Reporter 420, 11 May 1998

Back to school at the University’s Western Campus development

Business people will soon find themselves quite literally going back to school, to study for an MBA. The first phase of the Western Campus project is due to open in September 1999, when Leeds University Business School moves into the main building of the former Leeds Grammar School, boosting its capacity for students and research.

Watched over by 19th-century Gothic gargoyles, students and staff will take up residence in their new home four years after the University bought the site from Leeds Grammar School in return for £6.5m and the exchange of 128 acres of land at Alwoodley Gates. The site was bought to provide much-needed space to address accommodation issues such as the re-integration of split-site departments and represents a prestigious new resource for the University.

Formerly home to some 1,200 boys aged 4-18 and nearly 200 staff, the site consists of the main building and chapel dating from the mid-nineteenth century, a turn-of-the-century classroom block, some more recent additions, 7.5 acres of land – and even an old eight metre wide swimming pool.

The Business School will be the first to move onto the Western Campus and architects are working on further plans for the site. Final planning permission has just been granted by the city council and the University’s own Council has approved the release of some £8.2m earmarked for the project from the University’s capital budget. Work starts in earnest at the end of this month.

Following it keenly will be Ken Woolmer and Professor Peter Moizer of the Business School, who showed the Reporter round the site before the builders move in. “At the minute we’re split over five sites and it will be a real morale boost for Business School staff to be on one site,” said Professor Moizer. “The students will also have a stronger sense of belonging to a School,” added acting chairman Ken Woolmer.

Bringing all staff and students into a single location is only one of the advantages the School will gain from the move, says Mr Woolmer. “It will also give us room to expand – we’re currently at full capacity – and it will provide the space and facilities to develop partnership relations with business and industry.”

Devising a plan to accommodate more than 100 staff has not been without difficulty, but some innovative thinking has resulted in creative use of space. “A major problem was fitting a lot of individual offices into traditional Victorian classrooms while keeping the large windows,” says Robert Sladdin, Director of Estates Development.

“The architects discovered the ground floor of the main school building was actually raised by about six feet and by dropping it down and introducing a mezzanine level they were able to fit two floors into one.” All the offices have been set back from the external wall to create a natural light shaft and both floors are illuminated by the same set of windows.

According to the architects, Carey Jones, transforming a building into something it was not originally designed for is a huge challenge. “We aimed to restore some of the original features and take off the more unsightly additions of the last 30 or 40 years,” says Managing Director Chris Jones. “The Barry block, designed in 1858 by the son of the designer of the Palace of Westminster, will be seen in its full splendour when the more recent extensions are removed and the gables are reinstated.”

The most striking feature of the new design will be a dramatic glazed entrance linking the school with the Chapel, which will house a University textiles archive if a bid for external funds is successful. The theme is continued into the main part of the building by a two-storey entrance mall with a glass roof. The new entrance spanning across the original Barry building and later additions will emphasise the contrast between the old and the new.

As well as 100 individual offices for staff, facilities include three horseshoe lecture theatres, seminar rooms, a refectory and meeting room. The existing school library will be renovated to become a postgraduate study room as the floor is too weak to support a significant number of books and shelving. “The bookcases in the library now are actually suspended from the walls – they’re not resting on the floor at all,” explained Professor Moizer. “It also used to have a false ceiling hiding these striking old beams.”

Ken Woolmer said: “The redevelopment will put us on a par with other business schools in terms of our accommodation and will be better than some of them. In a way it’s been good to develop later than schools at other universities as we’ve been able to learn from what they’ve done well, and not so well.”

The facilities are likely to prove crucial in the attraction of new students. “Managers coming here to study for MBAs or follow part-time programmes are typically used to working in high quality facilities and now we will be able to offer them.”

Postgraduate capacity will also be boosted. Taught postgraduate and doctoral student numbers can expand as there will be teaching and study rooms of appropriate size and quality. Staff and research students can be located in groups of offices according to their research interests rather than being scattered across campus as they are now. “I hope the extra space will allow us to develop more working relationships with other parts of the University,” said Mr Woolmer.

“It also has the bonus of lots of green space which adds to the whole ambiance,” said Professor Moizer, looking out over the former rugby and cricket pitches backing on to the school.

Another major capital development will see the students’ union expand with a grant of £1m from the University. Leeds University Union is one of the largest student unions in the country and represents more students than any other.

The extension – a three-storey building and basement over its courtyard – will increase its floorspace by more than 25 per cent or 3,000m2 and help meet the needs of a growing student population. As well as expanding its trading activities, the Union will benefit from a new entertainment venue for up to 1,000 people, disabled access to all levels and additional offices for staff and sabbatical officers.

Council approved the £1m capital grant and agreed to underwrite a £1m loan to the Union, a significant contribution to the total cost of more than £4m. The scheme is expected to be completed by September 2000.

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