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Nottingham University fire investigation starts

Investigations are getting under way into the cause of the fire which ripped through the partially-built laboratory at the University of Nottingham last Friday.

Nottingham Fire

The laboratory ablaze last Friday. Photo: Geoff69 (Flickr).

The £20M GlaxoSmithKline Carbon Neutral Laboratory of Sustainable Chemistry was under construction at the university’s Innovation Park.

Morgan Sindall began work on the project – designed to achieve a BREEAM Outstanding rating – in September 2013, and was scheduled to complete in early 2015.

Firefighters were called to the site at 20:35 BST on Friday 12 September. They were able to stop the fire spreading, but could not prevent the building being totally destroyed.

Sir David Greenaway, the university’s vice-chancellor, wrote in a blog post: “There are lots of questions to be answered: how this fire started; why it spread so quickly; why the devastation was so total.”

John Mills, group manager at Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service, said the investigation was at an “early stage”.

A spokesperson for Morgan Sindall said: “Everyone on the project team has been working hard to deliver this state-of-the-art low carbon laboratory for the university and we are of course greatly saddened to see the devastation caused by the fire. We are supporting the fire service investigation into the cause of the incident and thank its officers for their efforts last night to tackle and contain the blaze.”

A source close to the project explained that the building has been designed to avoid materials with high levels of embodied carbon: “Achieving [carbon] neutrality starts at the very beginning for the building, with a minimum amount of carbon-heavy materials such as steel and concrete being used.

“The building frame is constructed mainly from glue laminated (glulam) beams with around 60% of the glulam panel walls externally clad in cedar. The remaining 40% will be clad in terracotta tiles which are single-fired to keep embedded carbon to a minimum.”

The university said in a statement that it would develop a plan to start construction work again: “This is a setback for us but one from which we have no doubt we will recover.

“The GlaxoSmithKline Carbon Neutral Laboratory for Sustainable Chemistry is a landmark building which is the embodiment of the university’s commitment to sustainability in all its forms, particularly in the area of green chemistry and we will be working closely with our partners at GSK, and the contractors Morgan Sindall, to develop a positive plan of action for rebuilding.”

The architect on the project is Fairhurst Design Group, sustainability consultant is Best Foot Forward, with civil and structural services through Curtins. Service engineer is Aecom, project manager is Gleeds, cost manager and QS is Capita, and CDM coordinator is WSP Safety.

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