Into University, Newcastle

Client: Newcastle University
Contractor: Balfour Beatty Construction
Consulting Engineer: Arup

Pushing the Envelope

Located on King’s Campus in the heart of Newcastle, the new INTO Centre at Newcastle University houses a new overseas student teaching and residential complex in three buildings blending new and refurbished accommodation. In all, it offers some 17,500m2 of teaching, recreational and catering space plus 537 living units.

McGee Contracting triumphed in the concrete category of the Construction News Specialists Awards 2012 for delivering a challenging project, while pushing the envelope of its already rigorous health and safety standards within the ‘zero harm’ culture of main contractor, Balfour Beatty. Designed by Faulkner Browns, the £50 million project is a major investment by the client, INTO Newcastle University Partnerships, in city centre student accommodation. McGee completed the £5m subcontract concrete package in 40 weeks, including groundworks, substructure, superstructure and precast stairs.

Eliminating Risk

Early involvement of the design team and concrete suppliers has played an integral part in the project’s success. Detailed discussion at planning stage of all aspects of the concrete package provided opportunities to value engineer aspects of the design, simplify and speed construction methods, and maximise the safety strategy. Potential health and safety risks across the site and programme were reviewed and measures taken to reduce or eliminate them. Using these risk assessments assessments, McGee produced a robust method statement covering all aspects of the concrete package. Its project managers then undertook a rigorous exercise of communication, inducting all site operators on safety procedures and asking them to sign a register to confirm that they had understood requirements.

Early consultation also allowed the concrete contractor to assess the benefits of using integral waterproofing for the basement slab and walls in the four-storey Academic Building as an alternative to the membrane system specified. After a detailed discussion of the concrete scheme with waterproofing specialist PUDLO it was apparent that integral waterproofing could strategically enhance a number of project features.

“PUDLO waterproof concrete removed the need to install a sheet system, resulting in a single concreting operation, which saved time,” said Conor Hanlon, McGee’s project manager. “It also reduced tasks on the slab, which effectively involved working in confined conditions, reducing health and safety issues.”

Overcoming Complications

As INTO’s biggest centre yet, the eye-catching Academic Building provides circa 3000m2 of teaching and recreational space for around 800 students. Adjacent are two new halls of residence, the eight floor, bridge-linked Line and Herschel residential complex, and the Cowen-Porter blocks incorporating eight floors of new and five floors of refurbished accommodation. The Academic Building is distinguished by a dramatic atrium spanning its length and a bold stone-glass façade, which reveals the open-plan ground floor at street level. The envelope cladding consists of sandstone ashlar walling, rain screen, structural glazing, curtain walling and traditional brick work. Large sections of glazing are also shaded with a perforated brass veil.

Concrete framed, the building is arranged over five floors and incorporates a structural steel frame to support the standing seam brass roof. It has a reinforced concrete basement constructed with contiguous piles and waterproof concrete; all slabs are constructed in reinforced concrete. Housing a lecture theatre and plant rooms, the basement footprint involved a maze of piles, capping beams and wall elements. As the basement took shape, this created a honeycomb of confined and awkward working areas, and concrete faces rising some 5m high from the slab posing work at height risks. Given the particular space constrictions of the inner city site, a membrane-free solution relieved the problem of materials storage and handling, including the use of lifting equipment. Matt Smith, PUDLO Commercial Manager, said, “Especially on a complicated project like this, quality control, safety and programme time all benefit by completely removing the membrane stage and its management.”

Technical Assistance

PUDLO waterproof concrete also reduces reliance on third-party contractors. This was another important benefit. McGee likes to take on responsibility for all elements of the concrete package, as it then has greater control of safety procedures, construction scheduling, budgets and greater flexibility to adapt. The concrete contractor’s operatives were able to place, compact and form the concrete with PUDLO inspectors guiding them on technical requirements and managing the quality control aspects of one of the most critical elements of the build.

PUDLO also visited the site to discuss and resolve the finer details of the basement scheme with the structural engineer, Arup, concrete supplier Tarmac and McGee’s groundworks specialists. This provided the basis for open communication throughout the project, helping to anticipate issues and respond to keep the programme on track. PUDLO’s intensive project and quality assurance involvement extends to the 20-year warranty it issues to completed structures.

“A PUDLO inspector attended both the preparation phase, concrete pours and post-pour curing operations to make sure they were carried out in line with its on-site quality system,” said Hanlon. “It also offered us technical assistance when details needed reworking to suit in-situ conditions. Incorporating waterproofing in the concrete eliminated the labour, logistical complexities and health and safety challenges of installing sheeting,” he added.

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Tel: +44 (0)1954 780687

DB Group, Wellington Way, Bourn Airfield, Cambridge. CB23 2TQ