By Royal appointment

Sustainability and a close relationship between client and contractor are at the core of a renovation project at a West Midlands college

The £10.5m renovation of Royal Leamington Spa College involved the project team keeping its key focus on the end-user, with the aim of engaging with the creative and practical needs of the students, as well as aiding the entrepreneurial aspirations of the college.

Recently launched under a new group name – Warwickshire College Group – Royal Leamington Spa College has joined six other colleges across the region to create a ‘college community’. This community shares a collective set of values, but the new Leamington Spa College has been designed according to its own curriculum, incorporating facilities such as a commercial beauty salon for hairdressing and beauty therapy students working to a professional standard.

Now one of the largest private building contractors in the West Midlands, Speller Metcalfe was selected as the main contractor for the scheme. The original contract included the conversion of both the three-storey S block and six-storey M block and this allowed for new and improved teaching facilities, as well as a new plant room and the focal point of the project – the new atrium.

The atrium governs the development of Leamington Spa College. The openness and accessibility of an airport terminal which handles large numbers of people passing through was the inspiration behind its design. In fact, the commissioned architect, Robothams, adopted an airport design in its construction of a new 400 sqm extension to the existing 1950s reception building.

This new extension manages the vertical flow of students to upper levels, as well as acting as a walkway to all the adjoining buildings. Arriving in this double-height atrium space offers open views to student services, the college shop, catering facilities, main reception, meeting rooms and enterprise zones.

With its large glass windows and entrance pillars, the atrium is considered to be the college’s shop front – projecting an image of accessibility, innovation and learning opportunity.

The college can accommodate a variety of teaching methods. Interactive learning spaces, multi-functional pods with enhanced acoustics and ‘incubator’ units for entrepreneurial learners reflect the project team’s approach to education.

The early involvement of building services engineers Greenways and Partners Ltd allowed for significant value engineering. The company conducted an in-depth dilapidation survey of the existing mechanical and electrical services to gain a better understanding of what had to be replaced or could be recycled. Overall reutilisation of M&E plant and equipment saved the client in excess of £150,000. Early engagement by the project team also allowed for the procurement of specialist sub-contractors, plant and materials to ensure quality standards were maintained for a reasonable cost. An official procurement route was carefully planned and included in-depth interviews with specialist M&E contractors.

After the initial enabling works, the site team started on the envelope of both buildings to create a modern external façade. This included Sto rendering works on S block and the installation of rain-screen cladding on M block. Both buildings were also re-roofed with an insulated single-ply roofing membrane, which is a more low-cost method of providing thermal insulation.

Following external works, Speller Metcalfe began on the internal refurbishment of S block, which included the installation of a partition wall and suspended ceilings. ‘Learning zones’ were incorporated into each floor with flexible, open-plan spaces, giving students the chance to learn in a more practical environment that better suits their needs. Similarly M block has technology integrated into the building, allowing students to ‘learn by doing’. The ground-floor refectory and dining room were also refurbished to create a modern canteen for staff and pupils.

Speller Metcalfe have a reputation for sustainability. Last year, they delivered the most highly rated BREEAM project for Western Power Distribution and all their projects are assessed externally for their energy efficiency and sustainable construction methods. At Leamington Spa College, extensive insulation and ground-source heat pumps have contributed to the project receiving a BREEAM ‘very good’ rating. The atrium has been designed to improve the energy performance, comfort and green credentials of the building itself. Three months on from occupying the new building, the college has reported current energy readings which indicate a significant reduction in energy bills.

Working within a live building will always throw up challenges, yet Speller Metcalfe was able to overcome various logistical problems through careful planning. Deliveries were scheduled around busy periods and a temporary entrance was built into A block to ensure that students were kept safe and separate from building works. Students were also offered plumbing and electrical installation courses and detailed talks about the scheme’s design and construction. The site manager provided tours for pupils and guests, including the shadow secretary of state for education.

An associate member of the Considerate Constructors Scheme, Speller Metcalfe were given a final score of 41 out of 50 as a result of their close relationship to Leamington Spa’s students and staff.

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