Nov 15, 2018 Last Updated 11:32 AM, Nov 13, 2018

SES Engineering has been involved in a multi-million-pound refurbishment scheme

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Steve Joyce, Business Director North with SES Engineering Services – one of the UK’s premier building services design and installation contractors – talks about how communicative collaboration played a fundamental part in successfully delivering a logistically challenging refurbishment and remodelling contract at the University of Leeds’ School of Chemical and Process Engineering building.


Recognised internationally for its excellence in research and teaching, the School of Chemical and Process Engineering caters for some 1000 students from 70+ countries.

When it came to transforming the faculty as part of the university’s ambitious £520m five-year programme of works to transform its entire campus to support its vision for increasing knowledge and opportunity with a focus on world-leading research, collaborative industry partnerships and further enhancing the student experience, the University of Leeds chose to work with principal contractor Galliford Try and M&E (mechanical and electrical) specialist contractor SES Engineering Services (SES) to deliver the highly complex £38m scheme.

Against the odds and mirroring the university’s collaborative approach, Galliford Try and SES completed the extensive work on time, despite a raft of necessary variations to the original contract which were driven by the university’s desire to remain in the building and maintain critical laboratory space and the array of hidden challenges thrown up by an outdated 1960s building.

By incorporating state-of-the-art facilities into the iconic 1960s building, the university will achieve ambitious growth in academic activity.

Briefly, the building comprises a suite of three purpose-built laboratories for research using radioactive materials, with space for pilot-scale rigs, bench-top chemical experiments and high-spec analytic equipment.

A new photonics laboratory hosts ultra-fast laser plasma implantation equipment. This not only allows research to be undertaken, it also supports the use of facilities for commercial applications to be undertaken.

Remaining on site

During the two-year contract, SES and the team effectively delivered 12 contractual phases, 12 commissioning periods and 12 handovers under the one contract. To achieve this and ensure that the client was able to remain on site while live construction works were ongoing, a different approach to project delivery was adopted to make a seamless transition from outdated and corroded building services to all new mechanical and electrical installations.

Based on the logistical complexity of the project, coupled with the age and poor condition of the building – which was riddled with asbestos – it was not possible to carry out intrusive surveys. Instead, SES collaborated with the university’s established supply chain to gain a greater understanding of the location, configuration and condition of the original services. Further to this, we worked closely with the key stakeholders including the building manager, facilities manager, head of faculty, professors, students and technicians to gain a detailed knowledge of the building in use, as this would pave the way for preparing the extensively detailed phasing of works.

Traditional refurbishments usually start with a complete strip-out of the existing services. However, as the building had to remain live at all times this was never going to be possible. Following numerous design team meetings with various stakeholders, SES developed a strategy to install the new plant room facilities providing a betterment of 12 months on the contractual programme. Whilst this increased the upfront workload, it proved beneficial to the latter delivery phases. More importantly, it prevented cross-contamination from corrosion of the old services.

Simple solutions often work best

Unable to undertake intrusive surveys on taking possession of the building, SES devised and trialled a simple, yet effective, tagging method based on a traffolyte system, a process spanning six weeks, to mark those services which were to be isolated, removed or retained. This proved to be so successful that SES and Galliford Try have agreed to roll it out on future projects.

A further complication for the project team to overcome was the unsystematic way in which the installations had to be carried out. Rather than working from the top of the building to the bottom, one floor at a time, to accommodate the university’s occupation of the building, SES had to work haphazardly around the building. This created challenges with access for site operatives, teaching staff and students alike. To overcome this, intricate phased site hoardings were installed to maintain safe segregation between the site and live building. Only by working closely with everyone involved could the project team develop such an agile programme of works.

With 150 operatives on site at any one time, the project team had to ensure that it could meet the start and finish dates set out for each phase, while at the same time giving the university the four-week notice period for isolation of existing M&E services, which often necessitated SES to work unsociable hours, during the night and/or over a weekend.

Commenting on the success of the project, University of Leeds’ Senior Project Manager, David Oldroyd, said: “Without a doubt, the refurbishment of the School of Chemical and Process Engineering was complex on many levels. The building fabric and services threw up various surprises to the team, coupled with changes in research and recruitment, which forced a high volume of changes by the university. To ensure the remodelled building would help us to achieve what we’d set out to achieve the client and contractor’s design team pulled together to resolve the issues jointly and a can-do attitude was applied by both SES and Galliford Try.

“I also believe that the timely completion of the project would not have been reached were it not for the open, communicative and collaborative approach adopted by both contractors at the outset and their willingness and ability to respond to the changes without breaking stride. They are to be commended for that.

“I’m delighted to say we have a building that everyone involved can be proud of.”

In recognition of the hugely successful collaborative approach, SES recently won the prestigious Chair’s Award in Leeds Beckett University’s annual RISE (Research, Innovation, Sustainability and Enterprise) Awards.


This project, in my opinion, is an exemplar and has been a feat of logistics engineering itself. Collaboration has many guises and thanks to Galliford Try and SES’ flexible approach and an unfaltering focus on communicative collaboration, rather than a digital collaboration (which was not possible on this occasion) a contract with a 20% greater value than that tendered was delivered within the same time frame.

Key Facts

•There were 15 changes to the original project programme. The project team developed sub-programmes to ensure each phase would be successfully delivered. This included fully integrating all specific trade activities across the individual 12 phases and incorporating time for the client’s fit-out.
•Regular design team meetings were held to ensure all parties’ input could be built into the ever-changing programme of works.
•570+ project manager instructions/variations were received which equated to a significant 20% increase in contract value. Without SES’ flexibility and agile way of working, they could have caused a major impact on programming, resulting in costly delays. These changes ranged from moving sockets to changing a proposed store into two state-of-the-art labs.
•To support the client and its stakeholders’ continuous use of the building, the project was broken down from the original 12 phases of work into 21 smaller phases.
•SES held workshops and laboratory walkthroughs with each lab technician from which it created drawing overlays to clearly indicate where the services would be best located.
•Following practical completion, SES will retain a presence on site for a further 12 months to work closely with the university’s facilities management team carrying out maintenance and provide its Smart Landings initiative.
•479 miles of cable and 14 miles of pipework were installed to service 54 laboratories, 90 offices, three state-of-the-art lecture theatres and 20 post-graduate areas.

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