Desirable digs

Accommodation is a key driver for students when choosing which university and course they apply for say property firm Bidwells

It’s also a powerful tool for universities competing for domestic and international students who increasingly demand high-quality facilities. So what are the challenges in creating new student accommodation to meet today’s market?

UK-based property consultancy, Bidwells, has a dedicated multi-disciplinary student accommodation team which recently advised on projects totalling over £350 million – ranging from Grade I Listed buildings, to contemporary new-build schemes.

Colin Summers, partner at Bidwells commented: “In a global market universities now compete for both domestic and international students, whose expectations are fed by online images of en-suite and luxury accommodation. The challenge universities therefore face is how do you optimize an estates strategy, which reflects both life cycle costing and portfolio valuation.

Project managing student accommodation comes with its own specific challenges, particularly with refurbishment – where there is often a very limited time when the students are not there – making for very tight deadlines and working to stringent budgets.”

Trinity New Court, Cambridge

Embarking on an ambitious project to refurbish its New Court Building, Trinity College decided to focus on sustainable accommodation rather than the traditional refurbishment of a Grade 1 Listed Building. New Court is located in the heart of Cambridge, on the famous Backs of the River Cam and adjacent to the Wren Library.

Dan Thomas who led the project on behalf of Bidwells said: “Many Oxbridge Colleges view the listed status of their building stock as a prohibiting factor when considering the incorporation of sustainable features. However this was a project with a difference. The Design Team identified a combination of sustainable technologies that could be incorporated, whilst remaining completely sympathetic to the listed fabric and features.

“We needed to refurbish 140 rooms and achieve an 80% reduction in carbon consumption, as well as reduce running costs. The College also looked closely at the maintenance strategy, taking a longer-term view of 30-35 years.

“Clearly a highly strategic approach was needed to achieve these objectives, as well as a robust and fully integrated building monitoring and control system. The timescale was also tight – we started on the project in January 2014 with a deadline of September/October for the rooms to be ready for the students returning.

“With a team of specialists including Cambridge-based 5th Studio Architects and Cambridge Architectural Restoration, together with Trinity’s Junior Bursar Dr Rod Pullen, we put together a plan which incorporated a range of sustainable technologies and features.

“These included Ground Source Heat Pumps linked to high efficiency underfloor heating in all rooms, photovoltaic cells installed on existing roof slopes, enhancement of the building fabric to achieve much greater air tightness and putting in a Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery (MVHR) system to provide constant ventilation to rooms. We also insulated the walls and refurbished the existing double and triple glazing by using Histoglass which is a specialist glazing system used in the restoration of historic buildings to enhance energy efficiency but maintain the historical profile.

“This was a challenging project but was completed on-time and is set to achieve an 80-88% reduction in carbon emissions, a feat that has achieved widespread recognition.”

Brewer Street Project, Pembroke College, Oxford

The new student accommodation block comprises 90 single en suite rooms and six self-contained Fellows’ apartments which form part of a larger development worth a total construction value of £16m and including a lecture theatre, seminar rooms and café facility.

This provided a significant extension to the existing College campus by adding two new quads and a bridge linking the old site to the new, crossing Brewer Street and the scheduled ancient monument, the City Wall.

Daniel Carter from Bidwells, takes up the story: “An additional complexity was that the current College site is split by a public highway and so the College selected designers who proposed a new bridge link between the existing site and the proposed new site. This bridge required extensive discussions and negotiations with English Heritage, Highways Authority and the Planning Authority in order to obtain the consent required.

“This added an extra dimension to the project, along with the usual challenges of budget and timeframe which we handled by adopting a carefully-managed phased approach ensuring the students moved in for the new academic year.”

John Church, College Bursar and Project Director added: “The bridge was a crucial link between the old and new facilities to make it an extension and not an annex. This needed to be constructed in a conservation area with the City Wall and surrounded by Listed buildings. Conservationists and architects were brought in early on and came up with a bridge with glass sides and a deliberately rusted structure. This was very tasteful and sits well in the setting, providing a delightful blend of the old and new.”

Stephen Hawking Building, Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge

This award-winning facility which includes 75 en-suite bedrooms was named after the College’s most celebrated living Fellow, Professor Stephen Hawking, who lived in a Victorian villa on the same site for a number of years, where he raised his family and wrote his famed bestseller A Brief History of Time.

The project presented a few challenges including the need for the building to be designed in an ‘S’ shape to preserve the three mature trees already located on the site.

Today its 55 single, 10 double and 1- twin en-suite bedrooms are used for students as well as for residential conferences.

The Stephen Hawking Building, which incorporates significant sustainability features (such as U values and rainwater harvesting), won a prestigious RIBA East Spirit of Ingenuity Award.




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