University Estates and Management have indicated that the Physics and Biology buildings, acknowledged in a recent University Estates Strategy Review, to be in “urgent need of attention”, will not be renovated until 2016 at the earliest.
The University has defended its decision as part of a measured and co-ordinated system of expansion contingent upon “available capital.”
Elizabeth Heaps, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Estates and Services stated there were “other urgent considerations about departmental growth and academic need which needed to be factored into any priority setting.”
Graeme Osborn, YUSU Academic Officer, said: “The sciences are among York’s most successful departments; they recruit students of a very high standard as well as producing world-class research. If this is to be continued, then the university is going to have to update its current facilities”.
Heaps explained that the dates shown “may change according to annual reviews of priorities.”
The Physics department is currently ranked twenty-eighth in the country, according to the Guardian league tables, released in 2012. Biosciences, including the linked Hull department, were ranked 3rd.
The Biosciences department have recently received a large amount of investment, including the building of the new departmental and technology facility building and the new Centre for Immunology and Infection (CII) building.
These constructions came to over £23 million and were completed in June 2010. However, the original Biology single-storey teaching facility has not been the recipient of any comparable investment.Heaps explained this was a result of the massive investment to other aspects of the department, as well as balancing the expenditure required for the expansion taking place on the Heslington East campus, and the renovation of Heslington West campus.
Many of the buildings under review on Heslington West are part of CLASP, the Consortium of Local Authorities Special Practice, a construction program conducted in the 1960s.
The program oversaw the creation of prefabricated structures primarily for educational purposes. The prefabricated buildings have many acknowledged problems.
The structures, which were built rapidly when the University was founded, are notoriously cold in winter and prone to over-heating in summer. The single-storey Biology block is one such example of CLASP.
A survey conducted by HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) in March 2008 concluded that this was a result of their “lightweight poorly insulated” structure.
The report also noted the projected capital expense of renovating these buildings, which it estimated to be at 80 per cent of the cost of creating an entirely new building. In addition, “the life expectancy of the refurbished buildings is 15 years.”
Estates and Management have continued on a program of refurbishment, rather than demolition and re-construction, to limit the disruption to students.
Furthermore, the maximum footprint for building on Heslington West has been reached, requiring expansion either upwards or elsewhere.
There have been extensive projects completed on Heslington West, including the refreshment of much of Derwent and Halifax colleges over the summer. However, expansion has required that the main investments are situated in Heslington East.
Osborn said that the re-development of the Heslington West campus was recognised as being “crucial for maintaining the standard of education offered by the university.”
Heaps has stated that the “the acquisition and development of Hes East that has provided the opportunity to do most of the rest.”