Higher Education: Rationalising Estates to Maximise Value

Mark Brain
Birmingham City University is investing in excess of £180 million in its estate, expanding capacity and providing students with an enviable range of facilities.

With around 22,000 students from 80 countries, Birmingham City University (BCU) is a large and diverse institution, injecting £270 million into the regional economy and supporting thousands of local jobs in the area.

Higher education is increasingly competitive. Higher tuition fees and dwindling government financial support have led to more discerning students who expect an inspiring environment that offers quality, connectivity, safety and security. 

The UNITE Student Experience Report 2012 (PDF, 669KB), found that students have higher expectations in all aspects of the university experience. The learning environment, leisure and sports facilities and student accommodation are typically taken into account when prospective students are making their university applications. These factors also influence teaching and research staff recruitment. Quality estates and facilities therefore play a critical role in the success, status and profitability of higher education providers.

Faithful+Gould’s role is to ensure that BCU gets maximum value for money, supporting their plan to rationalise the estate.

BCU compares well with other providers, ranked by the Complete University Guide as a top ten UK university for spending on facilities in 2012 and 2013, highlighting its significant investment in future capacity and improved environment which is being carried out in two phases.

As quantity surveyors and employer's agent, Faithful+Gould’s role is to ensure that BCU gets maximum value for money, supporting their plan to rationalise the estate. The former Vice Chancellor challenged the team to create more efficient, flexible space and generate the capacity for 20 per cent more students in 20 per cent less space and achieve a much improved environment for the benefit of students and staff.

The former Vice Chancellor challenged the team to create more efficient, flexible space and generate the capacity for 20 per cent more students in 20 per cent less space...

BCU successfully reviewed its space utilisation, finding ways to make the buildings work harder and more efficiently. Sensible and robust cost planning enabled the university to make appropriate provision for current and future course demand and timetabling requirements. Flexibility is especially important, with social learning areas and collaborative spaces meeting the needs of today’s students. Future-proofing is important, with all building zones and service voids adequately sized to meet projected future needs.

Phase 1 saw the construction of The Parkside Building, in the heart of Birmingham’s Eastside regeneration area, forming a creative and media hub linked to the existing provision based in Millennium Point. The 18,310m² Parkside Building is the new home for Birmingham Institute of Art and Design (BIAD) and Birmingham School of Media.

Sensible and robust cost planning enabled the university to make appropriate provision for current and future course demand...

The School of Media offers cutting-edge facilities, with five world-class TV studios, seven radio studios and post-production suites. Opened in July 2013 and fully operational for the new student intake, the new integrated facilities allow for more collaboration between students on different programmes, creating a greater campus atmosphere.

When staff and students at BIAD were consulted, they wanted space for artists from different disciplines and different faculties to work together collaboratively, allowing a more integrated approach. In addition to the core of workshops in the centre of the five-floor building, with surrounding studio space, there is also 'exquisite collision space' where students and staff from different courses can exchange thoughts and ideas.

For the project team, the multi-use nature of the site brought specific complexities. Acoustic separation requirements were challenging and specialist equipment had to be integrated into the scheme, together with stringent quality control.

Work has now begun on phase 2 of the Estates Strategy, due for completion in May 2015. This phase includes the provision of a student support hub, a new library, teaching and IT space, and a "one-stop-shop" for student-facing facilities.

The adoption of BIM has enabled a closer relationship to develop between the project’s various stakeholders and consultants, resulting in greater mutual understanding of the project and its costs.

BCU has also attracted significant interest as an early adopter of building information modelling (BIM). At project inception, the University mandated the use of BIM in order to deliver benefits both during design and construction and in particular in the management of the operational life of the building post completion.

The adoption of BIM has enabled a closer relationship to develop between the project’s various stakeholders and consultants, resulting in greater mutual understanding of the project and its costs. The design team is now taking this forward as a model for phase 2, driving further value. The result is a landmark facility in the West Midlands, inspiring excellence and creativity in students and staff alike.

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