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Fresh blood: Scotland's new bank takes shape

Interserve is working on a life-saving project in Edinburgh where adaptability and airtightness are absolutely imperative.

Project: New National Centre for the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service
Client: Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service
Contract value: £33m
Contract type: Design and build
Region: Scotland
Main contractor: Interserve
Main contractor: Kajima
Structural engineer: Buro Happold
Piling subcontractor: Van Elle
Concrete frame subcontractor: Careys
Steel frame subcontractor: BHC
Start date: November 2014
Completion date: November 2016

On the outskirts of Edinburgh, not far from the airport and perched on the boundary of the Heriot-Watt University Research Park, a corner of a field is being turned into something rather special. Right now it doesn’t look like a building that screams ‘cutting edge’, nor does it shout ‘game-changer’ as it draws its way out of the earth. But it is and it will be.

This nondescript patch of land on the north-western corner of the research park is set to become an area of national importance – not only for every Scot but, when needs must, the entire UK.

It will house the National Centre for the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS), a depository for the country’s donated blood as well as a factory for blood processing, the manufacture of tissue and skin cells, and the manipulation of heart valves.

Politically sensitive

It is a politically sensitive scheme. Split into an initial design-and-build contract with a second hard facilities management section to the deal, its construction represents a £33m investment with a 25-year FM arrangement for Interserve Facilities Management with project developer Kajima carrying out the concession management through this phase.

Being built under the Scottish Government’s flagship Non Profit Distributing (NPD) programme, the project already has a long line of dignitaries signed into its visitors’ book.

“We can’t be late for handover. There is too much at stake”

Richard Coe, Kajima

But that close scrutiny hasn’t distracted the Interserve Kajima project team – a 50:50 joint venture partnership between contractor Interserve and Kajima – from pushing the project forward.

“It is a two-year construction programme and practical completion for the scheme is due in November 2016,” says Kajima project director Richard Coe.

“We can’t be late for handover. There is too much at stake. The client needs to get its specialist equipment in and make sure its systems are verified by independent assessors. That can take time and we don’t want to hold up those proceedings.”

Why redundant space is essential

The National Centre for the SNBTS has more than its fair share of redundancy built into the design. In more commercial environments that overdesign might be seen as wasteful, but here it is a necessity.

“The last thing anyone wants is to come back in a couple of years and start installing the latest new development,” Mr Bell says. “It will take a section of the building out of use while the work is carried out. No-one wants that.”

One area where that element of redundancy is obvious is in the first-floor plant room. Across the bulk of the manufacturing labs it is jam-packed with services, ducts and cables weaving their way through and around one another.

But there are swathes of the walk-on ceiling, constructed using a bespoke 1.2 m-wide and 100 mm-thick PVC covered aluminium sandwich panel, that are left completely free. This will allow any future development, new equipment or rearrangement to be installed easily, causing the minimum of disruption to the centre’s day-to-day work.

Set on a greenfield site, specialist piling contractor Van Elle installed 182 CFA piles measuring 800 mm-diameter across the footprint of the main building to depths of 15 m into the Wardie Shales bedrock.

The building itself is separated into two distinct sections. At the southern side of the plot a three-storey reinforced concrete administration block will supply all the meeting rooms and office space the SNBTS requires.

Source: Interserve

Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service new facility

This will be linked to the production and laboratory side of the complex through a glazed arcade running the length of the building. Not only will this house a café and the reception area, it will also act as a meeting and greeting space for visitors to the facility.

Stairs and bridges will offer access from ground level and up through to the first and second floors of the office and administration block into the manufacturing and processing section.

This steel-framed building will contain all of the controlled areas within the development, including the tissues and cells laboratory, manufacturing, testing and research laboratories.

Steel and concrete combo

The project team elected to use a combination of steel and cast in-situ concrete frames for a variety of reasons.

“We wanted to utilise the thermal mass characteristics that the reinforced concrete offers throughout the office section, but then the client wanted to be able offer open-plan working space as much as possible throughout the manufacturing and processing laboratories; to get those wide open spans we needed to use a steel frame,” explains Interserve project manager Paul Bell.

Specialist subcontractor Carey installed the reinforced concrete frame of the office block with reinforced concrete beam and slab floors. The slabs will be covered with raised access flooring but the soffits will stay clear, masked only by acoustic panels and lighting boxes, in a move that should maximise the concrete’s thermal mass.

Floor-to-ceiling solar-controlled glazing units have been installed and will help optimise solar gain from the predominantly south-facing elevation of the office block, reducing heating costs and boosting the building’s environmental performance.

“There is real excitement on our side about this facility changing the way we work, making the process more efficient”

Safia Qureshi, SNBTS

Underfloor heating throughout the arcade section will boost the overall environmental performance of the building towards securing a BREEAM Very Good rating. However, its overall energy performance is expected to hit BREEAM Excellent – a prerequisite for Scottish Government NPD projects.

In the steel-framed manufacturing and processing block, the inner wall facing the arcade is clad using curtain walling systems, leaving some of the laboratory space open to viewing from the central area. This open plan feel will be a massive shift for the end-users, the scientists and staff of the SNBTS, according to its project director Safia Qureshi.

“The whole facility is going to be very different,” she says. “It will be quite a change for our staff. They are used to working in small, dated facilities across three different centres. Here there will be the opportunity for much more interaction between the processes. There is real excitement on our side about this facility changing the way we work, making the process more efficient.”

Adaptable building

The steel-framed manufacturing section of the building, installed by Edinburgh company BHC, is a different prospect for the construction team. Prefabricated steel trusses spanning 16.5 m create the flexible and adaptable open-plan layout of the manufacturing laboratory that runs along the arcade at ground level.

A dedicated plant area encompasses the next level (see box), with the third floor dedicated to additional laboratory and research space.

Marrying the world of construction with that of science – including the conflicting levels of cleanliness in each – is always a difficult task, but this project takes managing that to a different level.

There are five different grades of space within the building, each denoting a higher level of statutory requirement for cleanliness and air quality. From non-classified areas through controlled non-classified and into grade D, grade C and grade B spaces, the degree of control over the cleanliness of the environment within it ratchets up – as does the difficulty of creating those spaces (see box).

The focus for the site team over the next few months is on getting the building weathertight and ready for handover in November. That will allow the SNBTS the time it needs to get its systems functioning and cleared through the regulatory processes.

Come March 2017, when all those processes have been satisfied and the facility is up and running, the new SNBTS facility will be the envy of the haematological world.

Airtight build quality helps deliver graded workspace

Airtightness testing is most usually spoken of in the same breath as environmental performance and energy rating. Leaky buildings mean inefficient performance, which leads to failed tests and a frustrated client waiting for the problem to be fixed.

At the National Centre for the SNBTS, it is absolutely imperative that the various controlled spaces are perfectly airtight to ensure its work can be carried out. It simply is not an option that the building and the controlled spaces, individual laboratories and clean rooms within are not 100 per cent leak-free.

As staff members move through progressively more stringently controlled areas, they will pass through a ‘pressure cascade’. At each grade change the air pressure increases 15 pascals, a difference that is enough to ensure that air flows outwards, limiting the possibility of contamination into the higher-graded rooms.

This essential requirement has seen the project team focus on the treatment of all joints and limit projections into each of the controlled spaces wherever possible. “It has been something that we have really had to have a good look at. There are no shortcuts,” Mr Bell says.

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