£200m of higher education projects delivered on programme, to budget…. and with great team spirit

Higher education specialists

Focusing on just two of the regional universities we work with, over the last few years, Summers-Inman has been instrumental in the timely delivery of eight individual higher education projects.

With a combined value of almost £200m, these eight projects were strategically significant for both universities.

University estates are continually evolving to meet the expectations and demands of the next generation of students so the need for new, improved teaching and learning facilities as well as accommodation is growing year on year.  The latest available figures for 2018-19 indicate that there were 2.38 million students studying at UK higher education institutions.  

This trend is certainly supporting our workload.

Building for the future

For example, the £72m Park View Student Village, for Newcastle University, was an exemplar of modern methods of construction, and saw over 1,000 student bedrooms constructed in under two years to replace dilapidated student dwellings.

The £22m National Horizons Centre for Teesside University, which was handed over in 2019, is a state-of-the-art bioscience facility offering research, education and collaboration, which has a pivotal role in addressing the challenges of the bioscience industry by both investing and attracting investment in the sector. 

Or in the case of the £21.4m Cornell Quarter student accommodation building, this was required due to the high growth in student numbers.  It was handed over on programme in less than two years from start to finish, with zero defects and a BREEAM Excellent rating, notwithstanding the lockdown occurring towards handover.

Team work

In fact, given the difficulties imposed on the construction sector by the pandemic, which have significantly affected all of us, we feel a real sense of achievement in getting these major schemes across the line to everyone’s satisfaction, but it is certainly not our celebration alone. 

At the heart of every successful, timely and safely delivered project is a massive team effort from day one and in the true spirit of continuous improvement, this is where we continually strive to improve our skills on each new project.

With that in mind, we decided to talk to a couple of our clients to get their all-important feedback on how we perform as their lead consultant, since it is only through constructive criticism that we discover what we might be able to do better next time.

Last year, we worked with Robin Beattie from the estates and facilities department at Newcastle University on the Dame Margaret Barbour Teaching and Learning Facility, which was handed over in December 2020.  We asked him about the credentials he would look for when appointing a firm like Summers-Inman. He said:

“We are looking at a variety of skills for a lead consultant, project manager and contract administrator appointment, which was Summers-Inman’s role on this project.

“How the service will be delivered, the team and its breadth of expertise, the overall quality of the submission and the quality of its reference schemes are critical.  Of course, pricing is a factor too, as we are spending the taxpayer’s money in most cases, so we work on a 40:60 – price:quality basis, to ensure we are getting the best overall team and at the same time, value for money.

“However, Summers-Inman really did fit the bill when we tendered the Dame Margaret Barbour project.  They did a superb job with the unfortunate demise of Clugston occurring halfway through the programme and the need to begin over again with a new contractor, Robertson’s, completing the work.

“Creating a team and working collaboratively is very important to the university and in this case, Summers-Inman’s John Harvey, was excellent.  He really knew how to get the team working well together.  He is a great team player and managed to get the energy of the team just right.  He also knew when to challenge the contractor when required.  There was a lot of trust within the team. Summers-Inman is always firm but fair.”

According to Robin, universities increasingly favour the NEC3 form of contract because it engenders more of a partnership – an open book approach – and with its early warnings all the way through, any problems that do arise can be dealt with in a timely fashion so that there are no surprises at the end.  This type of contract calls for close collaboration of all parties, which very much suits our style of working.

Using this form of contract again at Teesside University, we also talked to Jill Thompson, Deputy Director Campus Services about how we performed at the Cornell Quarter.  Working as client’s representative – frequently the basis of our appointment – it is important to be able to get on with everyone. She commented:

“Summers-Inman’s role was to bring together everyone involved in project delivery at the right time, with weekly and monthly board meetings to report on progress and costs. 

“They worked with us and the design team hand in hand, as one extended team.  This was a time critical project with a quick 75-week build programme and lockdown occurred just a few months from project completion.  Incredibly, the site was only closed for two days, while Wates and Summers-Inman worked tirelessly to respond to the requirements for site safety and social distancing, yet still maintained project momentum.  We really were one big team – just wearing different coloured shirts. They were amazing.”

Summers-Inman won a place on the NEUPC (North East Universities Purchasing Consortium) framework a couple of years ago and we have won some of our recent major contracts as a result, one of which is a multidisciplinary appointment to the £13.5m Net Zero Industry Innovation Centre (NZIIC) on behalf of Teesside University.  This is a research and innovation facility which will support the region’s ongoing drive for clean energy and sustainability.

This project win brings under the spotlight the next major challenge for all estate managers – not just higher education estates departments – and that is the need to procure construction of new build and refurbishment work with carbon net zero at the forefront of all decision making.

Retrofitting looks as if it will feature regularly, along with energy centres, the widespread use of PVs and vastly improved levels of insulation.  These are all going to be key issues for estates managers to address in the near future.

While this is just a small snapshot of our work at two universities over the last three years, we hope it gives a flavour of what we’ve been up to and what clients are looking for – in our experience, service with a smile always seems to go down well – along with the more in-depth expertise of course!

Projects include:

Newcastle University                     Value                    Start – Completion dates

Park View Student Village             £ 75m                     2016-2018

Sports Centre new build               £ 20m                     2018-2019

Sports Centre refurbishment       £ 3m                     2020-2021

Dame Margaret Barbour T&L      £ 27m                     2019-2020


Teesside University                        Value                    Start – Completion dates

Student Life Building                   £ 13.2m                 2018-2019

National Horizons Centre           £ 22m                     2018-2019

Cornell Quarter                           £ 21.4m                2019-2020

Net Zero                                      £ 13.5m             2021 – ongoing

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