By Tom Matsuda, BA Japanese and International Relations
Areas of SOAS’ Paul Webley Wing in the Senate House building are set to undergo a series of renovations from May onwards. Over a period of 18 months, sections of the building will be cordoned off and renovated. Once an area has been renovated it will be reopened. The renovators will then renovate another section of the building. These refurbishments are part of the on-going project to deal with the building’s heating problem, which has resulted in leaks and cold areas in the building.
All areas of the building will be disrupted at some point during the renovation period. This will include Student Services, which may have to be relocated for up to 10 weeks. The Paul Webley Wing houses essential services, such as the Student Hub and Careers Services and also is home to two lectures theatres. This comes at a time where increased pressures have already been put on staff by the SOAS Senior Management’s effort to re-structure administration departments. Most recently, Management’s proposal of a ‘One Professional Service’ was met with a student and staff-led walkout.
However, to minimise levels of disruption to the student population, the public spaces in Paul Webley Wing will be carried out in the summer periods. These renovations will mainly be quiet, as it largely involves alteration to pipework. However, the lifting of wooden flooring may disrupt students. The Estates team stress that these alterations will be carried out carefully as to diminish chances of it causing inconvenience to students.
When questioned as to why the Paul Webley Wing was not sufficiently heated despite the existence of a large heating system covering most of the Bloomsbury estate, Stephen McKinell, Head of Energy Management, said that it was due to “the design of the [heating] system and the standard of the installation.”
Francine Hill, Assistant Director of Estates and Facilities, provided further details saying “the contractor at the time installed the pipework in places to a sub-standard level which is why we have leaks and cold zones”. Hill also emphasised that the full cost would be levelled by the original installers under current proposals. Additionally, the new system will be assessed by TB+A, an independent company, in order to have an “unbiased independent view” and also “to ensure any new system operates correctly”.
However, this does call into question why these faults were not discovered in the building and planning process of a building that had £5 million dedicated to it after SOAS received a £20 million donation in 2013 by the Alphawood Foundation. However, it is stressed by Hill that “no liability sits with SOAS and no claims are being made of SOAS insurance for the cause of the faults”. Moreover, that as to why these problems have occurred are currently under review according to Hill.
It is not only the inside areas of the Senate House Building that may experience further construction however. The 4th Quadrant, otherwise known as the Green Area adjacent to the Senate House building, has been subject to proposals that would result in the construction of a teaching block. If such plans were to occur, it would eliminate one of the only green areas on campus and thus result in the cutting down of the tree in the middle of the 4th Quadrant. It is also currently unknown as to whether SOAS will be able to use this building, as University of London officially own the site. Nevertheless, planning consent has not currently been approved, the process of which could take over a year.
Details of this building proposal will be further discussed in a meeting between SOAS and University of London, scheduled in late February.