Paul Hoskins, Managing Director of Diamond Special Works, discusses the refurbishment of public buildings and how specialist skills can overcome common challenges.

Investing in public buildings is crucial to meet higher environmental standards and the changing needs of its users. Whether it’s a fit out, refurbishment or remodelling project, the work must deliver a high-quality, flexible space that can meet the current and future requirements of both the owner and the local community.

Each project will present its own set of challenges for main contractors, so demands specialist skills and experience. Most will require construction work to take place while the building is occupied and, in many cases, the heritage of the site must also be considered.

Having worked with Islington Council for many years, we’ve helped to enhance a variety of public buildings in the borough, which demonstrate these challenges – and how contractors can overcome them.

Attractive environments

The benefits libraries bring to local communities has seen investment grow across London. Finsbury Library is a case in point. This library and support centre is an essential local amenity, which is home to the Old Street area housing office, library staff and associated public service functions.

Diamond Build was appointed for a refurbishment spanning three floors. To ensure the project was completed in the quickest time possible and to minimise disruption, the construction programme was developed to accommodate evening and weekend working.

The design aims were to provide a lighter and more welcoming environment for the public and council staff. This was achieved through timber panelling and contrasting colours in the entrance area, and suspended ceilings in the offices. To improve energy efficiency, new low energy strip lighting was also fitted.

Sympathetic restorations

The desire to improve facilities for the local community, has seen Islington Council invest heavily in the town hall, including the assembly hall which is situated adjacent to the main building.

The Grade II listed assembly hall had not been used as a functions and events space for almost three decades and instead was being used as a storage area. It comprised an auditorium, a stage and foyer at ground level, lobby areas and cloakrooms on the first floor, and toilets and a cloakroom in the basement.

Working closely with English Heritage, the council wanted to breathe new life back into the space creating a facility for community and corporate events in the bustling north London borough.

Diamond Build was responsible for sympathetically refurbishing the assembly hall in 2010. Oak panelling, which features throughout the auditorium, was retained and restored to its original condition. The existing ironmongery and light fittings were also retained, and the foyer restored using original materials and colours.

On the first floor, the gallery seating was upholstered in the original colours. The surrounding walls, floors and ceilings were also refurbished in materials and colours to match the existing.

Services were upgraded while protecting the fabric of the building. Sections of the oak panelling were adapted to provide access to the voids behind them, which were used to house sockets, preventing them from being visible. The existing ventilation system was also modified to bring it up to the required standards and period-style column radiators installed around the perimeter of the space.

Diamond Build was also responsible for constructing a new lift into the foyer. To minimise the impact from a design perspective, the lift and its enclosure were made from glass, so the structure is completely transparent.

The original art deco interior combined with some modern twists have given the space a unique feel.

Modern needs and heritage in harmony

In 2021, the main Islington Town Hall building was refurbished to better meet the needs of the community and people that work there. This resulted in upgrades to external and internal areas, including new ceremonial suites on the ground floor.

The renovations had to be delivered while the Grade II building remained in use, minimising any disruption. This required a carefully phased approach.

The first part of the project saw Diamond Special Works reconfigure the service yard to create a more efficient use of space. The project’s second phase involved the overhaul of outdated spaces into new ceremonial rooms for formal events. A former office and meeting room were converted on the ground floor, which required building alterations, new entrance doors, new dado panelling, steel window repairs, new lighting, decorations and carpeting.

The team also refurbished the town hall’s entrance area and converted a first-aid room into an accessible toilet.

The scope of works included the design and installation of mechanical and electrical (M&E) services for the project, including a solution for a new chilled cellar. A storage area, which was hidden behind huge walls and close to a 1930’s bomb shelter, was transformed into a modern refrigerated beer store.

Diamond Special Works surveyed the existing building services and carried out upgrades to the existing lighting and power circuits, bringing them up the required standards.

Partnership working

Public buildings are diverse and regardless of their size or purpose, should have a positive impact on local communities. Ensuring they can meet ever changing needs socially and environmentally, is becoming more important than ever before.

Contractors with the right experience and specialist skills can help local authorities to upgrade their assets quickly and cost-effectively, ensuring public buildings are fit for the future and those they serve.

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