New Look For St Mary’s University College – Tracy Brothers Ltd

Witnessing firsthand the pride of students and teachers alike in the new Cardinal Newman Library, and their enjoyment of the user-friendly space, was rewarding for the main contractor.

Tracey Brothers Ltd was tasked with refurbishment, a downward extension and fit-out of existing space at the library in St Mary’s University College (SMUC) Belfast.

Previously occupying the top two floors of a three-storey, rectangular building located at the Beechmount Road side of the SMUC campus, the existing library accommodation was extended down to the ground floor alongside refurbishment of adjacent stairwells and entrances. 

An existing roof light opening was enlarged, and a void created at first and second floor levels, creating a central collaborative atrium space extending throughout the three floors.

All external façade curtain walling, glazing and doors were replaced with new solar glazing,

Further works included replacement of all building services, partitions, windows and internal doors and finishes, as well as new bespoke furniture throughout. 

The refurbished library building is a modern and flexible space, combining traditional reference materials with an IT provision and multiple study and social spaces.

A standout of the project, which was recognised as Fit-Out Project of the Year at the CEF Awards 2023, was the quality of finish achieved.

Peter Maguire, Commercial Manager, said, “The materials quality reflects the nature of the library space, with high standards of acoustic performance within and between often conflicting spaces, such as the three-storey open atrium and collaborative stair with audio-visual screen connecting social spaces and quiet library space.

“Oak-slatted screens and extensive acoustic aluminium glazed screens add openness and spread of natural light, whilst delineating spaces. These are combined with naturally soft but hard-wearing materials and feature digital artwork, acoustic panelling and floating clouds to create the new modern library ambience.”

Also elevating the works was Tracey Brother’s commitment to sustainability, with the contractor conducting a review identifying potential reductions in the environmental impact of its works across all projects.

Notable results were achieved with the Cardinal Newman Library, where existing facilities were redeveloped to achieve a 30% increase in accommodation within the constraints of the existing building while minimising the carbon footprint attached to demolishing and constructing new facilities.

“We identified that, as part of the redevelopment, we had to remove existing precast concrete floor and roof slabs and take them from the site for disposal to land fill,” said Peter.

“We also noted that, due to the remodelling of the building, we required new floor and roof slabs in other areas of the building.

“We researched the feasibility of reuse of the existing floor and roof slabs and, after surveys and investigations on site combined with design compliance checks, we were able to reuse these slabs.

“This avoided not only the demolition, transporting and disposal of the existing slabs to landfill but avoided the carbon impact of manufacturing new slabs and transporting to site.”

Project challenges, meanwhile, included safely working around the student population. 

“The rear elevation and central courtyard, which underwent complete redevelopment, were surrounded on all four sides by our site and other education buildings, all of which remained live and in daily use during demolition, excavation and redevelopment of the courtyard into a vibrant open space for daily student use,” said Peter.

Daily contact between Site Manager Gerry O’Hara and the SMUC estate management team, led by Gary Murphy, ensured planned activities were timed and sequenced to avoid hindering College operations.

To mitigate potential overspill from already restricted on-campus parking, offsite parking was secured at a local sports club, and weekly client interface meetings were hosted to coordinate activity, a traffic management plan and out-of-hours works.

Gary Murphy, Estates Manager at SMUC, said,“We have been very satisfied with the level of consultation and advice provided by both consultant and contractor teams throughout. The result has been a project delivered to a very high quality that meets and exceeds the needs of our staff and students.

“The project team, from the client’s perspective, worked very positively together as the project completed on time, within budget and to a high build quality. There was a clear collaborative attitude throughout, focused on meeting the client’s strategic aims and objectives.”

Emma Montgomery, Project Architect from Isherwood & Ellis, said, “The project involved use of a number of specialist finishes and bespoke furniture. These elements of design were incorporated and installed to a high standard, and the quality of the build is evident from the seamless integration and level of detail provided throughout.”

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