An exact science

Paul Gouland uses a university project to reveal the benefits of a collaborative approach

The second phase of major refurbishment at the University of Sunderland Sciences Complex has demonstrated how collaboration between a forward looking client, an innovative design team and a committed contractor can achieve significant improvements in timescales and building performance to embrace funding opportunities and deliver a highly successful outcome.

On the face of it phase two of the University of Sunderland project, a second major segment of works to the existing Science Complex, was a relatively standard refurbishment development. However, when a significant funding opportunity arose at very short notice, the University had to rethink its design and procurement strategies to ensure the funding could be utilised in just 14 months. A major challenge for any construction project.

As a forward-thinking University, with a reputation for a high quality of teaching, the University of Sunderland wanted to develop an internationally recognised science facility to provide modern, well-equipped facilities to support high quality teaching and learning.

As a result, significant investment was made in the City Campus to build a new Science Complex which would attract high calibre students not only from the UK but across the world. The new Science Complex, comprising state-of-the-art laboratories, research facilities and a ‘living lab’ consisting of a hospital training ward, point of care centre, a high-fidelity simulation suite, examination rooms, a pharmacy, together with teaching hubs, training rooms, seminar rooms and staff offices, required significant planning to ensure it could be delivered on time and within budget.

Designed by Faulkner Brown Architects and built by Clugston Construction – the sole contractor to the University of Sunderland’s Major Capital Contractor Framework – phase two which began in January 2015 and was completed in June 2016, involved the design and formation of a new entrance to the existing four storey building, as well as the refurbishment of the existing 3,000m2 Science Building to improve laboratories, classrooms and circulation spaces to maximise existing teaching spaces.

Against the clock
For university projects, the achievement of a cost, time and quality balance is particularly challenging, as different aspects will be important to different elements of the client body. For the University of Sunderland’s Science Complex this was certainly the case.

To meet the challenges of the rapid programme, which required the works to be completed in just 14 months following the award of HEFCE STEM funding, The University of Sunderland, Clugston Construction, Identity Consult and Faulkner Brown Architects adopted a collaborative approach to reduce timescales, meet deadlines and improve on the outputs from phase one.

Established consultant and contractor frameworks enabled a design and construction team to be mobilised in January 2015, however it was soon realised that the project could only be delivered within the HEFCE spend profile if construction commenced in June 2015 – a design and procurement period of just five months.

Despite such time limitations, excellent stakeholder engagement processes developed in phase one ensured a programme could be developed – with the project delivered in three key sub-phases.

Such thorough planning enabled works on each sub-phase to commence, whilst planning was still taking place for the subsequent portion of work. A key example of this in practice was the construction of the teaching labs and office space.

By working closely with the University’s Framework Contractor Clugston, the University was able to instruct the company to commence the teaching and research labs and office space whilst the design and contract sum for the clinical laboratory areas were still being developed and agreed. This meant the challenging timescales were met ahead of schedule.

Environmental impact
As well as tight delivery timescales, practical considerations in terms of sustainability also had to be taken into account. Delivering a sustainable facility was a key client objective, along with reducing future maintenance costs and energy efficiency.

Whilst refurbishment projects are challenging with regard to sustainability improvements, the University, design team and Clugston strived to minimise the environmental impact during the build and also for the future operations of the facility.

By opting for a refurbishment rather than introducing a new build, the University was able to minimise the impact on landfill by limiting the demolition required and therefore demolition waste created. Clugston was able to re-develop and modernise existing facilities, creating buildings that were designed to be as flexible and space efficient as possible.

The University set a stringent carbon reduction target of 48 per cent by 2021 and so the role of construction projects in meeting this target was vital. This second phase of refurbishment to the Sciences Complex has made significant contributions in meeting this target.

Refurbishment enabled the energy and carbon already embodied in the building to be extended across a longer period, as opposed to the significant additional energy and carbon embodied in a new build.

Efficient lighting, plant and equipment was also specified throughout the project to maximise the energy efficiency of the building on completion. Such planned specification was particularly important for the laboratories within the Science Complex.

As laboratories are one of the worst offenders in terms of high energy consumption and carbon generation, special focus and planning had to go into this element of the Science Complex. The installation of new fume cupboards, ventilation and lighting helped achieve significant reductions in both energy and carbon emissions, ensuring the laboratories remained in-line with the University’s green ambitions.

Whilst the introduction of new ways of working for the academic offices have helped to improve both utilisation through greater flexibility, as well as increased spatial efficiency reducing the area per workstation substantially from 11m2/person to 7m2/person.

Meeting the challenge
The construction and refurbishment of Universities can pose significant challenges for the institutions and construction companies alike. However, at the University of Sunderland, Clugston Construction have demonstrated how a collaborative approach can help deliver projects to record timescales, on time and on budget.

In fact, such was the impact of the collaborative approach and forward planning, that construction periods were reduced by 40 per cent, significantly decreasing the level of disruption on campus.

Paul Gouland is marketing director at Clugston Construction. Clugston Construction is part of the privately owned Clugston Group, a £150 million turnover company that specialises in construction, distribution services, property development, and facilities management. Clugston Construction operates nationally from its headquarters in Scunthorpe and regional offices in Stockton-on-Tees, Leeds and Bromsgrove.

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