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Major projects such as the new Sports Centre and the rejuvenation of Alexandra Square have made construction work an inescapable presence around campus for the last few months, with the University investing heavily in construction and regeneration over the last eight years.
Between 2003 and 2009 £300m was invested in building new spaces and refurbishing old ones, although the rate of investment is expected to decrease from 2011-12. In 2007 the Facilities Department commissioned the 2007-2017 Masterplan, which details all possible projects. It is worth £420m over the period; much of the work already completed or in progress is included in this figure.
Mark Swindlehurst, Director of Facilities, emphasised that the Masterplan is “not a blueprint of what we’re definitely going to build” but rather a guide to “steer our thinking” regarding campus development.
Describing the importance of the Masterplan, Swindlehurst spoke of his sense, upon arriving at Lancaster in 2003, of an opportunity to help the University campus to support its students and staff. “The reason why we reinforced the Masterplan in 2007 is because we wanted to reflect back to the original thinking of the master planners that developed the campus in the 1960s. We felt that we needed to do that, because we were starting to lose our way somewhat,” he said.
However, students have been less than enthusiastic about much of the work currently taking place. One History undergraduate described this work as “unnecessary building projects that disrupt, rather than enhance, the student experience,” while a Computing and Communications student called for “more reasonable construction periods with less disruption.”
In response, Swindlehurst described the importance of the work in not allowing the campus to fall into dilapidation. “These big projects represent a peak in investment, which compensates for a lack in past years,” he said.
A key element of the Masterplan is the £2.25m rejuvenation of Alexandra Square and the Underpass, expected to be complete by March 2011. Delays, primarily caused by cold weather, have affected it, but Swindlehurst was quick to defend the timing of the work. He spoke of how students use the Square, in particular the steps in front of the Learning Zone, mostly in the summer months, which made it logical to work through the winter despite the restrictions of shorter daylight hours and bad weather.
Additionally, the £10m Charles Carter Building is now six months behind schedule. This is due to a combination of cold weather and unforeseen complexities. “The project got off to a stalled start because when we started works on site, there [was] a real complexity in that area of some underground services,” said Swindlehurst. However, he was confident that the project is still on track for completion within the next four to six weeks, and that “we plan to occupy that building at the end of March, so we’re within our timeframe for occupancy.”
One project which has been largely successful has been the £3m Learning Zone, opened in October 2009. Pro Vice Chancellor for Colleges and Student Experience Amanda Chetwynd said: “I think the success of the Learning Zone comes from the strong partnership between the students, academic and Facilities staff throughout the design of the project,” explaining that the building was designed “because of student views expressed in the 2007 Lancaster Student Experience Survey.”
Money has also been invested in events such as Campus Festival and Roses, which Swindlehurst feels are “an important part of the University experience.” In particular, he was excited by the development of the University’s sports facilities ahead of Roses 2012. The event, he said, should be seen as a celebration, and an opportunity for the Lancaster district “to get behind its University.”
Construction of the highly-anticipated £20m new Sports Centre is on track for a Summer Term opening. A number of proposals for use of the old Sports Centre are being considered. LUSU President Robbie Pickles told SCAN that “LUSU is currently developing a proposal which sets out the need for better space in light of the modern environment for student experience, especially now that Lancaster is a top ten institution.”
Pickles cited the “ever-expanding needs of societies” for space which he feels the Sports Centre could provide. However, he said that Deputy Vice Chancellor Bob McKinlay has argued that there already is “adequate flat floor space for societies despite insistence from the Union that there is not.”
Mark Swindlehurst has advised LUSU that they must “demonstrate [their] demands for the space,” while emphasising his desire to “unlock where we can” for society use.