A complex transformation of one of London 2012’s buildings into a sophisticated new campus for Loughborough University is nearing completion. Andy Pearson went to meet design and build contractor Paragon Interiors Group on-site to see how the fit-out was coming along.
In July 2012, the International Broadcast Centre (IBC) at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was home to the world’s media reporting on one of the world’s biggest sporting events – the Olympic and Paralympic games. Four years on and the IBC is undergoing a spectacular rebirth. Renamed Here East, this giant building is now the new heart of a digital quarter being created in East London to take advantage of the legacy of some of the most advanced digital infrastructure in Europe.
Under the transformation, Paragon Interiors Group is turning the entire northern section of the building into a smart new campus for Loughborough University’s post graduate studies in digital technology, digital manufacturing, design innovation and entrepreneurship, media and creative industries, business and sport.
With less than two weeks to go until the students move into their sleek new home, the fit-out is almost complete. On floors one to three, offices, lecture theatres, seminar rooms and learning spaces all stand pristine and empty, awaiting the arrival of furniture currently being used by the students in temporary accommodation nearby. On floor four, which has been sublet by the university to two tenants, fit-out is also complete; here a boardroom, cellular offices and breakout spaces all await their new occupants. Paragon’s attention is now focused on the ground floor, where the final few tasks are underway. “We’ve got a little bit of crisping-up to do in order to get things ready for handover,” said Charlie Smith, Paragon’s project manager and the man with responsibility for the site.
Managing this project to ensure it was handed over on time has been quite a challenge.
Paragon won the project in a competitive tender. In August 2015, when it first took possession of the northern section of the IBC, very little remained from its former existence. The building’s steel frame, the raised access floors and most, but not all, of the building’s M&E services were still in place and were expected to be reused. “When we started on-site, the first thing we did was to validate the existing M&E that we were to adopt,” said Neil Worstenholme, associate director of construction at Paragon. It was a task made all the more challenging because, at that time, the site was without water, and even power in some instances, which Mr Worstenholme says made the process “interesting”.
Validation took four weeks. The exercise enabled Paragon to locate and test individual items. For example, the exercise showed that some of the fan coil units were no longer operational. The validation also allowed Paragon to coordinate the legacy building services with the proposed design it had developed with the university. “It was massively important because the whole design is dependent on what is installed and whether it is still operational,” highlighted Mr Worstenholme.
The original plan was to start with the fit-out on the fourth floor and then to progressively work down the floors finishing with the ground floor, but this was scuppered when the university postponed fit-out of the fourth floor until January. “Our top-down journey stalled because we had to do the very top last,” said project manager Mr Smith.
Crucially, the building was also without a facade. The cladding installed for the Olympics had gone; in its place was a temporary site hoarding set 3m back from the edge of the floorplates to allow the landlord’s contractor, Laing O’Rourke, to install a new fritted-glass facade. “The hoarding meant that we’d lost a third of our site,” explained Mr Worstenholme.
With the project completion date set, Paragon had no option but to programme its work around the facade installer. The hoarding meant that rooms abutting the facade couldn’t be finished. It was a problem exacerbated by the facade contractor missing handover dates. “It meant we had to do some clever programming because we didn’t want to put plasterboard into rooms that were not sealed because it would collect moisture,” Mr Worstenholme said. “We had to react; we tackled the internal spaces we could complete, one of which was the main lecture theatre.”
It was important to keep up the momentum, particularly when you consider that at some stages in the works there were over 100 people on-site. Mr Smith picks up the thread: “We ended up having to jump from floor to floor to meet our deadline and to keep our operatives working,” he commented.
The final sections of hoarding were removed in October 2015.
Fit-out of the areas Paragon could access commenced with setting out the locations of partition walls on each of the empty floors. After the walls had been located, the M&E subcontractor installed first-fix cabling and piped services at high level. Most of the high-level services are exposed; the main exceptions are offices and seminar rooms where a suspended ceiling is installed. In addition, first-fix power and data cabling were installed beneath the raised floor. “We try to complete the below-floor installation early in the programme to minimise the risk of having a 250mm deep floor void open,” explained Mr Smith.
Hard on the heels of the M&E subcontractor was specialist drylining subcontractor Planet Partitioning. Once the metal channels and studs had been installed, the wall was boarded out with plasterboard one side only. This enabled power, data and BMS cabling to be installed in the wall void before the cavity was closed and the partitions given a plaster skim finish.
With the walls complete, ceiling perimeter bulkheads were constructed in rooms with a suspended ceiling. The M&E contractor then completed the second-fix M&E installation before first-fix joinery, including skirting and door frames, will be installed along with the made-to-measure partition glazing. The painting subcontractor can then mist-coat the plastered walls, the joinery contractor hang doors and the painting contractor give the plaster walls a finishing coat of paint. The final task is fitting the carpets, which is left until the last minute to prevent them becoming damaged.
One of the more unusual bits of furniture is in the first floor seminar room. Here, Paragon’s designer has come up with a system of hinged, wheeled partitions that allow the room to be subdivided into smaller work spaces as and when required.
With project handover imminent, there is very little snagging work still outstanding, mainly because Paragon has operated a continuous rectification programme for substandard materials or workmanship using Site Audit Pro software. “On a weekly basis, from the start of the project, we check and log floor-by-floor where things are not 100 per cent and how they should be improved,” explained Mr Worstenholme. And after what has been an Olympic endeavour transforming the London 2012 IBC building, he concluded that “coordination and communication” best sum up this project.