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Case Study: Gymnasium Conversion, UoB


Project/Client name: University of Birmingham
Sector: Higher Education

  • Cost Management from inception and master planning through to Project completion
  • Leading the two-stage Procurement and negotiation
  • BREEAM compliance

MGAC | RLF provided full cost consultancy services and prepared detailed option appraisals covering a variety of redevelopment options, each comprising a different mix of refurbishment and vertical extensions to the existing building to provide a mix of state-of-the-art office and teaching facilities. This enabled the decision to refurbish and re-purpose The Old Gym building, which had previously been considered for demolition, with the confidence that the University would be achieving the best value for the project.

Project Overview

This project comprised the conversion of an iconic four-storey 1940’s gymnasium building into a new teaching & office facility.

With support from MGAC | RLF, the design team have created an outstanding facility which has been designed to the highest possible specifications of environmental sustainability and accessibility and will provide a new lease of life to this iconic campus building.

The gross internal area of the building has been increased by the addition of new balconies. The completed project delivers a building of approximately 18,300 ft². The new teaching spaces are located within the sub-basement, ground floor levels and on a new mezzanine floor providing a total of 265 student spaces including an 81-seat tiered lecture theatre.

A two-storey extension on top of the previous gym area has been added sympathetically to enhance the useable space and contains a range of open-plan offices, meeting rooms and consulting pods which have been fully enclosed in curtain walling, providing light and airy office areas.

The Mechanical & Electrical strategy was carefully considered to reduce the carbon footprint of the building. The mechanical design strategy utilised natural ventilation via breather building units which were housed on the roof and the provision of openable windows and with comfort cooling provided to isolated areas where required.

Careful consideration was also given to the viability and selection of energy-efficient LED light fittings and the provision of Photo Voltaic panels on the roof. The completed building achieved an EPC rating ‘’B’’ and a BREEAM rating of ‘very good’, which was a significant achievement for a refurbishment project such as this.

Our Contribution:

Inception and Feasibility decision support: Assessing the scope of works required based on the results of surveys and providing detailed cost advice on various options to ensure budget certainty. Preparing initial budget estimates for feasibility proposals. Preparing an overall project cost forecast and cash flow projection and agreeing on this with the University’s Project Manager.

Managing expectations of multiple stakeholders: Due to the proposed use of this facility, a variety of stakeholders had a vested interest in the successful delivery of this project. We facilitated various task group meetings which were also attended by university personnel including Estates representatives, Heads of Departments and various stakeholders from finance and procurement.

Procurement support: MGAC | RLF supported negotiations for a two-stage tender process to provide maximum cost certainty.  This allowed the design team to bring the contractor into the team at an early stage in the detailed scheme development so that they could work alongside the design consultants throughout the RIBA stage 4 design. Consequently, any potential reductions to the programme and the project costs could be identified and taken on board as appropriate.

Influencing the Design Process: MGAC | RLF worked closely with the Design Team to assess the scope of works required and provided detailed cost advice on a wide range of options to ensure budget certainty and that the design proposals were fit for purpose. We also prepared initial budget estimates which included providing an overall project cost and cash flow projections, which were updated at each RIBA Stage. MGAC | RLF continually monitored all cost implications to ensure that the University achieved best value for money by the provision of regular cost plan updates, periodic costs reports and updated cash flow forecasts.

Collaborative issue resolution: Several issues were encountered during the construction works which were overcome with a collaborative approach being encouraged between MGAC | RLF, the design team and the contractor. Some of the key issues encountered on this project included the relocation of a colony of bats discovered within the existing building, establishing the structural integrity of the old wrought iron beams in order to provide the best strengthening solutions, the re-sequencing of construction works due to nesting birds and the re-routing of the existing main campus steam main.

Robust cost management: Working with the contractor and the design team to understand which elements of the design were fixed and which could be subject to change. This allowed MGAC | RLF to establish a Contract Sum by ongoing negotiation and collaboration with the Contractor, thus providing maximum cost certainty for the University.

Rigorous change control: In order to manage costs on a fast track project such as this, the Change Control process was required to provide the flexibility to make quick decisions, whilst at the same time delivering best value for money. MGAC | RLF agreed on a process with both the University and the Contractor by which budget figures could be initially submitted so that the University could consider whether the change was viable and/or essential to the project. MGAC | RLF would then negotiate firm costs based upon competitive quotes which were obtained by the contractor to ensure that the best value was achieved for the University.

Proactive management of Variations: The nature of the works and the number of stakeholders involved in the project resulted in several contract variations which were driven by various stakeholder requirements. A regular review of the Cost Plan was undertaken, with consistent pressure being placed on the contractor to firm up the costs for provisional items as soon as detailed design information became available. This highlighted savings that were being achieved confirmed the balance of contingency that was available which could be allocated to other variations.

Sector Expertise: To assist in the successful delivery of the project MGAC | RLF utilised a team with in-depth knowledge of Higher Education facilities. Delivering a proactive cost management service and providing an innovative approach to matching procurement advice achieved both the project and key University objectives in respect of budget and programme delivery.

Outcomes and Benefits: The key outcome from this project was that it was delivered on time and within budget, whilst being delivered within a live environment, with minimum disruption to either the student experience or the other University departments which were located within adjacent buildings.


“It has been fantastic to see this building brought back to life and we were very pleased to be given the opportunity to rescue a building of such interest. We look forward to seeing the new lease of life that the Old Gym will have, providing both offices for University staff and new learning spaces for students. We enjoyed working with MGAC | RLF who have been long- term partners on the University Framework and who were instrumental in determining viable cost options for the design of this project.

Warren Jukes, Director, Associated Architects



Get in touch


Paul Anderon
E: paul.anderson@rlf.co.uk
T: +44 (0) 121 456 1474
M: +44 (0) 7785 708 012