School of Health and Medicine Relocation

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Amidst the many redevelopment and building projects in planning and progress across campus, the university’s newest faculty, the School of Health and Medicine, has encountered severe setbacks in the plan to attain its own building.

Created in 2008, the School has always been factored into the large scale reorganisation of departments across the campus in the ongoing building projects. The initial idea was to include Medicine, Biomedical Life Sciences and Health Research in a newly refurbished Faraday building extended across the existing car park to create office space and teaching areas. This would have been close to the CETAD offices and also would have granted a noticeably central building to the faculty.

The School of Health and Medicine encapsulates the four departments of Medicine, Biomedical Life Sciences, Health Research and CETAD (Centre for Training and Development) and as such represents a vast amount of students attending Lancaster University. The faculty, however, occupies spaces spread across the whole campus and which are regrettably almost unnoticeable, with rooms in Faraday, Alexandra Square above Greggs and the newsagent’s, sharing facilities with Biology students in their building, and occupying some space in the Hale Building. Unlike the university’s other three faculties the argument is that the School of Health and Medicine is without a central, visible presence on campus.

A vast amount of time was spent in 2009 looking into the feasibility of such a move, with £12 million reserved by the university for the project. Professor Tony Gatrell, the Dean of the School, stated that the project’s “aspiration is to see that the School of Health and Medicine is highly visible on the campus”, citing involvement with NHS staff and other visitors as just one of the many reasons that warrant such a relocation.

The proposed project was estimated to overspend beyond the budget at a projected £15 million minimum, although that was likely to move towards £18 million. Despite attempts to control the overspend the project was recognised by the faculty as impossible at the end of last year. The project executive then asked Director of Facilities Mark Swindlehurst to look into other options for a move, and a new plan is currently favoured by the school.

As part of the campus-wide building work Furness College B and C floors are scheduled for refurbishment. They currently house History, Politics and other departmental offices. These departments are all relocating to allow the refurbishment to happen in the academic year 2011-12, with a proposal already for History to occupy space in Bowland Main.

Although the School of Health and Medicine will have moved some of their departmental offices into Furness by the summer of 2012, this proposal will not enable a centralisation of the department as planned. Teaching areas for Biomedical Life Sciences are likely to remain shared with Biology. The project is, however, estimated to cost far less than the reserved £12 million.

The new plan has been resignedly accepted as the best possible avenue to pursue by the faculty staff, with Gatrell choosing to look to the future rather than dwell on an overbudget past proposal. He stated that the department is “not outraged by [the change in plans], but looking forward to the plans being developed” but admitted some disappointment, saying “it’s a pity that it’s two and half years away.”

Gatrell welcomed the opportunity to relocate to a refurbished Furness, commenting that if it was improved to a similar standard as Bowland North the faculty would be eager to move there. Gatrell did state, however, that the proposal is still imperfect, asserting that “as Dean of the faculty I want to see what the Vice Chancellor referred to as a front door to the School of Health and Medicine, not it being tucked away.” This request, he argued, was simply asking for the School of Health and Medicine to have an obvious presence “in the same way that the other faculties do.” He stressed, however, that “it would be wrong to say there is loads of uproar within the School.”

The faculty’s apparently mixed response has been reflected by the students. When told of the plans to build the faculty their own building, first year medicine student Andy Blanshard responded that “it’s the first I’ve heard of it.” He stated that, on balance, “the system we have now seems to work quite well. We’re only on campus for our first year, for a few days a week, so it almost doesn’t seem worth investing all that money in a building.” A fellow medicine student, Kirsty Bull, followed this consensus, stating “it sort of isn’t worth it.”

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