Wet Laboratories Project, including 'The Assembly' Science Information Technology Facility
18 September 2003
1.1 The Report
The Wet Laboratories Project (Including the 'Assembly' Science Information Technology Facility) was undertaken in the MA Building, University City Campus South, and completed in October 2001. In May 2003, a post-implementation review was undertaken to investigate whether the facility had achieved its original objectives. In writing this report, the format and methodology of the Higher Education Design Quality Forum (HEDQF) was followed.
1.2 Project Context
The University is a major provider of science and health care education, which at the time of this project being undertaken, was delivered via the former Schools of Health Sciences, of Applied Sciences and of Nursing and Midwifery. The School of Applied Sciences and School of Health Sciences shared a common need of high-quality provision for biosciences and medical education. Previous Teaching Quality Assessment scores in Health Sciences and Biosciences of 22 and 23 respectively indicated that the policy of enhancement and integration prior to the project had been successful in raising standards. The University wished to enhance this provision further by developing improved laboratory facilities from existing non-specialist space and adjacent, outdated laboratories.
As space in MA Building was being appraised, a sub-project was proposed which involved the development of the adjacent 'Assembly'. This area had previously been the main hall of the former Technical College when the University occupied the building. This hall was later used by the University as an occasional large teaching room, but was no longer fit-for-purpose. The proposal was to convert this area into a streamlined teaching and learning facility with generic and specialist IT provision required by students of applied sciences.
It is important to note that, in parallel with this project, a merger of the schools of Applied Sciences and Health Sciences took place. The result was a single School of Applied Sciences (SAS).
1.3 The Forums
A set of forums were convened to inform this report. These were:
- A meeting with School of Applied Sciences staff
- Interviews with Students, accompanied by a questionnaire
- A meeting with the Project Team
- A meeting with the Facilities Department
All meetings were minuted and the results of all questionnaires compiled. All the data and documentation which informed this report is available from the University's Project Office. Key points are in bold type and the report concludes with general recommendations.
1.4 The Project Team
The scheme was Project Managed by Andy Stewart, Assistant M+E Officer in the University's Property Services Division; a section of the 'Facilities Department' which deals with capital project and estate development. The 'Assembly' Science Information and Technology Suite sub-project was managed by Sarah Chaloner, IT Support Manager with the University's IT Services Department. There were a number of User/Client Groups who were managed by the Dean of the School of Applied Sciences. The Professional Advisors on the Project were Martin, Ward and Keeling (Architects), Mansell Construction Ltd (Construction for the Wetlabs) and Interclass PLC (Construction for the 'Assembly' IT Suite).
The project definitions outlined the intended benefits of the facility.
2.1 The Wet Laboratories Project
"[The project proposed to]:
- Complete the integration, refurbishment, modernisation and joint use of laboratories for Health Sciences and Applied Sciences.
- [To address] sub-standard accommodation for Health Sciences laboratories in a building to be vacated under stage 1 of the Wolverhampton Estates Review.
- [To provide] institutional restructuring utilising high quality multi-function laboratories which is of general potential benefit to the sector.
- [To provide] infrastructure rationalisation with increased utilisation of appropriate accommodation supporting two major regional centres of excellence."*
*These objectives were outlined in the document "Application to the Higher Education Funding Council for England for support from the Restructuring and Collaboration Fund", June 2000. This was a successful application for funding for approximately £1,600,000 of improvements to University Estate; of which this Project comprised £567,000.
2.2 The 'The Assembly' Science Information Technology Facility Sub-project
"The project will provide:
- Streamlined IT facilities for…SAS
- A flexible teaching space
- [Convenience] for staff and students to access IT facilities
- A useful and attractive facility" **
**These objectives were outlined in the document entitled "Project Definition Document: Wetlabs Sub-Project – Hall Conversion to IT Suite", January 2001.
The Post-Occupancy Review analyses the conduct and success of the Project by comparing these objectives against measurable outcomes, in line with the methodology outlined by the HEDQF.
3.1 External Parameters
The Project was initially undertaken in order to streamline facilities for both the Schools of Applied Sciences and Health Sciences to create a number of 'Wet Laboratories' and an adjacent 'Science IT Suite'. The existing provision was deemed ineffective and inadequate. This new facility would fit within a wider strategic plan to enhance the campus estate and to complement other developments undertaken in close proximity as part of Phase 1 of the University's Masterplan.
3.2 Developing the Brief
Representatives from the School of Applied Sciences commented on the fact that the project ran relatively smoothly and this was directly attributed to a continued consultation process between the Project Team and the Clients. The Project Team requested a list of preferred performance specifications from the School. To inform these decisions, the School devolved this request down to each separate Teaching Group within SAS, through a 'Users Group', discussed in more detail below. The requests were then considered by the Project Team who analysed the responses and used these as the basis for the Brief. Consultation with School staff continued throughout the Project and due to this, changes and potential problems were understood and addressed before serious difficulties resulted. It was further noted that this system worked particularly well due to stakeholders clearly understanding their individual role and the roles of the different groups. The Project Team agreed that one of the significant reasons behind the smooth, effective and successful running of the Project was continued consultancy with the clients.
The 'User Group' was convened by the School of Applied Sciences and chaired by the Dean of School. This 'User Group' not only informed much of the Brief in its development stages, but also monitored progress throughout the project. The steer that this group offered ensured a user input into the project, and the strong management of the group offered a cohesive and unified voice from the users. In the forums, the existence of a 'User Group' and its strong management was highlighted as being a reason behind the positive feedback from clients about the completed facility. The Forums highlighted the benefit of consultancy with the clients being enhanced by a well-managed 'User Group'.
3.3 Project Management
The Project was completed on time and on budget.
Sarah Chaloner, Project Manager of the 'Assembly ' IT Suite section of the development felt that the use of basic project management methodology worked very well.
IT Services and Facilities acknowledged that closer interdepartmental working needed to take place on future projects. To this end, the Directors of IT Services and of Facilities (which includes the Property Services Division) planned further discussions on this topic. Furthermore, Andy Stewart and Sarah Chaloner produced a paper with suggestions for improvements which focussed, in particular, on improved procedures for accepting data-cabling specifications. The Forums highlighted the importance of close interdepartmental working; especially between IT and Facilities Departments.
Subsequent projects which subsumed IT Services involvement under the direction of Property Services had worked very well. Networking undertakings, such as data-cabling and network switches came under the responsibility of the M+E specialists of the Facilities Department. The Forums highlighted the importance for internal specialists to be co-ordinated by the Facilities Department.
Property Services advised that lead-in time was crucial, and having an appropriate lead-in time was a significant factor in any project being completed on time. It was stated that projects did not always develop as quickly as initially expected. A lead-in time of 6-9 months was preferable in theory, although In practice, this amount of time was not always available. Recommendation: A well-considered and significant lead-in time.
Recommendation: For Property Services and appropriate building specialists to become involved in projects at an early stage.
3.4 Financial Management
It was noted that there was a relatively tight budget for the wetlabs refurbishment, but that, through careful management, the Project did come in on budget and on time. Suggestions for a devolved budget were rejected, explaining that the few financial problems experienced were a result of confusion about order-placing responsibilities. Recommendation: For budgets to remain solely under the management of the Facilities Department.
Comments from School staff about decant arrangements being unsatisfactory were noted, but this was judged as being a result of the limitations of the overall budget and the fact that decant costs were not separated. Furthermore, that all subsequent Building Projects had taken into account the importance of decants and a separate budget had been identified in the first instance. Recommendation: Building Projects to have a clearly defined but separate budget for decant.
4.0 Design and Construction
The Project Architects, Martin, Ward and Keeling were deemed capable in their undertaking of this building scheme. However, it was noted that, for more sizeable projects (as defined by projects which were 'major' or 'fast-track'), the resource-base of a large architectural firm would be essential. Recommendation: For Building Projects to be supported by appropriately resourced architectural firms.
School representatives commented that, not only was the facility completed on time and on budget, but that the level of workmanship was high.
Property Services were very pleased with the contractors, Mansell Construction Ltd and Interclass PLC. It was noted that combined Mechanical and Electrical contracts did not work particularly well, as different companies did one element well, but not the other. Recommendation: To appoint separate Mechanical and Electrical (sub-) contractors.
5.0 Building Management
An on-site communications plan was beneficial, and it was noted that all University building projects since had a clearly outlined plan. This involved monthly site meetings and designated personnel as points of contact. Recommendation: An on-site communications plan.
There were problems noted with security whilst the building works were occurring. This was mainly due to University staff and students inappropriately straying onto works sites, with all the Health and Safety issues which this raised. Recommendation: Robust measures to prevent unauthorised access to building sites.
The School commented that some doors did have excellent security locks, especially those in the specialist areas, but that it would have been enhanced by this level of security being maintained throughout the facility. A Principal Lecturer at SAS explained that a Card-Controlled system worked very well at the Higher Education Institute where they were previously employed. The Forums suggested that Building Management and security required a greater level of uniformity throughout the University.
6.0 Staff Users
6.1 Positive Feedback
From all the various sources of information, the response was distinctly positive. Both staff and students made encouraging comments and stated that the facility was a positive development which was appreciated by the majority of users.
A Professor of Biomedical Science in SAS, explained that the Wet Laboratories were very good and he felt they were superior to those they had experienced elsewhere. Furthermore, that the School was 'delighted' with the results and that the laboratories were often shown to guests.
There was also specific praise given to the IT suite. A member of staff who regularly used the facility commented that the facility 'allowed a change of teaching practices', without 'forcing this change'.
Staff and students commented regularly on the availability of PCs and the improved software available. This is a theme that runs through all the source material which resulted in the questionnaire and staff and student interviews.
The teaching methods often altered with the type of learning that was happening. With standard teaching, the lecturer presented from the front of the class. However, more interactive work and assisted personal study involved the students working together in small groups, with the lecturer moving throughout the group. It is important to note that the facility was flexible enough to allow these different ways of teaching.
6.2 Classing Issues
The School explained that the IT Suite allowed flexibility for teaching. It was also used simultaneously for classes and as a drop-in facility with few problems. A need for better signage was highlighted to prevent the occasional disruption to classes caused by students walking in to use the pc's for personal study. Recommendation: Clear signage in dual-use teaching and learning facilities.
6.3 Lecturing Position
During the meeting held with School staff, members of staff commented that there were problems with the teaching positions in the IT facility. Various suggestions were offered on how this situation could be remedied and the University is now continuously reviewing the interaction between teaching facilities and teaching methods.
6.4 Security issues
The Forums highlighted the fact that security measures throughout the facility were varied and inconsistent. (This point will be reviewed in more detail in the following section.) This discussion was taken further to suggest a clear University-wide policy on security-access equipment; stating that this would improve effectiveness throughout and could also mean cost-savings due to implementing a standard, non-disparate infrastructure. Recommendation: For a comprehensive University policy on security and security equipment.
The security equipment placed eventually in the Assembly Hall was deemed very effective. These measures involved security cameras in the facility with a monitor placed on the entrance so those entering would view themselves; thus making users aware of the security presence. Prior to this equipment being installed, a number of thefts were noted and highlighted in a previous user review of the facility. However, once the security cameras were in place, no further thefts occurred. The security devises on the doors in the 'Specialist Area' of the Wet Laboratories facility were deemed particularly effective. Representatives from the School of Applied Sciences commented that, with hindsight, it would have been desirable to use similar effective security methods throughout the facility. Recommendation: For the security systems used in the development to be considered for other projects.
7.0 Student Users
Students were involved in developing the brief and the results of the student surveys demonstrated an overwhelmingly positive response. (Copies of which are available from the University's Project Office.) The majority of the points made by students were echoed by staff and thus addressed in the previous section.
From the surveys, it is evident that the acoustics of the IT Suite did live up to expectations of students and that the lecturers could be heard from elsewhere during classes. Students noted that sound travelled over from lectures, with the general noise levels being increased and the students working in the open learning spaces being distracted by the sound of lectures. Conversely, lecturers noted in the post-implementation meeting that they had to speak louder to compensate for the background noise. In response to the comments raised, the University is investigating solutions.
7.3 Impressions and Image
The layout, comfort, and subsequently, the user-friendly design of the facility were also evident from the feedback. Students also commented on the friendly atmosphere and the helpfulness of the staff, although this was not a specific area of questioning in the survey.
1. Initial and continued consultancy between the clients and the Project Team.
2. A well managed 'User Group'.
3. Close interdepartmental working; especially between IT and Facilities Departments.
4. Internal specialists to be co-ordinated by the Facilities Department during building projects.
5. A well-considered and significant lead-in time.
6. For Property Services and appropriate building specialists to become involved in the project at an early stage.
7. For budgets to remain solely under the management of the Facilities Department.
8. For Building Projects to have a clearly defined but separate budget for decant.
9. For substantial Building Projects to be supported by appropriately resourced architectural firms.
10. To appoint separate Mechanical and Electrical (sub-) contractors.
11. An on-site communications plan during the construction period.
12. Robust measures to prevent unauthorised access to building sites.
13. The Forums suggested that Building Management and security throughout projects required a greater level of uniformity.
14. Clear signage in dual-use teaching and learning facilities.
15. For a comprehensive University policy on security and security equipment.
16. For the security systems used in the facility to be considered for other projects.