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In Week 1 of Lent term, Bowland Tower re-opened for residential use after a nine month renovation project and four million pounds worth of investment.
The refurbishment replaced the original accommodation that was first built in 1968. However by 2008, the Tower was deemed unsuitable for further residency and a total refurbishment was scheduled.
The new accommodation in the Tower reaches 11 storeys in height and can house up to 55 students. Each floor offers five Superior Ensuite rooms as well as a communal kitchen, lounge and dining area with views looking west over the University and towards Morecambe Bay.
As well as the refurbishment of the Tower, the East and West wings around Alexandra Square have also been converted into new accommodation facilities. These host 76 new standard rooms, adding to the existing ones in Bowland Main.
The Tower renovation has been carried out to a very high specification. Each Superior Ensuite room now has ample wardrobe space, a large desk and floor-to-ceiling tiles in the bathrooms. The communal living spaces feature comfortable seating areas and large stainless steel fridge-freezers in the kitchens.
The students who now occupy the Tower and its East and West wings were formally residents of Bowland’s Ash House. This facility is now under review and plans for future renovation are being considered.
SCAN interviewed new Bowland Tower tenant, Claire Page, who praised the new accommodation: “The Tower is so much better than I was expecting! The best thing is the views, especially the sunsets.”
There are expectations that the new facility will be extremely popular with both new and current students at the University. Residences Manager, Candace Davies, spoke to University House, saying: “We expect these rooms to be very popular with current Bowland students, and future Lancaster students that come to choose college membership and accommodation this summer.”
The time taken to complete the Tower renovation is also something to be celebrated. Mark Swindlehurst, Head of Facilities, spoke to University House and said, “The programme involved a tight timeframe to ensure the work was carried out for students to move into the accommodation at Christmas. The Project Delivery team, college and contractor have worked in partnership to deliver the project on time and within budget; a fantastic team effort.”
Local contractor Askam Construction was responsible for the undertaking of the work, whilst the University managed the logistics of moving students from their contingency accommodation in Ash House prior to their return to Lancaster for the Lent term.
However, whilst the renovation is an undeniable credit to the Facilities Department and the University as a whole, the accommodation is not without its teething problems.
For starters, the Tower flats are accessible through a single, swipe key operated door at the foot of the building. In theory this may be sufficient to deter curious intruders, yet the fact that each level of the building can be accessed without additional security features, may pose potential safety risks to residents.
However, when SCAN spoke to Page, she saw past these problems, instead highlighting the social benefits that open access helps achieve. “I think I prefer the fact that there is free access onto all floors once you’ve got into the building. We all moved in from Ash House so it’s easy to go onto another floor to see all your friends. Also, as the kitchen automatically locks every time it’s shut, everything in there is safe as only the people on that floor can get in.”
SCAN contacted Doug Shaw, Acting Security Operations Manager, concerning this potential problem. Shaw responded to assure students that “a review of these issues raised is taking place shortly.”
Another cause for concern is the presence of just a single elevator to ascend and descend the Tower. Whilst there is little that can be done without incurring significant additional expense, the single lift – which can only hold four students at a squeeze – seems insubstantial as the volume of students wishing to travel up and down at peak times will often overwhelm its capacity. The elevator also opens directly onto the corridors of each floor. This may prove intrusive to the privacy of the occupants and may also undermine any efforts to resolve the current security issues shortly under review.
As well as these security flaws there has also been reports of damage to external panelling on the top floor of one sides of the building. Talking to Alastair Brock, Facilities – Operations Safety & Compliance Manager, SCAN was informed that the damage was to the panels that protect mobile network cabling owned by the external telecommunication company Ericsson. In a statement to SCAN, Louisa Duff, Facilities Marketing & Communications Manager, relayed that the issues were “first raised by the University before the Christmas break.”
However due to Ericsson’s delays in making the repairs and the adverse weather conditions that have prevailed over the holidays, the damage has worsened.
Duff went on to confirm “they [Ericsson] will carry out the repairs very soon and [we] are in contact with them on a daily basis.”
Whilst these issues are important, it is also vital that they do not detract too strongly from the quality of the renovation work and the value it has added to the student experience at Lancaster University. Mark Swindlehurst, Director of Facilities, reiterated this by saying that “the refurbishment of Bowland Tower is part of the University’s on-going campus investment to ensure that Lancaster’s students have the very best facilities during their time here.”
With the breath-taking views and brilliant facilities that Bowland Tower now offers, this is a very difficult statement to deny. Instead, the building only adds further credibility to Lancaster University’s position as the UK’s top University for on-campus accommodation.