SCAN interviews the minds behind Design the Spine

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The Spine. A key part of the university and a part of daily life. SCAN sat down and chatted to key figures in the “Design the Spine” revamp to talk about what their vision was for the project, and ask questions students have be wondering for months.

The project pledges to rejuvenate the throughfare that makes its way along the body of the university, bringing the staff and students together in their joint goal of not getting wet, and plans to do this with a budget of £13 million. That’s the equivalent of 1200 student’s tuition fees this year. This is a vast amount of money so what can Lancaster students expect to see from the investment? SCAN talked to Lewis Donaghy and the rest of the Spine development team to find out.

“The spine is at the heart of the campus and impacts on absolutely everyone. During the design phase we came up with the design the spine brand, allowing anybody who wanted to get involved with the project to give input. We recognise students don’t come to university to engage in capital projects, but we ran an online consultation and we tried to get as many people as possible involved in the actual design process. Now the challenge is to deliver the project as quickly as we can whilst minimising disruption”

One popular question is why the Spine-works are going on in the academic year, but the redevelopment group believe that it was the only way for it. “The scale of the project means we couldn’t deliver in over a summer vacation, for a multimillion pound project it’s just not feasible. We did consider doing it over five summer vacations but our governance body, which includes LUSU, decided that would impact too many cohorts of students”

Are delays or overspending likely?

“Too early to say – we have another year on site, we have done as many surveys as we can do but we don’t have a crystal ball. You can be tripped up by things like animals – if you find a rare bat in a structure you are planning to build in then legally and ethically you’ve got to stop work. These are the sort of things you have to consider”

“The project budget is 13 million. Projects are fraught with risk – we’ve found lots of unknown structures in the ground, big chunks of concrete that no one knew were there. There are things you just don’t know until you start building. So we can’t sit here and say we are definitely going to deliver it on budget but we have a very good record on these kind of projects”

SCAN News has previously run articles on the impact the Spine Redevelopment has had on university businesses, most prominently Pizzetta, whose main entrance and signage has been closed off by construction for months. SCAN asked what had the team done to reach out to those businesses their project was impacting?

“Last March we ran a consultation where we had a fairly good idea of what the scheme was going to look like, we had an open forum. All of the tenants were invited to come and the effects of the project were on full display. Only one tenant came to that meeting”

“We’ve met with Pizzetta, offered to help with their signage and their social media. They are affected by the closure and we were processing them. So we’ve done what we can but unless there’s real evidence of a fall in revenue we can’t act”

They admit they have received three complaints from students with a disability via the base. “Our response has been, since everybody is unique, is a meeting to try to get some feedback but none of the three people have take up our offer”

However the Spine team believes that by the time the project is finished the businesses along its length will benefit from the much needed revamp.

“The university feels the Spine was letting the campus down. It was quite an unpleasant environment. It’s gone from quite a pleasant environment to quite a grim one. It’s almost like going back in time. The campus desperately needed the update – the Spine hasn’t been upgraded since the campus was first built. And in order to do that we have to disrupt campus, unfortunately. You’ve got to break some eggs to make an omelette. And after, Pizetta will have an outside seating area, the only one of its kind on campus, so the traffic there will be considerable”

“We’re always looking for ideas about engagement” says the team and during the interview they hinted at plans for an app to boost student interest in the project, scheduled to be unveiled in the summer. Clearly the university believes the end product will be worth the wait and the disruption, and that it was an action that would have to be taken sooner or later. Students and staff will have to wait until 2018 to see.