grosvenor needed to undergo a refurbishment programme to help meet these targets.
Before tendering for contractors commenced, Mr Ormond began to assess which areas of the hotel were the least energy-efficient and in need of greatest attention.
“There was a customer due to go in there the day after [work was due to finish]. It was a huge challenge”
Gordon Ormond, Grosvenor House
Work needed to be done to upgrade the front-of-house areas, including 494 bedrooms and the two big function spaces in the below-ground level of the building. The Grosvenor also required back-of house upgrades including M&E works and replacing inefficient plant.
Four packages of work were created, and the hotel set about lining up contractors to tackle each lot. Instead of appointing one contractor to deliver the entire refurbishment, work was divided into smaller bundles so “we weren’t tying ourselves to the rates of that time”, Mr Ormond says.
The first appointments saw hotel refurbishment firm Charnic Interiors brought in for the £1.5m executive lounge refurbishment, while ISG was selected to refurbish the hotel’s 41 suite rooms.
ISG and Charnic take opening phases
Charnic started work in July 2014 turning a restaurant space on the ground floor that had been left empty for 15 years into a repurposed executive lounge space.
Previously, there had been no space on the ground floor for customers to relax, eat and shower before their rooms were ready – with three bedrooms on the seventh floor being used for this instead. These bedrooms have now been converted back to serve their original purpose.
Grosvenor House Hotel ISG Charnic Family Room and Deluxe Suite
Charnic’s brief included stripping out existing M&E and fitting a new shower section and kitchen.
Meanwhile, ISG began to upgrade the hotel’s 41 executive suites in a deal worth £8m, starting work three months after Charnic.
The contractor’s revamp of the rooms was separated out into blocks of work between October 2014 and January 2016, fitting in between major functions or events that were fixed into the hotel’s calendar.
E E Smith takes on asbestos
In September 2015, Leicester-based specialist interior contractor E E Smith scooped the £8m third phase to refurbish the hotel’s ground-floor areas, including the lobby and Park Room eating area overlooking Hyde Park, as well as its 900 sq m ballroom.
The most challenging aspect of this phase was the tight programme to refurbish the ballroom, according to Mr Ormond. With only a nine-week window to strip out the M&E network and remove the “huge amount” of asbestos located above the ceiling, E E Smith faced a race against the clock.
Had the team failed to complete on time, it would have been subject to severe penalty clauses and damages due to the hotel’s schedules. “[E E Smith] were sweating a bit and we were as well,” Mr Ormond says. “There was a customer due to go in there the day after [work was due to finish]. It was a huge challenge.”
It took three weeks to remove the asbestos, after which a new lighting system was installed in the ceiling.
AC Interiors revamps 494 rooms
The final package was a £16.5m contract to refurbish the hotel’s 494 rooms and a £2m deal to upgrade its biggest event space. This lot was awarded to Bedfordshire-based specialist AC Interiors, which got to work renovating the rooms in early 2017.
Making sure the shower and toilet systems in the bedrooms were as efficient as possible was crucial if the hotel was to meet its 10.7 per cent energy reduction target. “The old showers could knock you over with the water pressure,” Mr Ormond jokes. “But they weren’t very efficient, using 25-30 litres of water per minute.” Each shower has now been replaced, and water consumption has been reduced dramatically to 8-10 litres per minute.
Over in the Great Room, the contractor replaced the ceiling, timber floorboards and carpet. A new air-handling system also helped to significantly reduce the hotel’s overall energy consumption.
How much greener?
Approximately £5m in total was spent stripping out M&E systems, including replacing chillers, kitchen equipment, fridges, pipework insulation on the roofs, boiler pumps and lighting systems.
The results have been stark.
In 2015, the hotel’s total gas and electricity consumption stood at 517 kWh; this was reduced to 431 kWh in 2017. The total net carbon footprint of the hotel stood at 10,314 tonnes of emissions in 2012; this fell to 6,959 tonnes in 2017.
The Grosvenor’s move has been important from a business as well as an environmental point-of-view, Mr Ormond explains. “We get a lot more customers, especially business customers, asking what we’re doing to make the hotel greener,” he says.
Grosvenor House Hotel ISG Charnic Great Room opening
It’s a trend the entire hotel sector is noticing, giving rise to what Mr Ormond calls a “huge opportunity” for contractors in refurbishing hotels to make them more sustainable.
He says hoteliers are now aiming to go above and beyond minimum standards on energy consumption, and contractors could take advantage of this market by becoming experts in how to make buildings as waste-free as possible. “They [contractors] could be thinking about the waste streams coming out of buildings, looking at what can be retained and recycled when carrying out work,” he says.
How sustainably contractors carry out their work is becoming as much of a tendering consideration as the credentials of the end-product, with Mr Ormond adding that this factor has grown more significant since he tendered the Grosvenor’s work four years ago.
Given this growing trend in the hospitality sector, the grass could well be greener for contractors moving into the sustainable refurbishment market.