In 1991, a steering committee, which included Lothian Regional Council, decided to provide a new centre to house voluntary sector bodies within Edinburgh. Burnett Pollock Associates (Architects) and Pottie Wilson (Quantity Surveyors) undertook a feasibility study to identify a redundant school building which was suitable for conversion into high quality, affordable accommodation. The former Norton Park School, built in 1902/3, was deemed suitable for refurbishment, and planning consent for the change of use from school to office and community centre was approved in 1992. The Albion Trust was formed and ownership of the building passed to them from Lothian Regional Council in 1995.
During the redesign and refurbishment of the Norton Park building, the following companies were involved: Hart Builders as contractors (members of the Association of Environmentally Conscious Builders, Burnett Pollock Associates its architects and Wren and Bell as civil, structural and environmental engineers. The work was carried out between December 1996 and June 1998, when the Alblon Trust Building opened for business.
The stone shell of the original building, which is in the style of a London Board School and is a listed building, has not been altered. The main structural changes are the new escape staircases, toilets suitable for the use of all and the lift to enable disabled access to all three floors.
On each floor, there are mezzanine areas to increase the amount of available floor space: these are good value for money. The tenant voluntary organisations rent office space from the Albion Trust on a long-term basis. There are also interview rooms and a conference room, which tenants may rent for short periods as and when necessary.
The refurbishment of the building was mostly funded by local government and charity money, including £300,000 of National Lottery Funding. Because Norton Park is a Listed Building, Historic Scotland also provided some funding.
As the client for the refurbishment, the Albion Trusts former director, Alan Hobbett, ensured that environmental best practice was carried out during the conversion work. The old oil-fired boilers were removed and gas-condensing boilers were installed. Formerly, there was no ventilation system whereas now the new background ventilation system draws external air in between the roof slates and ensures one air change per hour. The lighting system was completely renewed. Heating, ventilation and lighting are controlled by the building management system (BMS), which cost £100,000.
The thermal and sound insulation of the building have been increased. 300mm of loft insulation has been installed. As Norton Park is a listed building, the original single-glazed windows have been left in place and have been repaired where necessary. Argon filled double-glazed units have been installed as internal secondary glazing to the original single-glazing. This combination of external single-glazing, large air space and internal argon filled double-glazing ensures a very low overall U-value for the whole window system of 0.8-0.9.
A survey of the condition of the woodwork was undertaken by Hutton and Rostron: the only room found to have dry rot was the gymnasium, which was treated. The wooden floors were treated with environmentally-friendly O.S. wax. All the original (wooden and glass) doors are still being used. For the damp proof membrane and vapour barrier, recycled polypropylene was used. With the building being listed, when stone repairs were necessary, new stone was used rather than plastic repair materials. As the need arose, tiles were stripped off walls in one area of the building to enable them to be used in another area. The new carpets are mostly animal hair. The electrical system has been completely replaced with a trunking system, covered with MDF, manufactured by Hall and Tawse. There is a heat recovery system on the ground floor: the work of Professor MacGregor of Napier University was used to recover heat from the roof. Induction loops have been set up to aid hearing for the deaf.
Rainwater is recovered from 30-40% of the roof area: this grey water is used for toilet flushing. Six bat boxes have been installed on the roof with the approval of the Lothian Bat Society. Ventilation to the main roof has been improved by replacing the lower 300mm of slate with lead and incorporating a 25mm gap.
As a building that is mainly large open plan with small cellular units, heating and lighting usage are likely to be relatively low as indicated in the following table (BRE Guide 17).
The payback times for different aspects of the building vary widely. For the complete building, it is of the order of ten years. However, the rainwater tank will take forty-five years to pay back. In contrast, the loft insulation payback time is only five years.
The end result of the refurbishment work is that sustainable reuse has been of a historic building. Many environmentally positive features have been incorporated. There are also many social aspects to the building and its new use: it is compatible with both children and the disabled, having a nursery and facilities appropriate for the disabled as well as the able bodied, such as lifts and suitable toilets.
For the environmental audit process, how were cost audits included? The quantity surveyor was involved in the design and castings. There were desk studies and costs for individual items pre-tender plus double specifications in the tender. Vapour barriers did not cost any more even though using old plastic bags. Environmentally friendly paint cost approximately 10% more than emulsion.
Were alternative energy systems considered during the design stage? At a very early stage of the project, combined heat and power (CHP) and photovoltaic cells (PV) were considered. However, a gas condensing boiler was the final choice.
A decision was made to use polyvinyl chloride (PVC). However, it was only used sparingly, with the aim to recycle it at the end of its design life.
Richard Atkins, Burnett Pollock Associates.
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