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Hartpury College


Over the last two decades Hartpury College has grown and developed a curriculum that extends well beyond its original land-based remit. New facilities were required both to accommodate growth and replace outmoded teaching spaces. The new centre provides modern classrooms and flexible learning space.


Project Facts

Area: 1,850m2
Project Cost: £3.66m
Construction Cost: £3.36m
Start on site: July 2013
Contract Completion target July 2014
Actual Completion: February 2015 (completion delayed by fire)
Procurement Method: Design and Build Contract



In recent decades Hartpury College has grown significantly and developed a Further and Higher Education curriculum extending well beyond the college’s original remit. The new Further Education Centre will provide classroom based teaching facilities and a large library/learning centre for the whole of the college’s Further Education curriculum. Significantly the centre will bring together A-level studies under one roof for the first time; this then allows the decommissioning of inappropriate out-dated accommodation.

Budget & Funding

With an overall budget of £3.66m the project was part funded by a Skills Funding Agency Estates Renewal Grant (£1.22m) with the remainder provided by the College via loan finance. The use of the building qualified the project for a zero VAT rating.


The two-storey building has a brick façade with sizeable windows; south-facing glazing is protected from excessive solar heat gain by external shading. The accommodation sits beneath a very large slate roof; which incorporates an extensive array of photovoltaic cells to generate electricity.

Beyond the entrance-hall and main stair the ground floor is almost entirely dedicated to an open-plan learning centre. Extensive study space allows a significant proportion of the FE student cohort to work outside traditional lesson time either individually or in groups. The scale and height of the learning-centre windows provides excellent natural lighting levels with good views to the college’s sports fields and open countryside.

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Students increasingly use their own IT devices. However additional ICT resources, including bookable laptops that are charged within a fixed unit, provide inclusive resources for all students.

On the first floor are mostly classrooms with a central corridor; large glazed screens allow light and views between spaces. Generally, the interior design makes much, but not excessive, use of “Hartpury College Red” and the building has a very smart, professional, well-ordered quality.


The Story of the Project

College Strategic Planning and Property Strategy

The college’s property strategy has evolved over the years in response to the changing nature of its core purpose and business model. Very considerable changes in the curriculum and student numbers have led to greater demands on the estate in terms of the quantity, quality and variety of accommodation and this in turn has generated a series of medium-scale design/construction projects.

Like many land-based colleges Hartpury was established after the Second World War as an agricultural college for the Shire County. As such it was part of a network of such institutions across the UK founded on post-war concerns over agricultural productivity and food security. It initially had just 50 students and achieved only modest growth in the following decades.

Generally such colleges have struggled to remain independent; modern funding regimes are not devised to support small-scale institutions with relatively high land-related overheads and management costs. As a result many agricultural colleges have been merged with larger Institutions.

Hartpury, however, has very much bucked this trend; in 1990 the college initiated an ambitious expansion programme that has allowed it to remain independent. Having, at the outset, been granted a particularly significant land holding of around 200 hectares, the college recognised an opportunity to use this space to deliver more than traditional mainstream agriculture courses. The college expanded the range of Further Education courses whilst also developing an increasingly significant Higher Education provision. Expansion means an array of specialist vocational courses is now available under general headings of:

  • Agriculture
  • Equine Studies
  • Animal Management/Welfare
  • Veterinary Nursing/Physiotherapy
  • Sports Management/Coaching/Therapies

Today FE and HE students attend in roughly equal measure. Course levels range from Apprenticeships to BTEC Diplomas, A-levels, Foundation Degrees, Degrees and Masters Degrees. The quality of these courses is widely recognised as exceptional and Hartpury is currently rated as ‘Good’ by OFSTED for the services and learning environment it provides for students under 18 years. Unusually the College also offers live-in accommodation (1,100 bed spaces) to both FE and HE Students.

This growth has continued over the last decade with an expansion of the A-level provision into a broad spectrum offer providing a full Sixth Form College experience in a rural campus setting. Hartpury’s two key selling points in the sixth form market are its ability to combine A-level studies with the excellent vocational courses and also its highly regarded sports programme; many students train and compete at an elite level of competition.

The recent expansion of the A-level programme, combined with the inappropriate nature of some of the accommodation, has placed pressures on classroom supply and raised concerns of the overall quality of the A-level students’ experience. Concern that the A-level programme was succeeding despite, rather than because of the classroom environment, caused the college to start thinking about the creation of new facilities.

As a result, in 2012, the college proposed the creation of a learning centre incorporating study and classroom space for the whole of the FE provision; crucially this would allow the large majority of A-level teaching to occur under one roof and in a bespoke environment.

Business Case and Securing Funding

With the approval of it’s Board of Governors the College made an application to the Skills Funding Agency’s Estates Renewal Grant (round 3) for one third of the capital cost. The anticipated gross capital cost was £3.66m. The business case was simply founded upon the need to underwrite the success of the FE provision and particularly A-level courses; the present aged environment was considered untenable in the long term and would ultimately threaten the work and reputation of the institution.

Aims and Management

Teaching & Learning Objectives

Due to the continued expansion of the College’s full-time student numbers, existing space within a library/learning resource centre was becoming both limited and not meeting 21st century learning styles.

The development of a flexible learning centre was to allow private individual study and collaborative work to occur in an atmosphere conducive to study.

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Upstairs, the classroom development was to allow a coordinated delivery space for A Level provision for the first time, reducing travel time for students and improving their experience, and facilitating capital resource flexibility elsewhere in the College as a result.

Preparation for the Process

Given the steady but inexorable expansion of its programme over the last quarter of a century, the college is well used to commissioning projects of this scale and has what amounts to a tried and tested approach. The Vice Principal for Business & Finance takes overall responsibility but works closely with other senior colleagues including the Principal and reports directly to the governing body. The college’s policy is not to over-complicate matters with specially appointed internal project managers or committees.

Appointing a Consultant Team and Contractor

The college has a recognised and trusted supply chain of advisors and contractors established over many years; whilst always keen to encourage competition, the college likes to work in partnership with organisations known to provide high service levels and would advocate this approach to other institutions. As such tender invitations are generally sent to a limited number of preferred organisations; the majority of the college’s contracts fall below the threshold necessitating the use of OJEU European procurement methods.

Briefing, Design and Construction

Briefing, Design Development and Project Reviews

Staff at all levels were consulted with respect to the overall design.

During discussions it became apparent that the building’s ground floor would best cater for student needs by providing a large flexible learning resource centre with spaces to suit both individual and group study. It was agreed that the space should be flexible and therefore almost entirely open plan but initially segregated into IT, quiet study, and more informal group/social areas.

There was early agreement that on the first floor would be more traditional but nevertheless well-equipped classrooms that could also flex to accommodate varying class sizes. In addition it was noted that the ability to create larger spaces for examinations would be beneficial.

Consents and Approvals

As indicated earlier the project received support under the Skills Funding Agency’s Estates Renewal Grant programme for around one third of the anticipated capital cost; Hartpury providing the remainder, primarily via loan finance. The business case was founded upon the pressing need to provide better accommodation to support the continued development of the FE programme.

Given its history of development, in a location within the green-belt, Hartpury is in regular contact with the local planning authority and has developed a good understanding of sensitivities surrounding development. The college had previously obtained planning consent for an unrelated industry-sponsored building; however this project did not proceed. That building was to have curved around an extremely prominent oak tree adjacent the approach to the campus (the college’s emblem is an acorn). Given the planning precedent set by the former project, and the Funding Agency’s declared preference for well-developed low-risk projects, the college proposed a solution with a similar footprint. A value-engineering exercise deemed the pure curve incompatible with SFA construction rates and so a cranked plan form with a larger footprint was adopted and a new consent obtained.

Procurement Strategy and Construction

Construction was procured using a Design and Build form of contract; the architect’s and structural engineer’s appointments were “novated” to the contractor to assist the completion of the design.

Construction was scheduled for 52 weeks commencing at the start of July 2013.

Handover and Commissioning

The majority of construction works were completed in around 55 weeks and the college anticipated practical completion on 20 July 2014. However on the evening prior to this date an electrical fire occurred in the roof/plant space; although the fire did not spread, a “wiring loom” of cables, each cable carrying the electrical output from one photovoltaic panel, had burnt for several hours. The cause of the electrical fire is understood to be poor electrical connections at terminals. Melting of the cables’ plastic sheathings resulted in significant acrid smoke affecting a number of rooms on the first floor.

At first sight, despite an unpleasant odour, damage on first floor appeared to be superficial. However an expert’s report concluded that some finishes would require specialist cleaning whilst many others would require replacement. Without these interventions the acidic chemical composition of a barely visible residue would reduce the life of paint/carpets etc. whilst also being potentially harmful to health. The contractor accepted responsibility and commenced cleaning and repairs; however the painstaking restoration has been slow and practical completion was delayed seven months until the February 2015 half term.

This delay presented Hartpury College with a significant challenge; having already decommissioned existing spaces, a record enrolment required the urgent rental of temporary classrooms and at significant rates for short-term use.

Although the construction contract provided for penalties for late completion these were not enforceable in the circumstances and would have been negligible in comparison to the rental costs.

The College was able to able to claim under its own insurance policy, which provides cover for events affecting Business Continuity (despite the building being technically in the possession of the contractor). The college’s insurers are now in contact with the contractor’s insurers.


Lessons Learnt

“Student feedback regarding the new building has been overwhelmingly positive, and I have no doubt this will continue to enhance their learning for years to come.” Luke Rake – Vice Principal (FE)

Hartpury has developed its approach to medium scale development over many years and managers consider that a number of the lessons learnt are now applicable to the wider sector. In summary these are:

  • Set long-term goals and plans; think about how the estate can develop to support the institution’s evolving needs;
  • Identify what you need to do and search for forms of funding (rather than the other way around);
  • On projects of this scale keep management and governance arrangements simple, try to think of such projects as part of the college’s core business activity rather than requiring special appointments/governance etc.
  • Over time identify a supply chain of trusted consultants and contractors, people who will learn about your college and how you operate;
  • Use this team to develop and test solutions that could be common to all buildings: classroom layouts, finishes, furniture and signage/branding/colours.

“Get some good professionals around you, I’m sure it pays dividends” Graham Ledden: Vice-Principal, Business & Finance

The delay to the opening of the new centre means that at the time of writing it is too early to fully assess the impact of the project on the work of the college. This student’s use of the space is now being monitored with the full expectation that the layout will continue to evolve.

Early lessons from the FE centre are:

  • An initial impression: good design has reduced noise levels and improved student focus.
  • At the outset do not overfill study spaces with prescriptive furniture arrangements, take time to see exactly how students want to use the space;
  • Be flexible; students’ technology requirements changed significantly just during the 24 month design and construction period; today many students use their own devices; focus on IT infrastructure, particularly wifi;
  • Extensive use of external windows and internal glazing, whilst not a low cost solution, improves the quality of the environment immeasurably and aids communication; the aim is always to create space where students will want to stay! The glass-sided design of the classrooms enables greater monitoring and support for teaching and learning through both management observation and peer review.

And finally:

  • Think about what can go wrong and make sure that, like Hartpury, you have adequate insurance cover!


“The positive visual impact that the building makes as you come up the drive, makes a statement, it says what this college is all about” Graham Ledden: Vice-Principal, Business & Finance

Consultant Team

Architects: CAD Associates
Cost Consultants: Gleeds
Structural Engineers: DJP Consulting Engineers
Mechanical and Electrical Services Engineers: Engineering
Services Design Practice (ESDP)
Contractors: Markey Construction