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Minor Capital Plan improves oversight of smaller projects

Estates Services staff have led the development of a new Minor Capital Plan that will bring a similar level of structure to the planning and oversight of smaller construction and refurbishment projects (those worth less than £15m) as has previously existed around large capital projects.

The Plan is the result of several rounds of consultation with divisions and departments. They submitted more than 100 proposals, and at the end of the process 47 of these, worth around £30 million annually, have been approved to go ahead over the next three years. Work on the first wave will start in August after detailed business cases are evaluated. The rolling three-year plan will be refreshed regularly to make sure it reflects any changing priorities. All the projects submitted will eventually go ahead in future rounds of the plan unless divisional priorities change.

Until now, the process for approving smaller projects was opaque and decisions were not always based on clearly-defined criteria or projects tensioned against each other. This has been replaced by an objective scoring system designed to make sure that the most worthwhile and urgent projects get priority, while guaranteeing fair treatment for all departments and divisions.

The Plan stems from the changes implemented in 2018 to improve governance and oversight of the University’s capital projects. Those changes mean that larger projects worth £15m or more must be recommended by the Strategic Capital Steering Group (SCSG) and approved by the University’s Finance Committee, whereas lower-value projects are still signed off at a lower level by the Capital Steering Group (CSG) and the Planning and Resource Allocation Committee (PRAC). The introduction of the Minor Capital Plan provides a rigorous, objective process for decision making.

Danby Gate given new lease of life

Danby Gate / Before & After

The Conservation & Buildings team and contractors have finished restoring the Danby Gate, the stone arch which leads into the Botanic Garden opposite Magdalen College. The early 17th-century structure is one of Oxford’s oldest examples of neoclassical architecture, and its appearance is now transformed after a team of stone masons gently cleaned off many years’ worth of carbon deposits and organic material as well as repairing damaged stonework and carvings.

The team cleaned the arch with poultice, an ammonium carbonate paste that is trowelled on and left overnight to dissolve the carbon deposits that were disfiguring the stonework and preventing it from breathing, in turn leading to damage from trapped moisture. There are still a few minor jobs to finish such as repositioning the metal gates in the archway to provide a little more room for vehicles, but the work on the structure itself is finished.

The arch was built in 1622 with funds provided by Henry Danvers, 1st Earl of Danby, whose coat of arms, which forms the keystone to the arch, remains in reasonable condition, unlike two other coats of arms above which have long since been illegible.

The bust of Danvers within the tympanum – the triangular space at the top of the structure – was found to be loose after the iron pin holding it in place had rusted, causing the metal to expand and crack the surrounding stonework – the team lifted it off, replaced the metal pin with a new stainless steel one and restored the bust to its former position.

A skilled stone carver even repaired the statues of Charles I and II that flank the archway, restoring missing noses and beards. The arch had never been comprehensively cleaned within the last century as far as the team know, so it now forms a much more imposing entrance to the Botanic Garden, which is preparing to celebrate its 400th anniversary.

University wins Lux Awards

Lux Awards 2018The University put in a strong performance in the Lux Awards in late 2018, winning in one category and being highly commended by the judges in two more.

The dedication to innovative, high-quality lighting of the electrical engineers of the Building Services team and others around Oxford meant the University was named as Client of the Year in the prestigious industry awards, handed out at an event in November. The University was also highly commended in the Office, Education and Healthcare Lighting Project of the Year category for the work to re-light the historic Duke Humfrey’s Library in the Old Bodleian. The Night of Heritage Light in late 2017, in which many of Oxford’s iconic buildings received stunning new temporary lighting schemes, was also highly commended in the Outdoor Lighting Project of the Year category.

Wolfson Building server room cooling now 70% more efficient

The Environmental Sustainability team have transformed the energy efficiency of the Wolfson Building’s server room in a collaborative project with its users, the Department of Computer Science, and the engineers of the Building Services team.
The building’s Facilities Manager approached the team with concerns about how much power the building’s server room was using – it is cooled all day, every day by three air conditioning units, each with two fans. These were several years old and used an outdated design – they were driven by belts and operated at a fixed speed. Replacing them with modern fans, improving airflow through the system, installing temperature sensors and giving the fans the ability to vary their speed depending on how much cooling is needed, reduced the system’s energy consumption by a total of 70%.

By reaching lower temperatures more efficiently, the project should also help the computer equipment in the server room to work better and last longer. It is expected to save 429,000 kWh of energy each year, or 131 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. In monetary terms that is £43,000 a year – enough for the project to pay for itself in less than seven months. Still greater savings may be possible once the system is integrated with the building’s Building Management System, which will provide even more control over the fans.

There are likely to be many similar opportunities to save money and reduce environmental impact all over the estate. Martin Taylor, Sustainability Engineer, is keen to work with other departments looking to make their heating and cooling systems more efficient – if you have a potential project you would like to discuss, please contact him on

 BDI wins Building AwardBDI Building

Last November the Big Data Institute (BDI), construction of which was project managed by the Capital Projects team in Estates Services, was named the winner in the Building Performance Category of the 2018 Building Awards for its superb environmental performance.

This was only the latest in a succession of honours bestowed on the building – earlier in 2018 it had already won a RIBA South Award, the Oxford Preservation Trust Award, and been shortlisted both for a Civic Trust Award, and Building Performance Award from the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers.

Meanwhile the Beecroft Building, finished last year, has been submitted for the 2019 RIBA South Awards, and shortlisted for an S-Lab Award. The new Innovation Building on Old Road Campus is in the running for a Considerate Constructors Site Award – the results are expected in April.

Wytham fundraising campaign starts strongly

The Wytham Woods team last year kicked off their first large-scale public fundraising project to round off the celebrations of the 75th anniversary of the Wytham estate’s bequest to the University.

The first step was to write to Woods visitor permit holders to ask if they would be generous enough to make a donation. As a result the team raised some £17,000 in just six weeks. There are several more phases of fundraising ahead – the team’s overall goal is to raise £100,000 and more efforts via grant applications will be needed to reach it.

The campaign was designed in conjunction with the Development Office with the goal of ensuring the Woods have a secure long-term future as a venue for science. For example, some of the money it raises will help keep long-term scientific studies going even if they experience a temporary shortage of cash, preserving the enormous scientific value of the datasets these studies produce by avoiding gaps in the data. The funds will also pay to expand the public engagement and educational activities that take place in the Woods, including regular Forest Schools for local primary school children and citizen science activities to enable ordinary people to help collect data on bees, butterflies or even the spread of ash dieback disease that scientists can then use in their research.

University projects honoured in Oxford Preservation Trust Awards

Queen Elizabeth House Before and after Several pieces of work by teams within Estates Services were victorious in the annual Oxford Preservation Trust Awards, announced at a dinner event at St John’s College in November last year.

The programme of cleaning, decoration and repairs carried out at Queen Elizabeth House on Mansfield Road, pictured, won an award in the Small Building Conservation category. The project was managed by the Conservation & Buildings team and transformed the building’s appearance by removing decades of soot and grime from its exterior stonework. The raised road table at the junction between Catte Street, Holywell Street, Broad Street and Parks Road, a project led by the City and County Councils but financially supported by the Transport team within Environmental Sustainability, was among the victors in the Small Projects category.

Several more projects were presented with letters of commendation, including the relocation of the Ginkgo Gates to create a new entrance to the University Parks from Parks Road, a collaboration between the Parks and Conservation & Buildings teams, and the temporary lighting scheme installed on the Radcliffe Camera for the Night of Heritage Light in a project led by the Society for Light and Lighting and members of the Building Services team within Estates Services.

Planned maintenance poised to overtake reactive maintenance

The DLO has made major progress towards its goal of improving reliability and cutting costs by moving away from reactive maintenance and towards planned preventative maintenance (PPM).

In 2019 the two categories are expected to be roughly equal, with around 5,000 jobs completed in each, and from next year PPM is expected to overtake reactive maintenance and keep growing.

This should greatly reduce unexpected breakdowns, which tend to be costly to fix, and will improve the efficiency of a lot of the University’s plant – for example, air handling units run far more efficiently if their filters are regularly changed. The benefits of this greater focus on PPM are already being felt in reduced frequency of breakdowns and lower costs – over the long term it is cheaper to replace equipment while it is still working rather than let it fail and then undertake emergency repairs or replacement.

University funds 154 glass drying cabinets to make labs greener

New glass dryersThe Environmental Sustainability Team has almost completed a project funded by the University’s Carbon Management Fund to replace all inefficient glass-drying cabinets across the estate with what is currently the greenest model on the market.

This reduces running costs per unit by about 72%. Total energy savings through the replacement programme add up to 500 MWh of electricity and 140 tons of carbon a year.

Laboratories are among the highest energy users of any University buildings, so more action will be targeted at them specifically.

If you would like to discuss opportunities for reducing the environmental impact of labs in your building, please contact Stefanie Reiss, Sustainability Projects Manager for Laboratory Optimisation, on

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