Aims of the project:

  • Creation of Green Construction Skills Centre on ex-nuclear labs site

Key challenges and how were these overcome:

Many of the key challenges centred on the application of innovative, carbon-sequestering offsite timber technology, due to significant site constraints:

  • Limited floor-to-floor height, in order to coordinate with existing floor levels. This was resolved through the adoption of an innovative hybrid laminated timber structure, using Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) for the floor slabs, supported on network of Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) joists in order to keep floor depths to a minimum. The LVL used was made from Beech ‘BauBuche’ hardwood rather than Spruce softwood. With its much high strength (70N/mm2 vs 48 N/mm2) this allowed for a structure with significantly smaller dimensions compared to a laminated softwood solution. This was the first use of the technology in the UK and the manufacturer is collecting performance data from the project.
  • Limited construction space, due to the fact the prefabricated assembly had to take place within an existing building. This necessitated use of smaller section sizes and / or advanced crane / handling techniques where this was not possible (e.g. the 2.4mx8m CLT balustrade panels).
  • Complex existing structure, which had to be connected to / integrated with. This meant that the existing building had to be 3D-scan surveyed and the CLT / LVL panels CNC cut to precisely fit around the in-situ steel frame with multiple diagonal braces.
  • Our contractors rose to the challenges presented by the project, using the best practice in offsite technology to achieve an exemplary outcome when compared to a traditional approach.

Key success factors:

This is the UK’s first nuclear clean-up programme that has successfully brought a contaminated site back into full community use, cleverly adapting existing buildings and now boasting state-of-the-art training facilities. It is also the first time that nuclear facilities have effectively been ’recycled’ for an educational enterprise, creating:

  • A green construction skills college (alongside a new University Technical College and science park).
  • 1,000-plus school and college learner places.
  • 30-plus teaching and lecturing posts.
  • Training and apprenticeship support for local businesses.
  • Pioneering and cost-effective re-use of former nuclear facilities (rather than demolition).
  • Ongoing projects, including a SMART energy grid with battery storage, an Advanced Renewables Research Centre and a Cyber Security Centre.

Key learnings:

The campus is buzzing with excitement and the future is bright. The transformation has been warmly welcomed in the region, boosting the local economy and offering some of the very best training opportunities for young people.

Community stakeholders associated with the neighbouring decommissioning site have long championed the project. Penny Wride, Chair of the Berkeley Site Stakeholder Group (SSG), said:

‘The Berkeley SSG has long seen the potential for redeveloping the Berkeley labs into a further education facility for the local area. The engineering centre is a fantastic example of putting the mantra of ‘recycle and re-use’ into practice. The campus will provide exciting opportunities for young people in Berkeley and beyond for many years to come and I am delighted to see the SSG’s vision come to fruition.’

Andy Slaney, Chief Operations Officer for South Gloucestershire and Stroud College, which has led the re-development, said:

‘It must be the best end result for the nuclear decommissioning process anywhere in the entire world. It is an incredible, exciting place for technical training and gives a real flavour of an industrial workplace.’

Neil Carmichael, MP and chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, said of the project:

‘It’s a fabulous achievement, it’s emblematic of… the importance to think big and be visionary’.

The project represents the £5m first phase of a visionary programme of conversion and refurbishment of a former nuclear research centre at Berkeley, in South Gloucestershire, to provide SGS College with a new renewable energy and engineering skills centre.

The building is designed to become an exemplar of regenerative investment and an education tool in its own right. It utilises a vast existing Engineering Hall to create a dynamic and sustainable new education facility, and will generate a surplus of electricity from a 100kW solar PV facade when fully complete.

Elements of the building fabric will be used to deliver specific areas of curriculum (e.g. solar pv and timber construction), whilst the responsible re-use of an existing building sets a low-carbon precedent for future developments to follow.

Steel would have been the obvious choice for the alterations to the existing structure, but Hewitt Studios chose a combination of Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) beams, glued-laminated (GLULAM) columns and cross-laminated (CLT) floors and balconies. This palette of pre-fabricated, sustainable and attractive timber products was assembled for a variety of reasons:

  • It allowed for a rapid on-site build (important as the College had a limited window of construction opportunity) and limited the associated environmental disruption.
  • It was effectively factory-finished (with Class 0 clearcoat), requiring no additional lining or site-applied finishes.
  • It gave the flexibility for services to be fixed anywhere, without the coordination issues normally associated with steelwork (welding of additional brackets, etc.)
  • It is carbon-sequestering, with only PEFC / FSC certified timber from sustainably managed forests being used (along with formaldehyde-free adhesives). The timbers are also reusable, recyclable and easily disposable (as biomass fuel)
  • It created a better environment than a steel-framed building; the surface quality is warmer / softer and the acoustics are superior, with improved reverberation times.
  • It was cost-comparable with a conventional steel frame, once savings on preliminaries, secondary framing, linings and finishes were considered.
  • It provided a dramatic contrast with the existing steel structure, allowing building users to instinctively read the building’s story, easily distinguishing between the original fabric and the new interventions.
  • It has better thermal stability than steel, helping to mediate extremes of temperature.

The design also employs sustainable timber cladding, minimising waste through use of plywood in standard 1200mm sheets. Its distinctive pattern is based upon the dazzle camouflage of warships. Rather than ‘daze and confuse’, it is here intended to reduce the visual mass of the lower levels of accommodation. It is perforated and backed with acoustic material to suppress reverberation within the main hall.

Organisation: Hewitt Studios LLP

Commissioning Agent: South Gloucestershire and Stroud College Commercial Services Ltd

Delivery agent: Kier Construction


How long has the project been operational: Since September 2017

How long the project took from concept approval to implementation: Concept approval was achieved in Q4 2014. The project was handed over Q4 2016 and opened its doors to learners in Q3 2017.

Funding: £5m (of c.£30m total site project to date).

How was the project funded? With funds from GFirst LEP, South Gloucestershire and Stroud College (SGS), the Education Funding Authority and the University of Gloucestershire.

Picture courtesy of: Hewitt Studios

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