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Universities turn to Portakabin to meet facility demands and enhance learning experience


With universities facing greater competition and even higher student expectations, more institutions are turning to off-site solutions to expand facilities and enhance the teaching and learning experience. Off-site construction specialist, Portakabin, has handed over a second state-of-the-art STEM laboratory scheme at the University of Cumbria – on time, on budget, and after only four months on site.

The £1.6m project on the Fusehill Campus in Carlisle has seamlessly extended laboratory facilities completed by Portakabin in 2015 using a bespoke off-site solution. The scheme has now been developed to meet the growing demand from students for degrees in a range of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.

The extension has allowed the university to expand its science portfolio by offering degree-level qualifications in chemistry and biomedical science. The investment in the new specialist ‘category 2’ research facilities will help address the national skills gap for graduates with specific bioscience skills and will support the regional nuclear and pharmaceutical industries in particular. The building will also be a catalyst for greater collaboration with local schools to encourage interest in STEM subjects from an early age.

Paul McCulloch, Head of Capital Development at the University of Cumbria, said, “Following the success of the first phase, it was always our intention to expand the facilities and to use a Portakabin off-site solution again, to provide us with specialist ‘category 2’ bioscience laboratories. This would enable us to enhance our existing science curriculum offer and is a hugely exciting development for the university, our students and the regional economy.”

“Our priorities were speed, quality and cost efficiency and Portakabin has excelled in each area. It has been really easy to extend the original Portakabin building vertically. We are delighted that the building was handed over on time and on budget in time for the start of the new academic year – and despite a very tight programme. By working in partnership with us, Portakabin has definitely added value to the project and their team ensured its success.”

500sqm of laboratory accommodation was craned into position in just five days and required only nine people on site. The building installation was carried out during the summer recess to avoid any disruption to the university. Facilities include specialist research, clean and flexi-laboratories, two temperature-controlled rooms, preparation and tissue culture room, microscopy room, office, dark room and plant room. 

Externally, the new upper floor has solar control feature glazing, areas of cedar cladding and brise soleil sunshading to fully integrate it with the first phase of the building.

Portakabin used an advanced off-site solution for the building and was also responsible for the installation, testing and commissioning of the air handling systems to category 2 level of containment; fume cupboards, and microbiology safety cabinets.

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