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Quiet, please! Bam Construct revamps Philip Larkin's university library

Guaranteeing constant access to books in a quiet and dust-free environment has been a major challenge at the University’s library.

Project: Brynmor Jones Library redevelopment
Client: University of Hull
Contract value: £27.4m
Region: Yorkshire & the Humber
Main contractor: Bam Construct
Start date: August 2012

The University of Hull is revamping its Brynmor Jones library, the former den of literary genius Philip Larkin, in a major investment.

The thick end of £30m seems an awful lot of cash to throw at the refurbishment of a seven-storey reinforced concrete block and its associated low-rise brick-clad building.

There is plenty of room around the university’s campus for a brand new state-of-the-art library, after all.

Refurb over new build

“A completely new building would have been more expensive than the refurbishment option and, just as importantly, it would not have been at the heart of the campus, unlike the existing library,” says University of Hul chief librarian Richard Heseltine.

“We are trying to use its new entrance location to properly integrate the whole of the campus.”

Bam Construct construction manager Matthew Garnett is in the hot seat to deliver the £27.4m refurbishment before students for the 2014/15 academic year arrive to start their courses at the university.

“A completely new building would have been more expensive than the refurbishment option and just as importantly it would not have been at the heart of the campus, unlike the existing library”

Richard Heseltine, University of Hull

“We are aware just what a major project this is and the impact it has on the normal, day-to-day running of the university,” he says. “We think we have been able to mitigate that by working with the university staff and students.”

The team started on the project in August 2012 with the enabling works package, but main construction and refurbishment didn’t get under way until December that year.

Most of that enabling work entailed diverting cables from around the library to allow the facility to remain open to students.

Although some asbestos was cleared, much has had to be carried out as the work has progressed.

Thanks to the requirement to keep the facility open to students and make all books available to them either on an instant-access basis or through an ordering system, there are a myriad of handovers and book movements that the project team have had to tie in with university staff.

Bookish approach to library phasing

The phasing of the project has proven challenging since day one.

“We were given a phasing plan as part of the package. It was split into seven different phases but we couldn’t make that work for the scheme”

Matthew Garnett, Bam Construct

“We were given a phasing plan as part of the package,” Mr Garnett says. “It was split into seven different phases but we couldn’t make that work for the scheme.

“We have been chopping that down to around four phases. We have drawn up new phasing plans which meet the main strategy of keeping access to the books.”

Because of that phasing and the determination to keep the books available to students, there are 23 different handovers in each phasing section.

Most of these phasing issues have been around the new link from the existing East Block (the low-rise building) and the West Tower.

This two-storey space will eventually link the two and provide part of a glass-walled extension to the tower block at ground and first-floor levels.

This is where the building’s new café and book security system will be located alongside the new entrance and façade. It will eventually link out to a landscaped piazza.

Back inside the tower, there isn’t a floor or surface that isn’t being renovated. It is a complete overhaul of all of the floors, with the team taking over on a floor-by-floor basis wherever possible.

“Every area has been stripped right back to the floor screeds, then reinstated with whatever has been specified”

Matthew Garnett, Bam Construct

Existing 500 mm x 500 mm reinforced concrete columns are set around a nominal 6 m grid with 1 m-deep concrete beams at 1 m centres and a 60 mm-thick slab with a screeded finish.

On two of the floors where the link structure joins the East and West blocks, the team is installing raised access floors to compensate for the difference in levels, with services predominantly hung from the ceiling throughout the scheme.

“Every area has been stripped right back to the floor screeds, then reinstated with whatever has been specified,” Mr Garnett explains. “We have a full fit-out contract. Only the installation of the IT equipment is not part of our work – that is down to the university.”

Stripped to bare bones

The layout of the East Block is being reconfigured, stripped back to its bare bones and revamped with silent working areas and exhibition space.

Already some of the revamped building has been handed back to the university and students sit working in complete silence just metres from the 24-hour working site.

Thankfully, the steel embedded concrete frame of the block absorbs most of the noise, while the new windows the team has installed throughout are also coping admirably.

“We have worked with the university to develop a plan around areas where we could and couldn’t work during the day. It’s gone well so far,” Mr Garnett says.

The seventh floor of the library tower is another area that has been handed back to the university, fitted out to the high standard expected by today’s students with Swedish-engineered acoustic timber and brand new furniture.

Only the glass box that will house some of the university’s oldest books and papers is yet to be fitted out, but once again due to the level of specialism this will be left to the university itself.

With just a few months to go before the building is completed, the main focus for the team now is the new-build section (see box), but soon the University of Hull will be able to boast a facility that is worthy of the link with one of the country’s literary greats.

New-build link

The new two-storey link structure and extension to the West Tower will bring the two library buildings together and enable the university to reconfigure the layout.

The team is using a combination of foundations from which to spring the steel-framed structure, including reusing existing foundations and an array of new pads and piles.

For the extension, there are 450 mm-diameter CFA piles driven to 13 m. These pass through the underlying clay and onto the sandstone layer beneath the building. At the link, minipiles to 9 m have been installed through the existing slab.

With no tower crane on site, all of the materials have been brought onto the scheme through the use of mast climbers and mobile cranes.

The team needed to install a series of temporary supports beneath the soffit of the basement to counter the extra loading of the cranes.

A signature open staircase and open mezzanine floor will link between the ground and first floors on the tower and the new structure will also house the library’s book security desks.


Bam working by the book

Libraries and building sites don’t make the best of bedfellows. The dust and noise they create are frowned upon by librarians.

But at the University of Hull project, the construction team has worked tirelessly with university staff to make sure all of the facility’s books are available to students.

By creating temporary ‘book stores’, the team has been able to ensure access to all of the documents.

“There are more than 1m pieces within the library and we have been able to manage the storage space such that we have been able to set up book storage areas within the building,” Mr Garnett says.

Some of these temporary stores are more temporary than others. Depending on the needs of the construction team, the library books can be moved whenever space becomes available or is needed for working. It has been a difficult task for all involved.

“Everyone has been very resilient,” Mr Heseltine says. “Conditions have been difficult, but we have set ourselves the objective that our services and the availability of our printed material will not be affected by the work. So far we have been able to do that.”


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