Construction barriers have been scattered across campus at a higher-than-average frequency over the past few years, and the results of this are starting to be unveiled to students. From the brand new buildings going up at Science Central to the renewal of some of the University’s oldest buildings, campus is changing fast, and there are several more projects in the pipeline.
Recent months have seen the Urban Sciences Building, the Boiler House and the Marjorie Robinson Library Rooms open to students, and these are soon to be joined by a Learning and Teaching Centre, an expanded Sports Centre and Black Horse House. This latter building is a converted office building located next to the Marjorie Robinson Library Rooms and will house some of the University’s support services, as part of a wider effort to relocate professional and administrative departments out of academic buildings.
The Research Beehive which has occupied a large part of the Old Library Building for more than a decade is set to be moved elsewhere, while IT Support will relocate from Claremont Tower to Black Horse House.
With student numbers seeing a consistent rise the University is experiencing increase pressure on teaching space, and there is only so much the Estate Support Service can do to use space more efficiently. With the main campus already at capacity new buildings are currently popping up further afield, with Science Central the most notable example of this.
Some of the estate projects are smaller in scale but still significant. Scaffolding has been up around King’s Gate for several months now, because a problem with the stone cladding is being rectified by the contractors responsible for the original construction in 2010, at no extra cost to the University. The plan is to re-clad the entire building one elevation at a time.
The Armstrong Building is currently in phase five of its major refurbishment project, which has been underway for over five years now. Last week the circular staircase finally reopened to students, while work is currently underway to replace all of the building’s 2,400 windows. This should be finished by September and will make the Grade II listed building considerably more energy efficient.
Indeed, sustainability is a key theme within the Estate Support Service’s strategy. As well as introducing as many double-glazed windows as possible to University buildings, they are hoping to replace fluorescent lighting with LED lights over the next three years, that will save electricity and emit a brighter light.
A new entrance to the Bedson Building on King’s Road now provides level access to the building as well as “turning the building round” to face into campus instead of away from it.
A similar process has taken place in the neighbouring King George VI building, while the Armstrong Quad has made the campus-facing entrance to the Armstrong Building more visitor-friendly.
[pullquote]Over the next three years the University hopes to completely refurbish the entire Claremont Tower, Claremont Bridge and Daysh Building complex, with the Boiler House being used as temporary teaching space[/pullquote]
Whereas many of the older buildings on campus have relatively restricted access, accessibility is at the forefront of each refurbishment project. Wherever possible steps are being replaced by gentle slopes or level access and navigation signs are being made as clear and straightforward as possible.
Consideration is also starting to be given to using building design to help students with mental health difficulties. The Urban Sciences Building, which opened in August 2017, includes two quiet rooms that can be used as prayer spaces or areas for students to take private breaks.
The Estate Support Service now has an accessibility group who consider the needs of all of a building’s potential users and aim to make Newcastle’s campus as accessible as possible.
Another recurring theme within the redevelopments currently underway is to make buildings more suitable for alternative methods of teaching and learning. For example, The Herschel Building is now home to the innovative Learning Lab, where PCs are able to link to each other to enable group work and multi-layered teaching.
In particular, the Estate Support Service want to include more “problem based learning space” on campus, with the emphasis on group work and student-led learning rather than, or at least alongside, more traditional methods such as lectures and seminars.
The new Learning and Teaching Centre at Science Central will include a 750-seat lecture theatre. To put this in perspective, the Curtis Auditorium in the Herschel Building can seat 360 people. The massive lecture theatre will spend most of its time subdivided into two theatres, but the option to combine these into such a large space will provide new opportunities for teaching and for University events.
Rather than hosting particular academic departments like the Urban Sciences Building next door, the Learning and Teaching Centre will be used by many departments. In particular, though, it will be utilized by the Business School, who currently need to use buildings on the main campus for teaching, meaning that business students need to regularly make the 15-minute walk to and from lectures.
One possible concern with the new developments at Science Central is their distance away from the main campus, particularly considering the addition of the Marjorie Robinson Library Rooms in the opposite direction. For this reason the new buildings contain more facilities such as cafés and study spaces than may be expected, while the Estates team are putting considerable effort into increasing the ‘campus’ feel of the University.
A key feature of this renewed atmosphere is the development of the Student Forum at the heart of the redbrick centre of campus. Formerly the site of the Museum of Antiquities, now located in the Great North Museum, this building was demolished in 2012 to make way for a pedestrianised area with sculptures, seating and planters.
Since last year this has been further developed by the changes to the Armstrong Quad, which provide more visitor-friendly access from King’s Hall to the newly re-opened Boiler House. The Boiler House will be used for University and Union events, with graduation receptions a particularly keen future tenant given the close proximity to King’s Hall.
However, over the next few years the Boiler House may be better known to students as a teaching space. With the School of Computing moving out of Claremont Tower, its home of 50 years, last July into the Urban Sciences Building, several floors of the Tower are now largely empty, although teaching rooms have quickly been snapped up by over-capacity departments such as Geography.
Over the next three years the University hopes to completely refurbish the entire Claremont Tower, Claremont Bridge and Daysh Building complex. This will include re-cladding the entire building, overhauling the creaking infrastructure and making the connections between the three buildings easier to find. This will provide additional teaching space to HaSS departments that are rapidly running out of room. While this project is taking place, however, every available teaching space will need to be used by departments such as Geography and Sociology that currently call the complex home.
Another occupant of the Urban Sciences Building is Open Lab, which formerly called the top two floors of the Marjorie Robinson Library Rooms its home. These floors were then opened to students while levels one and two were re-refurbished; floors three and four will soon follow suit.
The back-and-forth nature of the Marjorie Robinson redevelopment demonstrates the constraints facing the Estate Support Service. With all buildings already at full capacity, closing one requires a considerable reorganisation of teaching space. The Learning and Teaching Centre will free up space for developments elsewhere on campus, but it is a constant process of reshuffling departments to ensure campus continues to improve and meet the needs of its staff and students.