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Carlisle College



Carlisle College has carried out a series of projects designed to extend and improve its existing estate.

In 2004 the college envisioned a phased £30 million investment in its main campus. This included a 2008 project at the centre of its estate (£11 million), providing new teaching and social facilities, a visitors reception and connection between existing buildings. This work was led by Turner & Townsend Project Manager and designed by Ryder Architecture. Additional refurbishment, via the Skills Funding Agency’s Estates Renewal Grants and “CIF” programmes has brought much of the remaining estate up to a good standard. The 2014 Development, the subject of this case study, was the creation of a new £5.6 million Arts Centre, designed by Architects Broadway Malyan with Project Management by AA projects.

Carlisle Entrance

Project Facts

Area: —m2 (—m2 new build)
Project Cost: £5.6m
Construction Cost: £3.9m
Start on site: October 2013
Completion: September 2014
Procurement Method: Design and Build Contract

Background to the Project

As a centre for a broad Arts curriculum, the project needed to include a range of specialist spaces. Both the Assistant Principal and the consultant team worked with end users in a series of early structured meetings in order to develop a detailed brief. The brief included a 200-seater theatre, art studios, textile teaching areas, space for filming and television studio facilities.

Unusually the prime motivation for this project was not space or campus rationalisation or even upgrading existing facilities but the requirement to find a permanent home for recently acquired provision. Historically Carlisle College had very limited arts provision. This was primarily due to the 19th Century establishment of Cumbria Institute of the Arts, more recently known as Cumbria College of Art and Design, which developed courses at both Further and Higher Education levels. In 2007 a project to create a local university succeeded with the establishment of The University of Cumbria and this incorporated Cumbria College of Art and Design.

However the University wished to focus on Higher Education courses and an open tender process resulted in Carlisle College adopting the Further Education Arts provision in 2011. Initially the College used buildings provided by the university at its Brampton Road Site. However in 2012 the University advised the college that it would need to vacate this site by the start of the 2014 academic year and the race was on to find new accommodation for 250 further education students.

The Story of the Project


The college had previously acquired a small brick Edwardian manufacturing building very close to its main site. A feasibility study suggested that this structure could be refurbished, extended to triple floor space on the site, and equipped, for a gross cost of £5.6 million (construction value £3.9 million).

  • The project milestone dates were as follows:
  • Appointment of Consultants: September 2012
  • Project Tendered for Construction: August 2013
  • Start on Site: October 2013 (delayed by a requirement for redesign)
  • Completion: September 2014

The design concept was simple: the existing narrow plan brick building fronts the site and a simple corridor arrangement with cellular spaces on either side suits this loadbearing structure. Behind this a lightweight framed two-storey extension with zinc cladding provided the larger scale studio spaces.

During the design/consultation stage, it was agreed to focus the budget on the creation of specialist teaching floor space rather than include facilities such as general learning resource/study spaces or social spaces. This has had the effect of encouraging the Arts students to use central college facilities; just two minutes walk a way. Whereas some might have been attracted by the concept of a self-contained art school, the reliance on other parts of the college estate is seen as a positive, “the [art] staff and students are visible [to others] and have brought something different to the college, it feels like we have put in place a missing piece of the jigsaw”. Carlisle College now feels more like an all-embracing College confident that it can meet the needs of all members of the community.

Construction & Completion

The planning authority was highly supportive of the proposal; the carefully detailed extension was distinctive yet did not overwhelm the original brick building. The project progressed well until it was tendered for construction when costs were well over budget. This may be partly due to an improving construction market in 2013 and partly an enthusiasm on all sides to develop the very best possible solution for a relatively new curriculum area.

Over the summer the consultant team worked to reduce the cost of the scheme in close consultation with both the planning authority and the lowest tenderer. This process was by no means easy and this did cause anxiety, as project’s completion by September 2014 seemed in doubt.

The redesign resulted in the loss of the extension’s U-shaped plan form that wrapped around an open courtyard in favour of a simpler more compact rectangular deep-plan box. This reduced the quantity of external wall providing the large majority of the required cost saving. Of course this revised arrangement reduced the opportunity for natural lighting through external walls; the use of the generous roof-lighting at first floor level kept internal spaces light, and spaces that did not require natural light (recording and practice rooms) were now placed in the centre of the plan at ground floor level.

Works on site progressed speedily, indeed the revised arrangement was easier to construct. However the demanding timescales meant that not every space was complete by September 2014. With careful planning the contractor was able to give the college access to every space during the autumn term with very limited disruption to teaching.

Carlisle Studios Elevation


Lessons Learnt
Take your time to select professionals who can demonstrate that they are right for the job. When choosing ensure that professionals have the track record, resources and willingness to support you. With such support a great deal can be achieved and all manner of problems overcome! Similarly be careful in your selection of contractor; the contractor on this project exhibited real skill and organisation, helping to get the job done in challenging circumstances.

As the design develops consider the cost risks carefully; how will matters be resolved if tenders are returned over budget? Lowering the specification (and therefore quality) is the quickest and easiest way to resolve a problem, however in this instance simplifying the geometry and reducing the quantity of external wall was a better solution.

In the event of a phased completion, celebrate twice! Creating a magnificent facility is always worth celebrating, once when it is open for business and again when every space is available. The college had a second large celebration at Christmas, officially opening the building and putting on a show in the performance venue.
“The building is amazing and the equipment is all brand new.” Student.

“We are delighted with our new building.” Curriculum Team Manager.

“It’s gone down a storm.” Assistant Principal

Carlisle Zinc Cladding