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For staff

Entrance to the refurbished Sidgwick Avenue Lecture Block

Comfort and teaching performance of listed building hugely improved in efficient six-month renovation project.

The Sidgwick Avenue Lecture Block opened again to students and staff on Tuesday 18 January. The building was out of action over the summer vacation and Michaelmas Term due to an extensive refurbishment project, which is now nearly complete. The building’s six lecture theatres are being used with immediate effect, while the six seminar rooms on the top floor of the building are awaiting some final AV installation works, expected to be completed this week.

The works carried out include installing a whole new roof with improved insulation for better thermal performance and replacing the heating and ventilation systems – including extensive asbestos removal, refurbishment of the underfloor heating in the lecture theatres, and installing a state-of-the-art mechanical ventilation and heat recovery system in the top floor rooms. New AV equipment to support teaching has been installed in every room and the rooms’ acoustic performance has been preserved. In addition, the building has been completely and meticulously redecorated, with the walls repainted, all the woodwork and metalwork stripped back and refurbished, new blinds and flooring installed throughout, and the toilets extended and refurbished.

It had been known for a long time that works were needed on the lecture block, a Grade-II listed building which was constructed in the late 1950s. Over the years, the fabric and appearance of the teaching and public areas had become very tired, and more importantly, the heating and ventilation was extremely poor, with the building routinely too cold in winter and some rooms (on the top floor) so hot in spring and summer that they were unsuitable for use in Easter Term. 

A number of options had been considered over the years, including more extensive rebuilding and alteration projects, but the Programme Board for Education Space – which is responsible for quality and standards in teaching space at the University – decided in 2021 to commit to a simple refurbishment of the building, with the aim of bringing it back up to the standards needed for education space at Cambridge as quickly as possible.

The project was carried out in under six months, and came in both on time – making its scheduled handover date of 17 January 2022 – and significantly under its original budget of £9.3m. This is a significant achievement on the part of Estates Division and the contractor SDC, particularly given that the full extent of the asbestos in the building was not clear until the project was underway.

As part of the project, minor improvement works were also carried out in the University Islamic Prayer Room, which is on the side of the SALB. The Prayer Room was relocated in a portakabin during the construction works but is expected to reopen to the University Muslim community later this month.

Professor Graham Virgo, Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor (for Education) and Chair of the Programme Board for Education Space, said: “It is a tremendous pleasure to be able to hand the new, improved lecture block back to students and academics for teaching this term. I know how much this refurbishment was needed, and what a difference it will make to the experience of people using the block. The close and responsive working relationship between staff from Education Services and the Estates Division has been key to the success of this project, ensuring we delivered something that really works for teachers and students, and doing it on time and under budget. I am extremely proud of what has been achieved here in such a short space of time, and hope this can serve as a model for how we do education space improvement works in the future.”

Professor David Cardwell, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Strategy and Planning, said: “I am extremely gratified by how well this project has succeeded, not just in making the SALB an inspiring teaching facility once again, but in modelling a new, more efficient way of working for estates projects at Cambridge. By adopting a streamlined approach to appointing a contractor and giving them autonomy to act quickly when necessary, we were able to complete the project to an extremely tight deadline, despite unexpected challenges along the way, and still bring it in under budget. That is a testimony to the hard work and ingenuity of everyone involved, and I extend my sincere thanks to all of them.”


19 January 2022