In with the old

As UK attention turns to refurbishment as an affordable way to create new building spaces, Laing O’Rourke is well placed to lend an experienced hand.

Whether converting Grade I-listed offices to homes fit for ambassadors, helping hospitals to rationalise their spaces or bringing schools up to modern standards, Laing O’Rourke has demonstrated it can rise to the refurbishment market’s challenges.

The UK economic climate now favours refurbishments, renovations and restorations as a cost-effective way of creating new building spaces. The financial and environmental merits of breathing new life into a structure, rather than demolishing and starting from scratch, translate to all sectors, from healthcare and education to retail and leisure. On the other hand, such projects often involve buildings still in use, creating new issues and requiring thorough planning.

Peter Brown, Laing O’Rourke’s north-west and West Midlands operations director, says: “Refurbishment is crucial. Given the uncertainty in securing finance for new builds, a number of our clients are exploring the option to refurbish or reconfigure existing stock and are making the most appropriate use of what they already have.”

Laing O’Rourke can expect fresh technical challenges as clients seek modern environmental standards in buildings that might otherwise have been demolished. But the company’s refurbishment teams can call on colleagues with a range of expertise to help them tackle the most complex projects.

Northern hospitals

In 2009-2010, Laing O’Rourke Construction North led a refurbishment scheme at St James’s University Hospital and Leeds General Infirmary hospitals for Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. The trust wanted to co-locate children’s services at Leeds General Infirmary and healthcare for elderly people at St James’s, rather than splitting them across both sites.

Project leader Paul Brett steered the supporting work by subsidiary company Crown House Technologies (CHt). “There were 18 separate work fronts around wards that were still in use,” he explains, “so it was very complex logistically.

“It takes all the usual planning, but to the nth degree for maintaining services, and because of infection control, you cannot just put up a hoarding. You need sign-off from infection control authorities for sealing off.

Going back in time

The Grand Ocean Hotel at Saltdean, East Sussex, was completed in fine Art Deco style in 1938. It was used by the wartime military, as a Butlins resort and as a hotel, before planning permission was granted to convert it into 280 luxury apartments, with restoration of the Art Deco features.

Explore Living sales and marketing director John Inglis says: “It was a dilapidated Grade II-listed concrete frame building that had been empty for three years. We showed we could it to its 1930s glory, which is a rewarding aspect of restoration.”

The even more historic Cornwall Terrace – commissioned by the Prince Regent (later George IV) exactly 200 years ago – overlooks London’s Regent’s Park in an area noted for imposing Georgian architecture. It was a two-year challenge for project leader Ian Russell to convert the Grade I-listed terrace from the headquarters of property firm British Land to what developer Falmouth Developments describes as eight luxury “ambassadorial residences”.

Such projects highlight the precision skills required when teams are limited by the basic structure already in place, especially the parts that are protected.

“We had to get all the floorboards up and take down all the walls apart from the exterior and the ones around the staircases, which are listed, and then rebuild,” Ian says. “All but one lift shaft had to be relocated – in one case by just one metre.”  

Working with London schools

Across London, Laing O’Rourke is in the Newham School Transformation Forum Partnership joint venture with Newham Council, Research Machines and Building Schools for the Future. The forum is working on two primary and four secondary schools, one of which, Langdon, will become the country’s largest all-through school, for pupils aged 3-16.

General manager Peter Chappell says: “We are bringing premises that have not kept pace with repair and maintenance up to modern educational standards. Typical older classrooms are 35 to 40 square metres, and schools now want 60.”

CHt, the Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) plant in Steetley, Expanded and Select are involved in the Newham redevelopments.

“I’ve been surprised at how flexible DfMA can be,” Peter says. “We are building a quite dramatic dining hall, which will be semicircular with a glass face. We’ve used DfMA to make the parts for that, and it’s a great example of the company working together to solve issues at the right cost.”

A new way in the north-west

Elsewhere, Laing O’Rourke’s stamp is on improvements to three famous buildings in Manchester. It is about to start the transformation of the Grade II-listed Central Library and Town Hall Extension, which date from the 1930s and cannot cope with current demands. Upgraded internal spaces and modern systems will help the city council to reduce its carbon footprint while delivering improved services.

Old Trafford under construction.

2006, Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground gained an upper tier to the north-west and north-east quadrants, providing seating for an additional 7,900 fans – a particularly complex 18-month job, given the ground remained open throughout and additional seating was released in stages.

In 2004, the company completed the conversion of the city’s Free Trade Hall into a five-star Radisson Edwardian hotel. All but the facade and one side wall were taken down, and the hotel was built in that space while a piled frame supported the frontage.

Refurbs also call on some unexpected skills. A facelift for the Meadowhall shopping complex in Sheffield, and CHt’s installation of an air cooling system, had to stop in 2007 when the nearby River Don burst its banks. Yorkshire and East Midlands director Dan Doherty recalls: “We stopped work to help with the flood relief and then built river defences for Meadowhall. The client was grateful for our help in what felt like a siege.”

It’s all part of the job for the refurbishment experts, who expect the unexpected in old buildings and react creatively.

“We are bringing premises that have not kept pace with repair and maintenance up to modern educational standards. Typical older classrooms are 35 to 40 square metres, and schools now want 60.”

Peter Chappell, General Manager, Newham Council

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