At the University of Leeds, contractor Galliford Try is a year into a complicated two-year refurbishment of its School of Chemical and Process Engineering building.
Project: School of Chemical and Process Engineering refurbishment
Client: University of Leeds
Contract value: £27m
Contract type: NEC Option A – Design and build
Region: Yorkshire & the Humber
Main contractor: Galliford Try
M&E subcontractor: SES Engineering Services
Architect: GSS Architecture
Start date: September 2015
Completion date: September 2017
Walking through the corridors of the School of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Leeds, you can almost feel the weight of high-brow engineering expertise bearing down on you.
The excellence of its research, courses and teaching is internationally known – its 1,000 students from more than 70 countries across the world can vouch for that. But over the years the quality of the Engineering Building, where all this essential study and research is being carried out, has deteriorated.
In a bid to renovate and refurbish the five-storey structure, contractor Galliford Try has been brought in on a 24-month contract that will see the ageing building transformed into a modern centre for research and development with facilities that reflect the excellence of the school’s reputation.
There will be a complete refurbishment of levels three to five, refurbished laboratories, new postgraduate research space, refurbished lecture theatres and a new 24/7 IT cluster.
The Galliford Try team has worked with the university on previous projects and was given the green light to start on site in September 2015, having scooped the £27m scheme following a competitive tender process.
Making life difficult
The School of Chemical and Process Engineering is essentially two separate buildings, one built in the 1950s and a later 1960s extension, joined together to form one structure. It creates an awkward layout and makes life difficult for the construction team.
Galliford Try engineering school Leeds UL6
Over the years, service layouts have been altered (see box) to such an extent that the team had to spend much of its time logging and checking exactly what had been installed and where.
James Garnett is Galliford Try’s senior site manager tasked with co-ordinating work on the busy project.
“As a building it is feeling its age. It doesn’t really fit with the leading nature of the university”
James Garnett, Galliford Try
“As a building it is feeling its age,” he says. “It doesn’t really fit with the leading nature of the university and needs to be brought up to the contemporary standards expected. It is very complicated trying to do that when you still have to provide access, work and lecture space for students, lecturers and researchers throughout the project.”
The complexity of the project is reflected in the challenging logistics regime that the project team has had to deal with. Like many urban schemes there is precious little lay-down space for the team to work with. And what little space there is has to be shared with the client.
With much of the work limited to overnight or out of hours, managing materials in and out of the scheme has been difficult.
“We have used a series of hoists and conveyors in the main compound, which we shared with the University for its research projects,” Mr Garnett explains.
“We haven’t been able to get into our work area without impacting the client. We have a logistics manager based in the compound and we condense any larger lifting work we have to do – such as lifting the new air-handling units – into a single weekend wherever possible, using a 100-tonne mobile crane.”
Split over the two-year construction period are 13 separate phases to be handed over, reflecting the piecemeal nature of the work. Initially the team has focused its work on the building’s façade and third, fourth and fifth floors before turning its attention to the remaining ground, first and second floors.
Old building, new standards
New bronzed anodised windows replace the leaky old original steel ‘Crittall’ windows, work which required the removal of a 1.2 m-high brickwork spandrel across the window space. This process was carried out across all phases with no staggering of this work, as getting the façade clean, repaired and brought up to modern air leakage standards was considered a priority.
“We had to install temporary support and framing where the spandrels were coming out,” Mr Garnett says. “At times we were working inside offices and scientific research laboratories that were still being used. But the façade itself wasn’t in too bad a condition.”
Galliford Try engineering school Leeds UL2
With the façade cleaned and cracks in the facia blocks repaired, the focus shifts to the main work inside.
Across levels three and four, extensive work to open up the building will help provide the larger, open-plan teaching and research rooms expected at an up-to-date seat of learning. Across those levels this has meant taking out most of the walls, creating that extra space.
“It is difficult to do that in a live university environment,” Mr Garnett explains. “There is dust and obviously noise, too. In some areas we have been restricted to out-of-hours work,” he says.
Giving the completed building the open architectural spans the client requires also means the team has had to do some patching up around the floor slab, with the differing age of the building reflected in the different styles of slab – reinforced concrete throughout the 1960s-built section and concrete beam and pot throughout the older 1950s part.
Reconstruction overhead has seen the team completely re-roof the engineering building, a departure from the original plan that called for localised patch-repairs.
Given that the roof hosts the masts covering much of the Yorkshire area for two of the UK’s largest mobile communication companies, the installation of the insulated felt roof system needed to be completed without interfering with any signal.
“It is difficult to [take out walls] in a live university environment. There is dust and obviously noise, too”
James Garnett, Galliford Try
On the lower floors the team has been busy revamping one of the laboratories that held an explosion tank. This was a heavily reinforced receptacle expected to contain a blast arising from experiments and used to carry out controlled explosions during university research work.
Now though, the explosion facility has been moved to a separate section of the campus and the team has installed tanking around the old basement.
“There were some water ingress issues, which we needed to sort out. The whole basement needed to be fully tanked so that we could be confident we had dealt with these issues,” Mr Garnett explains.
The mechanical and electrical subcontract hasn’t been straightforward. Demand is high across the scheme (see box) with fume cupboards, duct work, chemical supply and power supply proving challenging for subcontractor SES Engineering Services.
“These types of projects are always difficult and we have had to work with our subcontractors and end-users to help make sure we identified all the correct, live services across each phase,” says Galliford Try project director Sean Sweet. “There have been times where we have had to go back and retrofit some pieces of equipment where requirements have been identified, but the client has been very happy with the work.”
Galliford Try is due to complete its work in September 2017 with its final phased handover. The team looks set to leave behind a hugely valuable addition, not only to higher education but to engineering innovation.
Over the years, the service layout through the building has been supplemented on a piecemeal basis as various research projects have required different service requirements. These later additions to the layout have created a spider’s web of confusing cabling, ductwork and pipe-runs that forced the project team into a painstaking survey to identify each.
In addition, the new facilities that are required to keep the university at the forefront of the teaching and research field place a heavy M&E demand on the project team.
A new computer server room now accommodates the system that feeds much of the establishment’s IT demand, with the network being switched in just 12 hours.
Meanwhile equipment including specialist fume cupboards have challenged the team. There are 27 cupboards and ducting has to be squeezed in around the existing frame of the building.
“There are places where we have had to adapt the structure,” Mr Sweet explains. “Some of the ductwork is 500 mm in diameter and we have had to make room for these. We have worked closely with the client to ensure our work has as little impact on the day-to-day functioning of the university as possible.”