Inspiring innovation in the built environment

Chris Lavin discusses the building services requirements of West Midlands Construction UTC, which is currently on site in Wolverhampton

Founded with a vision to train and develop the construction sector’s designers, builders and innovators of the future, West Midlands Construction University Technical College (WMCUTC), is currently operating out of temporary premises while it awaits completion of its new, purpose-designed facilities in the centre of Wolverhampton. The UTC will move across to its new campus for the 2016/2017 academic year in September and its current cohort of year 10-12 students has been actively involved in developing the designs for the scheme.

The UTC is sponsored by the University of Wolverhampton and Europe’s largest construction skills training provider, CITB. It also has support from the commercial sector, counting some of the UK’s biggest names in construction amongst its partners.  Its remit is to nurture construction skills and train students in the application of IT in the built environment, combining employer mentors, extensive work experience, an employer-led, project-based curriculum and specially-designed, tailored facilities to drive both achievement and employability.

The facilities have been designed by Birmingham-based practice, Associated Architects, following a design competition, in a project currently being delivered by main contractor, Thomas Vale.  Design development and installation of the mechanical and electrical services was contracted to LJJ, however, leveraging the team’s extensive experience of education environments, which includes the recent ‘Future Campus’ project at the University of West London.

Old & New

Design and construction best practice has been built into the fabric of the building from the outset, with the remaining buildings of the historic former Springfields Brewery being incorporated into the campus as part of the contemporary college facilities. Originally constructed in 1873, the brewery was largely destroyed by fire in 2006 and the UTC project will save what remains from dereliction, including the distinctive Victorian façade and wrought iron entrance, along with several out buildings. 

While the old elements of the build will add architectural interest to the UTC campus, there will be no compromise on the most contemporary of facilities. Hi-tech learning environments and technical workshops will be equipped with specialist kit donated by employer partners, with students using BIM software, full colour 3D printers, laser cutters and large format 3D routers, alongside both virtual and augmented reality technology and industry standard laser scanning and surveying equipment.

The facilities will include design studios, ICT suites and design & technology rooms, alongside civil engineering labs, workshops and an exterior construction park. The college’s vocational aims are accommodated within three storey building that has been designed to echo a commercial workplace, however, with an open atrium providing a central break out space, cafeteria-style dining, and independent study spaces.

Services on Show

As brewing ceased at the site more than 25 years ago, LJJ first had to install electrical supplies to the new and existing parts of the campus, along with a new switch room and new distribution networks. Alongside these new supplies, LJJ will also fit a 20,000 kW/hr/annum solar PV installation on the roof, which will contribute significantly to the UTC’s electrical load and has helped the scheme to achieve a BREEAM ‘Good’ rating. Further energy efficiency includes a lighting control system which incorporates both presence and absence detection to ensure that lights are never unwittingly left on when an area is not in use.

The building’s interiors have a distinctly industrial feel, with sections of the ceiling remaining open to leave the services infrastructure on display.  Indeed, in some areas, the services installation has been illuminated to make it more visible from within the building as an educational talking point.

While the benefits of exposing the services that would ordinarily be hidden the ceiling voids is clear from an educational perspective, from the installation team’s point of view, this added an additional dimension to the need to deliver a neat project. The exposed services will be a lasting example of installation best practice and must therefore be exemplary.  As a result, clash detection and meticulous installation planning were vital from the earliest design development stages. Alongside the small power distribution networks, the LJJ team has also been responsible for installation of all data, fire alarm, access control and CCTV systems.

Integration Challenges

The old brewery buildings played a key role in the design of the ventilation systems for the UTC campus, with the old goods lift shaft forming the main ducting route. The ducting then runs across a glass link that has been designed to connect the new building to the main elevation of the old brewery.

While the integration of old and new helped to inform the strategy for the ventilation system layout, this was not achieved without some site-specific challenges. Some of the existing buildings are listed and the obvious ducting routes were not available, as it was not possible to make openings in walls for structural or heritage reasons.  As a result, the mechanical team had to take a creative approach to designing the ventilation system, which, once again, echoes the best practice construction ethos of the UTC.

While the atrium has been designed with a natural ventilation system, air handling units provide fresh air in all other parts of the building, as part of a VRF (Variable Refrigerant Flow) system that delivers both heating and cooling.  Heat recovery has been built into the system to maximise efficiency, with space-efficient radiant panels delivering heat to teaching and study spaces.

The air handling units are located in a new plant room located on the roof of the new building, which is also home to the gas fired boilers that power the domestic hot water (DHW) system. Redevelopment of the derelict site also required renewal of both gas and water infrastructure and the LJJ team has responsible for all new incoming mechanical services.

Inspiring Surroundings

Once fully operational at the newly developed Springfield Campus, WMCUTC will offer three distinct pathways for students: the ‘Design Pathway’, the ‘Build Pathway’ and the ‘Innovate Pathway’. From the external construction space where students can practice their build skills, to the advanced technical facilities, craftsmanship workshops and employer partnerships, the UTC is focused on becoming a centre excellence in construction training. The new college building will provide an example of best practice that has engaged students in their first real world scheme and will continue to inspire and inform for generations. 

Chris Lavin is pre construction manager from mechanical and electrical contractor, LJJ


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