New hope for health sciences

Steve Hunt discusses the complex mechanical and electrical requirements for Liverpool Hope University’s new £8.5 million Health Sciences Building

Liverpool Hope may be one of the UK’s smaller universities, but it has a huge commitment to STEM subjects that belies its modest size. A new £8.5 million Health Sciences Building at its Hope Park Campus is translating that ambition into state-of-the-art facilities.

Designed by Watson Batty Architects, the building has achieved BREEAM ‘very good’; a rarity in research-based facilities. The new facility’s sustainability credentials have been achieved against a backdrop of extensive and very varied laboratory facilities, which include dedicated labs for the study of molecular biology, microbiology, cell biology, nutrition, molecular genetics, tissue culture and bioinformatics. The building also incorporates nutrition labs with food analysis and testing facilities, two large biomedical science labs and psychology labs with cognitive and neuro-behaviour suites.  There is also a double height robotics suite and engineering lab to aid the building and testing of drones, along with space for sport and exercise science, which includes a 25 metre sprint track with force metres and motion capture for biomedical analysis, a phlebotics lab for blood sampling and treadmills and BODBODS for physiological analysis.

In building services terms, designing a mechanical and electrical installation that co-ordinated the needs of so many varied study and research facilities was technically challenging, drawing on Steven Hunt & Associates’ extensive experience across the academic and healthcare sectors.

Air Quality

The new, two-storey, 28,000ft² Health Sciences Building is located on the University’s Hope Park Campus and forms part of a £40 million investment in new facilities at the campus. The new facility will be connected to the sports facilities on campus by a link bridge at first floor level.  The sports hall is also currently undergoing a major extension and refurbishment, with building services designed by Steven Hunt & Associates.

While the mechanical and electrical engineering team has extensive experience of designing bespoke building services for specialist scientific environments, the greatest at the Health Sciences Building was the fact that so many different science-based environments are located side by side in the same building. Accommodating the very specific needs of individual labs within a single scheme, alongside the business critical requirement of high resilience to plant failure, led to a complex scheme with several independent ventilation systems.

The result is a total of five separate air handling units located on the roof, each serving different zones within the building.  In addition, the specification included six air extract systems for the fume cupboards throughout the building, which require plastic ductwork to safeguard against corrosion. Additional air extract units are located throughout the building along with dedicated extract systems for the toilets and five air conditioning units.

The facility also combines research areas that need to remain under positive pressure and those that must remain under negative pressure.  The nutrition research, molecular genetics, bioinformatics and Wet Lab areas must all remain at positive pressure to reduce the risk of external contaminants from other areas of the building affecting research activities. This has been achieved with the aid of a VAV (Variable Air Volume) heating and ventilation system that adjusts the ventilation automatically, altering fan speed in response to sensors that measure occupancy levels (CO2) and temperature.

Meanwhile, areas designed for microbiology, molecular biology and tissue culture research must remain at negative pressure to prevent particles and bacteria from transferring to other areas of the building.  In these locations, the windows are sealed shut and sensors ensure that the VAV system extracts more air than it inputs.

To improve the energy efficiency of the building’s extensive ventilation requirements, the system uses absorption cooling coils, which incorporate humidification into the air handling units. The saturated coils further cool the air passing through, reducing the required electrical load.

Energy Efficiency

Both heating and cooling throughout the building are provided by a VRF (Variant Refrigerant Flow) system with heat recovery to aid overall energy efficiency. Heating is provided by a combination of high level radiant heating panels and radiators in most areas along with over door heaters and fan convectors in the main entrance area.

All are powered by four gas boilers located in the roof-top plant room, which also provide the energy for the domestic hot water supply.

Upgraded supplies for gas, water and electrical infrastructure were an essential part of the brief and the complex requirements of the research facility include a heavy electrical load along with extensive data, including WiFi capability throughout the building.  This necessitated the inclusion of a dedicated server room and network hub within the building.

Efforts have been made to reduce the electrical load wherever possible, however, and an LED lighting strategy has been critical to this. All offices, labs and teaching areas have been designed to provide a constant 500 lux level, with the exception of the ‘eye tracker’ research area, where lighting will be at 1000 lux. Daylight sensors along with absence detection have been installed to ensure that lighting is as efficient as possible, with manual dimming throughout the building.

Scene setting has been included in the lighting scheme for some areas of the nutrition research facility to aid sensory research programmes and this functionality is also available for the external feature lighting and entrance lobby lighting to enable adjustments for events held in the building.

Integration & Separation

While many areas of the mechanical and electrical specification are tailored to the specific needs of the building, integration of the new building with the existing campus was also an important part of the brief. A ‘Protec’ fire system has been installed, including a deaf alerter and disabled refuge, along with a full security system. These have been integrated with the site-wide system enabling 24/7 monitoring of the building from the campus gatehouse. Additional security has been built in with fob-based access control to some areas, such as the biomechanics lab, where the most expensive equipment is located.

The completed building articulates the University’s vision of an inspiring and stimulating space for students and research staff, with a strong emphasis on collaboration.  Extensive internal glazing will enable students to see activity and research taking place all around them while the building services installation will ensure that each individual area is equipped to provide a highly specialist research environment.

Steve Hunt is from building services consultancy, Steven Hunt & Associates.


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