The unsuspected monster that emerges from the depths threatening to devour the entire project by super-inflating the costs or stretching completion out far beyond the bounds of feasibility is the nightmare motif of refurbishment. On this grade II-listed library restoration scheme, Graham Tuthill slew a clutch of such beasts by ransacking his technical armoury for killer solutions while motivating his team to stay positive and focused.
Imagine the scene. Weeks before handover and the internal refurbishment is going splendidly, with three of the floors fully redecorated and carpeted, the remaining two 80% complete, and the M&E replaced. Meanwhile, the externals brief is simply to remove the rubberised paint on the front elevation, do some minor repairs and repaint the stonework in a breathable finish. Except that all the paint on the stonework turned out to contain lead, requiring time-consuming removal under controlled conditions. Once the paint had gone, it was clear that the stonework had been repaired with hard cement render, which had to be removed to assess how damaged the stonework really was.
Bad turned to worse when, with the whole design team by chance on the scaffold, a large piece fell off one of the pair of 1.2-tonne corbel stones supporting the front elevation. Replacing the corbels meant removing and replacing the tracery window and arch above. As work began on the arch removal, a very old and defective steel beam was discovered spanning the full width of the building, which would of course also have to be replaced.
Graham’s careful planning ensured that the remedial works did not destroy the months of hard work. Rather than go for an expensive facade retention that would extensively damage the internal finishes, he had the elevation supported with needle beams on a structural scaffold. Weighing 10 tonnes, the bespoke steel matrix ran internally through each floor at the front of the building. Graham minimised the damage to the decorative cornices and lath and plaster ceilings by limiting the number of holes drilled for the individual poles and installing fully boarded temporary screens on each floor to keep dust out of the finished areas.
He then pulled the fit-out works into the refurbishment programme to limit the effects of the necessary programme time extension, giving floor-by-floor fit-out access in parallel with floor-by-floor works completions. His collaborative approach enabled the library to open three months earlier than planned, much to the delight of the client.