JJ Rhatigan & Company – Setting standards in education building at NUI Galway.

There aren’t too many clients in Galway or in the surrounding area that are as successful when it comes to securing funding for construction work as NUI Galway. JJ Rhatigan & Company, a firm that has been providing construction services for over half a century, have completed several projects at the campus over the past few years and despite strong competition from other construction firms for these projects Rhatigan’s have, more often than not, come out on top.

NUI Galway is on a mission to develop a suite of suitable, high-end accommodation and facilities that will enhance their Research and Innovation offerings. The Research Bundle of Projects and the Arts Millennium Building, both built by JJ Rhatigan & Company, have created landmark buildings for the researchers and students at the campus. The Research Bundle comprised the construction of a bundle of two separate buildings; a stand-alone hi-technology Biosciences Building (BRB) to include high technology laboratories, on the northern part of the NUI Galway campus and an extension to the James Hardiman Library (a protected structure) for the Hardiman Research Building for Arts Humanities and Social Sciences Research (HRB) of approximately 5,500 sq.m., including associated works to the existing building on the main NUI Galway campus. Both of these new buildings allow for the creation of new strands of research that facilitate interaction with local enterprise and other universities like UCC, UCD and TCD.

Hardiman-NUIG-2The HRB required design and construction which would integrate with the existing James Hardiman Library in the middle of the southern campus. This work was completed on the existing campus which meant that the Rhatigan team had to work around a live campus without causing undue disruption. According to Ger Ronayne, regional director at the firm, the team were very conscious that they were working on a live campus which had to be kept fully operational at all times while adhering to the strict programme timelines in place. “Particularly noisy or otherwise disruptive operations had to be programmed in advance with the users of the building or alternatively done out of hours. A lot of pre-planning and coordination went into the programme and at all times we had to be mindful of maintaining services to the college and minimising disruption  as a result of our works.” Access to the site was via a shared construction access route from Newcastle Road for the new extension to the Arts Millennium Building which was also under construction by JJ Rhatigan & Company at the same time. The facades of the building consisted of a mixture of glazing and natural stone cladding. Dura beige limestone was used as the main stone, with Chinese lina black basalt at the lower levels to create a striking contrast. Particular emphasis was placed on the thermal efficiency of the glazing systems and the envelope as a whole, the result being a highly efficient façade system which also greatly enhances the aesthetics of the building. The site was surrounded on three sides by existing live buildings of up to 4 storeys in height and areas of mature trees. The western side of the site faces onto an open landscaped area which extends out to Newcastle Road. As the facilities were constructed in one of the busiest parts of the Southern Campus, it was essential that the most efficient use was made of the surrounding limited land.

 JJ-Rhatigan-1The Arts Millennium Building Extension (AMBE), mentioned above, consisted of the construction of a new extension to the existing Arts Millennium Building which brings together the core functions of the School of Psychology which were previously located in various buildings both on and off campus. The Hardiman Research Building and the Arts Millennium building extension are situated side by side, right in the heart of the campus. “These were substantial projects, in the region of €20 million between the two of them. They were ongoing at the same time, had very tight construction programmes and were both located in the hub of the main campus, together with the fact that they were both extensions to existing buildings which continued to be in use made delivering these projects quite challenging.” The HRB project which included the construction of a four storey building was an extension to the main library of the old campus; a significant amount of careful planning and coordination was required to make sure the existing library was kept operational at all times. The new extension is joined to the existing library at podium level by a three storey atrium space which provides connections between the two buildings. The semi basement level provides special collections archive rooms, mechanical plant rooms, storage and ancillary accommodation, a fire suppression facility, a toilet and cleaners room, an archives processing area, two lifts, escape stairs and connecting stairs linking the existing restaurant with the atrium space above on the podium level. This level also provides a two metre wide services corridor which serves the plant rooms of the existing library on its western elevation.

During the construction of the HRB and the arts millennium extension the campus was actually cut in half which led to the installation of a temporary pedestrian bridge to connect the two sides, maintaining the daily workings of the campus. The project also included associated works to the existing Library and external podium, the re-routing of services and trees and landscaping works to the open areas to the West and South of the building.

The flagship project for the firm has to be the Biosciences Building, an extremely complex stand-alone 4 storey project of hi technology research facilities and office space. Although it’s not located in the heart of the campus but sits on its own site, the brief for the project presented its own challenges. “It’s a highly serviced building that includes a great deal of high-end and very clean laboratories facilities. We had in excess of six people completely dedicated to managing the Mechanical and Electrical services installation working on that project full time. We were also responsible for the supply, procurement, delivery and installation of the specialist equipment required for the building, which was a particular challenge. This isn’t equipment that you’d see in many buildings.” The Rhatigan team were responsible for ensuring the equipment, which included Autoclaves, Medium & Large Sterilisers and Decontamination Chambers, Bio Safety Cabinets and Fumehoods, met the correct specifications that the college required and that it was coordinated and installed efficiently and safely.

JJ-Rhatigan-2The BRB is a very prominent building on the North Campus at NUI Galway and the building’s façade utilises a number of systems to effectively weather the building while achieving the planning requirements as laid down by Galway City Council. The building’s elevations combine the use of three main systems including specialist curtain walling to the North and West elevations. The West elevation in particular has unique features such as the double glazed system with profiled caps/fin detail combined with the use of high performance neutral double-glazed units used to achieve the required solar/thermal performance specified. “Okawood” by Okalux, a bespoke designed and integrated wood timber slat detail to the sealed unit is used over the full elevation. The other elevations use a combination of Ribbon and structural glazing at each floor level. Another system employed was insulated render – each elevation has a feature panel of raised insulated render, with the design using two colours combined with 200mm steps in the various building floor plates to break up the long West and East elevations. In addition, all four elevations incorporate the use of Black Basalt stone cladding to first floor level as well as the utility buildings on the West elevation. Low level seat walls clad in the same stone are provided as part of the external features at various points around the building.

The building also includes ultra-clean lab facilities, which required a “Burn-in” period whereby operating systems were fully operational for a continuous 30 day period (overseen by specialist commissioning company The CUBE.) “Once the clean lab was completed, it was decontaminated and sterilised; a notional decontamination barrier was put in place which meant there was strict control and procedures in place for gaining access to the facility; effectively it had to be completely finalised, snagged, commissioned and validated before it could be handed over. To get that up and running, to get the burn in period completed and to achieve the validation and certification of the facility while ensuring the decontamination was completed effectively – all presented their own challenges and required meticulous planning and coordination, which resulted in the whole process going according to plan and certification being achieved at the first attempt.” The innovative solutions employed by the firm have raised the benchmark for third level research and education buildings and cemented NUI Galway’s position as a leader in the field of bioscience research.

Headquartered in Galway, the firm has a particularly strong presence in the West, Midlands, East and North West of the. The Dublin and Sligo offices are also extremely busy at the moment. “We are currently working from Cork and Kerry to Sligo and Donegal and from Dublin in the East to Galway in the West and everywhere in between!” The firm also has a firm foothold in the education sector, a fact that’s reflected in the volume of repeat business with public departments, semi-state bodies and local authorities and in particular with NUI Galway. Currently on site once again at NUI Galway, the firm is constructing the Life Course Studies Institute building on the northern campus adjacent to the BRB, building on the existing relationship with the university. The new 3,600m purpose built building is designed to provide an integrated multidisciplinary solution to the needs of the Social Science Programmes at NUI Galway covering older people, children and family and people with disabilities. “We’ve always given NUI Galway an excellent service and we’ve always delivered on quality, programmes and budget for them. The Buildings Office at NUI Galway are very proactive and easy to work with; they get things done and they have a very good approach in their dealings with the builders as well as everything else. We’re all delighted with the projects in NUI Galway and the reason for the success for these projects is I think the proactive and cooperative way we worked with NUI Galway to deliver the buildings within budget, to their specifications and quality. We had a very rigid set of programme dates in which to complete the projects and we were successful every time. At one stage we were delivering three buildings at the same time and we met each delivery date, to the day. I think that was a fair achievement given the complex nature of the buildings, their location in the heart of the busy NUI Galway Campus all combined with the fact that all our recent work for the university has been on a Design & Build basis.”

This article first appeared in Irish Building Magazine and can be viewed with this link.