Ulster Hospital Laundry

Building contractor Ganson UK was chosen to modernise a part of the Ulster Hospital’s operation that, despite its massive proportions, normally remains behind the scenes: the laundry room. The briefing from the Northern Health and Social Care Trust included not only an extension and total revamp of the laundry installations in one of Belfast’s main hospitals, but also a new staff facility complex. 

The extension was built in front of an old storage room, and now the laundry has a total area of 1,750sqm, divided between the ground, the first floor and the mezzanine. The ground floor houses the so-called “dirty side”, where all the dirty gowns and sheets come in to be washed and the “clean side”, which is reserved for the drying, ironing, folding and packing of clean linen. Everything that must be completely sterilised is stored in the self-explanatory “clean room”, plus there are gowning lobbies for donning and doffing.

The mezzanine is a separate plant room located in the old building and houses the main water tank and air handling units (AHUs). The first floor is part of the new build and comprises a canteen, showers, toilets, offices, training rooms, linen-repair rooms.

Massive scale

Paddy O’Hart, Contracts Manager at Ganson UK, was impressed by the sheer scale not only of the laundry installations but also of the plant room and all the machinery required for this critical service at the Ulster. “The plant room is huge, a real maze of pipework with three large boilers,” he commented. “All the washing, drying, folding and packing is performed by machines, and the equipment is massive. The tunnel washer, for example, arrived on a 40-foot lorry.”

The scale of the services performed would put any proud homemaker to shame. The tunnel washing machine has a capacity of 1,300kg per hour, while some barrier washers will happily take care of over 300kg of clothing per hour. The iron machine will press and fold 900 sheets per hour, while the towel folder will fold 650 towels and the blanket folder will fold 400 blankets during that same amount of time. 


Ganson UK also faced some challenges due to the sheer scale of the project. “The build was complex and required a lot of planning and coordination,” Paddy explained. “This is not your standard project, and was a first for many people across the teams.” 

The first issue was the draining of the whole building. As part of the water coming out of the machines is extremely hot, the drainage had to be made of a special material to withstand the high temperatures. “Normally, we would use PVC drainage pipes, but boiling water could deform them and impact their lifespan,” Paddy explained. Ganson had to order Thermachem pipes, made of clay, especially from England – and there was a 14-week leading time for the material due to the war in Ukraine. 

In light of recent fire regulations updates, another measure that had to be put into place before the build could start was fire-proofing the whole steel frame of the extension. Even the non-exposed steel had to be fire-painted. 

Powering the gigantic washing machines and other equipment required nothing less than 26 electrical cables which, combined, had a diameter of 670 millimetres. “The original proposed route for the cables from the substation to the hospital was underground but, with such as congested infrastructure surrounding the existing hospital building and working in a live campus, we had to get creative,” Paddy commented. The team built an overhead gantry for the cables at the back of the substation’s fence and then installed them underground.

A game changer 

The Contract Manager commented the Ulster Hospital Laundry is definitely a very special notch on Ganson UK’s belt. “Now we know we can accomplish and successfully deliver a project of this scale,” Paddy said. According to him, the new staff installations will make a huge difference in the hospital staff’s lives, “With quality facilities like the ones we delivered, it will be a game changer for them.”

For the full feature on Ulster Hospital Laundry, check out NIBuilder Issue 34-2 April-May here.