Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen’s University Belfast

As main contractor for Queen’s university belfast’s new £4.9m Seamus Heaney Centre, GEDA preserved the heritage of two listed buildings while upgrading the site to meet modern standards…

Transforming two Grade II-listed buildings into Queen’s new £4.9m Seamus Heaney Centre has proved both a challenging and rewarding experience for its main contractor.

Dungannon-based GEDA Construction is well versed in handling projects of all sizes and complexity and pushing the boundaries of engineering and construction.

Yet refurbishing the site, located close to Queen’s iconic Lanyon building, put its skills to the test and required high levels of innovation, collaboration and attention to detail. 

The effort has paid off, with the refurbishment transforming the Seamus Heaney Centre into a vibrant, modern space enhancing the educational experience with an inspiring environment for students and staff.

The refurbished site occupies buildings at 38-40 University Road and 3 Mount Charles. Spanning 1,000sqm, it doubles the size of the original centre founded in 2004 and opened by the acclaimed poet himself.

Northern Irish author Professor Glenn Patterson has been director of the Centre since 2017, which is part of the School of Arts, English and Languages at Queen’s. The new building includes a public exhibition area which displays the University’s Seamus Heaney archive, an expanded poetry library, large venue space, teaching rooms, academic offices and two scriptoriums with individual workstations for up to 30 students.

Eddie Murnin, Associate Director of Construction at GEDA, said, “The Seamus Heaney Centre is not just a building, it’s a cultural landmark dedicated to one of Ireland’s most revered poets.

“Refurbishing such a historically-significant listed building required a sensitive and respectful approach, preserving its heritage while upgrading it to meet modern standards.”

The project demanded meticulous attention to detail and adherence to strict regulations, with GEDA ensuring the architectural integrity and historical elements were preserved while seamlessly integrating modern amenities.

“The success of this project was a result of close collaboration with Queen’s University, Gleeds, Michael Whitley Architects, Williams & Shaw, Doran Consulting and other stakeholders,” said Eddie. “Our ability to work effectively with various parties ensured that the refurbishment met the University’s requirements and respected the building’s heritage.”

A commitment to quality craftsmanship was also evident in the completed project from the restoration of original features to the installation of new fittings.

While construction got underway in July 2022 and was originally scheduled to wrap up in August 2023, practical completion was only achieved in June 2024 due to delays stemming from the building’s listed status.

“The biggest challenge with this project has been working around the conservation of the building and trying to keep it in its original condition as much as possible,” said Eddie.

“The existing windows were to be retained and refurbished but, because of the condition the windows were in, that just wasn’t doable.

“We ended up having to go with new sash windows throughout, which the Historic Environment Division accepted, as we were able to demonstrate it couldn’t be done. By the time you tried to save the window, there was just nothing left of the wood.”

Another obstacle was encountered only weeks into the project, when GEDA had just gutted the building and was about to commence piling for installation of a new lift shaft.

“It was difficult enough getting a mini rig into the footprint of the existing building and then, once we were able to get it in, we hit a lot of obstructions,” said Eddie. “We encountered old foundations that nobody knew were there.”

Setting back the programme by three to four weeks, the unexpected obstruction required a redesign of the piling layout and a slight change to the lift shaft position in collaboration with the engineer and piling company.

A complex M&E installation, meanwhile, included upgrades and new systems for ventilation, lighting and access controls.

“Working within the confines of a listed building was quite a challenge,” said Eddie. “It was quite difficult to fit in all the M&E services within existing floor makeups. It took a substantial amount of time for the M&E coordinator just to get all of that aligned so there were no clashes, and everything would work.”

Having successfully navigated the many challenges emerging along the way, the Seamus Heaney Centre now represents a distinguished addition to GEDA’s portfolio.

“A significant milestone for our company, it reflects our ability to handle complex, high-profile projects and reinforces our reputation as a trusted and capable construction partner,” said Eddie.

“This project stands out as a testament to our expertise, collaborative spirit and unwavering commitment to preserving cultural heritage while advancing modern construction practices.”

Project team…
Client: Queen’s University Belfast
Main contractor: GEDA
Architect: Michael Whitley Architects
Project manager: Gleeds Management Services Ltd
Structural engineer: Doran Consulting Ltd
M&E engineer: Williams & Shaw Ltd

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