VIDEO: Debenhams transformation on track for autumn 2024
By Sarah Wood and Mark Owen | 30th November 2023
The transformation of Gloucester's former Debenhams store into the new University of Gloucestershire City Campus is well underway.
And Punchline-Gloucester.com's editor, Mark Owen, got an exclusive tour.
There are currently 120 skilled tradespeople on site, which is set to rise to around 250 early next year, as the planned autumn 2024 opening for phase 1 gets closer.
Work started in January 2022 and James Lawley, project manager for Morgan Sindall, said it has been a challenging build.
"We've got four different ages of building. The first area was built in the Victorian era, then it was extended in the 1920s, again in the early 1940s and again in the 1950s. To manage all those different ages of building being married together has provided challenges for us, in terms of understanding how the structure behaves and how we can work within those constraints.
"We've also had the challenges of a Roman fort in the basement and an old burial ground associated with the medieval St Aldate's Church. We have had to work closely with the archaeologists to make sure we deal with the bodies with the respect that they are due."
But that was just one of the challenges they faced.
James continued: "We're really short of space, so it's critical that we're disciplined and plan our works logistically, so we can bring in materials in a 'just in time' manner. We can't bring in as much material as we like and just dump it on the floor plates. We've got to plan that carefully and we've done a lot of work with our consultants to identify where we can store materials and where we can't, using the existing structural steels as ideal places to lay materials."
On the ground floor of the former Debenhams will be a café, which will be open to members of the public, as well as university staff and students. Gloucester city library will be moving to the building from its current home and will also be on the ground floor, on the Northgate side.
The university library space and student union will make up the remainder of the ground floor, on the King's Square frontage.
The first floor will be made up of general teaching space, including simulation ward space for the university's School of Health and Social Care, as well as a lecture hall to seat 200 students. Nursing, social work, social care and postgraduate studies will be based there.
Also on the first floor will be an arts, health and wellbeing centre in partnership with the NHS. Through this centre, the university is looking to increase its placement capacity for students studying health and social care.
Louise Overton, project manager for the University of Gloucestershire, said: "It's a really exciting project to be part of. There's an awful lot of activity going on - we've got partition walls going up, we've got raised access floors, all of the façade work's been done and M&E installation is happening."
Coming from Gloucester herself, the project means a lot to Louise.
She continued: "I applied for this job because I wanted to be involved in this ground-breaking project. We're taking a derelict high street shop and refurbishing it. Being local myself, I think it's fantastic to be part of the wider regeneration of Gloucester city centre. We've got The Forum over there and the King's Square redevelopment and we're right at the heart of it all."
The whole project is providing employment to people from Gloucestershire and using Gloucestershire businesses.
James said: "We're really proud of our commitment to the local area. Seventy-five per cent of our supply chain and workforce are located within 25 miles of the project."
By the end of phase 2 of the project, it's hoped the campus will attract 4,000 students to Gloucester, providing a huge boost to the city economy.
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