In Newcastle-upon-Tyne contractors are working flat out to deliver new accommodation to replace a much-loved student village.
Project: Park View Student Village
Client: University of Newcastle
Contract value: £72m
Contract type: NEC Option A – Design and build
Main contractor: Galliford Try
Steelwork subcontractor: Philadelphia Structures
Demolition subcontractor: Thompsons of Prudhoe
Piling subcontractor: Van Elle
Module manufacturer: CIMC Modular Building Systems
Start date: July 2016
Completion date: August 2018
Almost as soon as they were first opened in the 1970s, the University of Newcastle’s village of student flats to the north-west of the main campus became known as a bastion for the social side of student life.
The ‘Ricky Road’ halls of residence have treated the university’s first-year students well over the years, with tales of derring-do and raucous parties recounted fondly by thousands of Newcastle alumni.
Parties take a toll
Understandably the 40-plus years of partying have caught up with the much-loved flats and now the low-rise blocks, arranged in clusters featuring bedrooms with shared kitchens and bathrooms, are being replaced with six newly built blocks of en-suite bedrooms, communal kitchens and lounges.
Contractor Galliford Try is delivering the project under a £72m contract with the University of Newcastle. It has barely two years to raze the old flats to the ground and construct the six new blocks before the first students move in and start giving the development – The Park View Student Village – its own history.
Project director Paul Milburn is utterly focused on delivering the project by the required deadline of August 2018, ready for its first intake of undergraduates a month later.
The site runs along the Richardson Road away from the university campus and city centre for the better part of 500 m but is little more than 30 m at its widest.
Within this long slender tract of land the Galliford Try team is shoehorning six blocks of cruciform layout with the largest reaching up to eight storeys. Block 6, which sits to the north of the project, is the smallest at just four storeys. Each block is constructed using prefabricated steel shipping container-style pods.
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The project is being delivered under a NEC3: Option A contract. It is a more traditional form of contract that is often seen as offering little flexibility, and a departure from the design-and-build deals currently in vogue. But Mr Milburn and the project team have grown to accept and even embrace the differences.
Warnings not arguments
“It formalises the whole process,” he explains. “It helps that we have a good relationship with the client and we have plenty of meetings so that everyone is well informed over progress.
“We have weekly meetings to discuss last week, this week and next week’s workloads as well as the more formal monthly meetings. Early warnings are seen as exactly that – a warning, not an argument. We quite like the way it has worked here.”
“There wasn’t supposed to be any asbestos in the ground; the contamination hadn’t been picked up by the original site survey”
Paul Milburn, Galliford Try
The team moved onto the Richardson Road site in July 2016 after the last students had moved out of the original dilapidated buildings. This allowed local demolition contractor Thompsons of Prudhoe to clear asbestos and level the apartments ready for the main contract to go ahead as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, the site surveys had missed important details about the level of asbestos on the job. Pockets of asbestos-contaminated ground were found totalling several thousand cubic metres – all of which had to be moved off site to a registered tip near Middlesbrough.
“There wasn’t supposed to be any asbestos in the ground; the contamination hadn’t been picked up by the original site survey,” Mr Milburn says.
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“When it was discovered we had to break the site down into sections and tighten the site survey grid. There was no other way around it but to go through each of the sections individually. In the end there was 6,500 cu m of contaminated fill taken off site.”
Eventually the Thompsons team worked through the site, safely clearing all the asbestos from it and demolishing the existing buildings. These were of a very simple design and construction, and with as many as 30 machines working, the demolition team made short work of bringing them down.
Some of the original bricks have been saved and will be cleaned up and reused in the new development as a nod to the affection former students had for the original student village.
There was a host of preparatory work that needed to be carried out before the construction work could begin in earnest.
Two fibre optic cables running a mile from the city centre and through the university dental school needed to be redirected, with the Victorian brick-lined Denton Burn Sewer being culverted. The proximity of this sewer also forced the team into incorporating several flood alleviation walls into the final build.
“There is a history of the Denton Burn causing some flooding on the site. There are flood retaining walls incorporated into some of the buildings and we have a surface water attenuation system that holds some of that before discharging into the sewer later,” says Mr Milburn.
Accommodation Blocks 1–5, the larger of the six blocks, are founded on a forest of CFA piles. Specialist subcontractor Van Elle installed more than 500 at 600 mm and 450 mm diameter to depths of 19 m. But with Block 6 being smaller, and above slightly different ground conditions, it allowed for a ground bearing slab instead.
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“The different foundations reflect the ground and loading from the prefabricated modules,” says Mr Milburn. “Each unit weighs 13 tonnes and the ground conditions dictated an engineered piled solution. Block 6 is slightly different. It is smaller and the ground conditions at the northern end of the site meant that we could use a 225 mm thick slab.”
Pile caps are integral to the bulk of the slab although there is some thickening around retaining walls to the Leazes Park/Richardson Road elevation. The lower ground floor and ground floor levels boast an increased floor-to-soffit height, helping accommodate service leads into the building.
The structure of each of the buildings is formed around the steel shipping container units, each stacked on top of one another to form the frame and shell of the blocks (see box). But these units are set on a standard structural steel frame at lower ground floor and ground floor levels as their base. Concrete stair and lift cores stretch the height of the buildings.
The Galliford Try team is using prefabricated bespoke steel ‘shipping containers’ to build the accommodation blocks. Like an upscaled set of children’s building blocks, these containers sit on top of one another.
A spigotted connection holds the modules together vertically to ensure the blocks don’t collapse with the ease of those in a nursery.
With each module weighing in at 13 tonnes, these are hefty steel boxes that are manufactured at CIMC’s base in China and shipped over to Southampton, where they are unloaded and brought straight to site.
The planning behind the logistics of their delivery is vital to the success of the project.
“They are manufactured in China on a seven-week schedule then we factor in another seven weeks for them at sea,” Mr Milburn says. “We have used part of Tyne Port as a holding area but generally they come straight to site and we are able to lift them straight off the trailer and into position.
“Every module has a unique reference number so that it can be delivered in the correct sequence.
“There are 789 in total and are made in the same order as we want to place them. When you consider the order has been flipped four times when they get to site – being loaded and unloaded, etcetera – it is remarkable just how well they have worked.”
This steelwork must be installed to a tolerance of +/-5 mm before the module manufacturer and installer CIMC will accept the framework and start with installation of the pods. The tolerance needs to be tight so that any inaccuracy does not throw the final structure out of line.
The modules are delivered to site weathertight and with glazing already installed, but the final façade systems still need to be fixed. To suit the tight planning stipulations, these are a mixture of brickwork and aluminium panel systems. The brickwork includes the ‘Alumni’ bricks that have been saved from the original buildings.
The new accommodation blocks are due to be occupied by the first wave of undergraduates in September 2018, with the Galliford Try team set to hand over the full site in August 2018. It will have taken them a little over two years to deliver a scheme that would have taken far longer had it been traditionally built, according to Mr Milburn.
“It would have taken three years minimum using traditional techniques – precast concrete, cast in situ or steelwork,” he says. “I just don’t think it could have been delivered within a timeframe acceptable to the client any other way.
“Even so, there is still lots of finishing work – there are 72 elevations and 44 individual floors to work on – we will peak with around 250 staff and trades on site. With a traditional build that would have been nearer 500.”
Those trades are starting to ramp up their presence on site already. They will be buckling down for eight months of hard graft to make the Park View Student Village ready for the next wave of students determined to keep up the partying reputation of Richardson Road.