School of Fine Art
History of Art and Cultural Studies



The University of Leeds, one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK, wanted to relocate its Fine Arts department under one roof.

Sewell Construction was appointed to refurbish the existing four-storey geography building and turn it into a state-of-the-art facility for Fine Arts students in a 13-month £4.3 million project.

We were chosen on the quality of our bid, as well as proven success on other similar schemes within the education sector.

The project was part of a £520 million investment programme at the University of Leeds.



We approached tried and tested contractors who have worked with us on similar education projects and in the Leeds area.

This enabled the whole team to fully understand the client’s vision for the whole project from the outset.

With this single-team approach, we were able to plan to ensure the Grade II listed building had a much-needed yet sensitive facelift.

We had ownership of the space from the start of the project, so we were self-contained and did not have to plan too much with regards to an operational environment.

However, we were conscious of surrounding buildings and liaised with their estates department weekly to keep them up to date with work on site.

Open days were planned across the whole campus during the work, so we also planned for the increased footfall during these times before work began.

The biggest hurdle to overcome at the design stage was the mechanical plant which was due to be positioned on the roof.

Once we were on site, we found it was a timber structure, so the plant could not be situated there from a structural point of view.

The mechanical plant runs the air handling units, so we had to relocate it and come up with a different system, as well as equipment, which had to be housed in the building itself.

This was a challenge from a programme point of view, and it had a knock-on effect on other areas of the design. But we managed to address the issues in the development stage and ensure the completion date could still be met.

Sewell Facilities Management provided useful insight into the lifecycle of the building to assess the best whole life costing for the client. We also held weekly contractor meetings.



There were several key milestones throughout the project, particularly while relocating the plant and the unexpected challenges associated with ensuring the building was structurally safe to house the new system.

We required additional steelwork and various input from university structural engineers.

Detailed planning, phasing and logistics were a major priority for the team as part of the project.

Working with planners at the local authority and a conservation officer, the team aimed to retain as many of the existing features of the building as possible.

A strong positive was having a supply chain which had worked with us previously.

The building will be sustainable for the future and there was a great focus on energy efficiency, while keeping a close eye on traffic management, logistics surrounding deliveries, keeping noise to a minimum and security while working on the site.

We kept the client in the loop regarding progress at all times, including countdown to completion meetings and ensuring they could take full control of the space once we had finished.

We invited the end users to look around the building at least three times throughout the project, so they could experience the building at various stages. We also facilitated visits for fine arts students and they completed a project on the history of the building, as well as a blog through the university.

As the building was Grade II listed, we reinstalled many of the existing features, including ornate architraves, kitchen rails and hardwood panelling.



The project was completed on time, on budget and without any defects or accidents.

About 70% of the on-site team were from Leeds postcodes, with three apprentices on site during the project.

This was supported with a local supply chain, with at least eight companies locally sourced from the Yorkshire area. Local spend equated to about 95%.

The team also supported the Chopsticks charity during the project, donating 1,000sq m of wooden flooring which needed to be replaced.

Instead of placing the old flooring in skips, it was donated to Chopsticks, which is based in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, and collects waste wood to cut, sort, bag and sell.

The charity gives adults with learning disabilities the chance to gain new skills and receive support in a working environment.

Chopsticks also runs a garden care and home maintenance scheme for elderly or disabled people, enabling them to remain in their own homes for as long as possible.


There have been a number of challenges along the way but the Sewell site team have worked really well with the university to overcome them and stick to our original design intent.

Paul Cook Strategic Programme Manager in the Capital Development Team, University of Leeds