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Big Data Institute wins RIBA South Award

BDI BuildingThe BDI building on the Old Road Campus at Headington has won a prestigious RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) regional award.

Described by the judges as a ‘delightful workplace’ and ‘a superb model for dry lab academic research buildings’ the BDI is built to accommodate around 550 staff and researchers from the University’s Medical Sciences Division and the Nuffield Department of Population Health. Their work focuses on analysing large, complex and diverse datasets for research into the causes, consequences, prevention and treatment of disease.

The new building opened in January 2017 and features a café, seminar rooms, meeting rooms and break-out areas over four levels. As part of its sustainability strategy it also incorporates a ‘labyrinth’ – a network of air intake tunnels beneath the building to cool incoming air in summer and help reduce heating costs in winter.

Along with the Kellogg College Hub, another project managed by the Capital Projects team, several other University and college buildings were also shortlisted, including the Hubert Perrodo Building at St Peter’s College, the New Library at Queen’s College and Worcester College’s Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre. The BDI will now go on to be considered for a RIBA national award later this year.

Plan Bee offers lifeline for Oxfordshire’s solitary beesBee hotel Nigel at Wytham  

The University has launched an exciting conservation initiative to provide much-needed accommodation for Oxford’s solitary bees. The bees are vital pollinators but numbers of many species are dwindling, and one of the main reasons is loss of suitable habitat due to factors like climate change and shifts in how we farm the land.

Known as Oxford Plan Bee, the project is a collaboration between the Plant Sciences Department and the Environmental Sustainability and Wytham Woods teams within Estates Services. It aims to create a network of new homes for solitary bees around Oxford. This involves distributing specially-made ‘bee hotels’ around the buildings of the University estate and also to local schools. The hotels provide bamboo tubes of various sizes for the bees to nest in.

More than 30 of them have now been installed at colleges, departments and other buildings around Oxford, and more are going up. Efforts to get the bee hotels into local schools are also due to kick off soon. Any local schools or buildings around the University estate that would like to get involved should contact

The boxes do not just provide good homes for the bees; they also provide a research platform for both scientists and 'citizen scientists' - members of the public who want to get involved with science by recording their observations of nature and submitting them to professional scientists for analysis. At the moment the scientists are focusing on the relationship between the diversity of bee species in an area, the location of particular nests and the habitat surrounding them, and how successful the bees are in their efforts to breed. Over the long term, the nest boxes will also help shed light on the relationship between climate change and the diversity of solitary bee species living here. Members of the public interested in taking part should visit the project website to learn more. The initiative is one of the first to emerge from the University’s recently-launched Biodiversity Strategy.

Cooling the Wellcome building more efficiently Wellcome Building - Old Road Campus

The Environmental Sustainability team has been working with building users at Old Road Campus to make major improvements in the efficiency of its building systems. To start with they focused on the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, whose cooling system until recently used an older design that continuously pumped water around a central loop and then opened valves leading off it to allow cool water into parts of the building that were too hot. The setup is akin to keeping a car’s accelerator pressed to the floor while continuously applying the brakes to keep its speed under control.

This wasted a lot of energy running the pump and put unnecessary strain on the building’s pipework, shortening its lifespan. By analysing data on the system’s performance and then making changes to the software of the Building Management System (BMS) that controls it, team members moved it to a more modern set-up in which the pump varies its level of activity, working only as hard as it needs to. This has greatly reduced the cooling system’s energy consumption, which now stands at around 12.3kWh a day compared to 93.7kWh before the changes. The changes will save around £3,000 a year and avoid around 10.4 tonnes of annual carbon dioxide emissions. The building’s pipework and valves will also last longer before needing to be replaced because of generally lower pressure.

The potential benefits of this kind of change are not confined to cooling systems – they could also apply to heating, air conditioning or indeed any system that relies on an electric pump. The team are now keen to apply similar methods to other buildings around the estate, so please contact if you think yours could benefit.

Redesigned lighting scheme illuminates Duke Humfrey’s LibraryDuke Humfrey's Library re-lit

Building Services electrical engineers and external contractors recently finished installing new lighting in the 15th-century Duke Humfrey’s Library. The result of two years of work, the new setup adds to the Library’s beauty while also making it a better place to work. It creates a much more atmospheric environment, using cutting-edge lighting technology to pick out noteworthy features like the stunning painted ceiling, avoiding the indiscriminate washes of light that characterised the old system. The new lights also provide much better illumination for many bookshelves, which should make it easier for users to find what they need.

The idea throughout was that the new design should complement the library’s remarkable architecture and enhance its usability, without trying to draw attention to itself. This has been a success – after the event, Scott Foulon, Facilities Manager at the Bodleian Libraries, commented on how the project made the space more pleasant and usable, also noting that 'the added versatility and control is fantastic and a huge improvement.’ The team had to work hard to achieve a result that satisfied library staff and users alongside other stakeholders, while also meeting demanding conservation targets.

Asbestos register now online

The University’s asbestos register is now available in a form that can readily be accessed over the internet, including on iPads and other mobile devices. This makes it far easier and more convenient for both Estates Services staff such as Direct Labour Organisation (DLO) maintenance operatives and others around the University to access the latest information about where asbestos is known to exist on the estate. The change will help protect the health of both Estates Services staff and building users.

The register includes all the asbestos that has been found in previous surveys and during building work over the years. It now also holds a growing volume of new information being generated by Riverside Environmental Services, which is undertaking a series of asbestos management surveys across the estate, starting with buildings known to contain a large amount of asbestos-containing materials, or those dating from the mid-20th century when asbestos was most widely used in construction. These include photos of the areas where asbestos has been detected, which will be extremely useful in helping ensure it is not disturbed.

Building managers can access asbestos information on their buildings via FacilityNet, while others who need to can also view asbestos information for the whole estate. If you cannot access the register but would like to, or if you have any other asbestos-related queries, the team would be happy to help – please contact George Bennett, Asbestos & Compliance Manager.

New app will help track ash dieback’s spread in Wytham WoodsShutterstock image - Ash dieback

The Wytham Woods team are close to launching their first mobile app, intended to allow visitors to report the spread of an invasive tree disease.

Ash dieback is moving steadily across the country after first being detected in the UK in 2012. It has been spotted at Wytham but has not yet made a serious impact there. Once it gets a foothold in the Woods its effects will be profound – more than a quarter of the trees there are ash, and in some areas the species accounts for around 90% of the canopy. Most of these trees will be dead within the next few years, but by monitoring how the disease spreads it may be possible to understand it better and perhaps ultimately control it.

Team members believe 2018 is likely to be the first year in which the disease’s presence in the woods becomes obvious, and they want to enlist the public’s help to monitor its expansion. The new app will allow users to report the presence of ash dieback with their phones, making it easier for them to send their observations to scientists to be combined with data from drones, satellites and other sources to build up a detailed picture of the disease’s progress. The team also organises several other 'citizen science' projects, in which amateur volunteers help gather data for scientists to analyse, and these may get their own apps in due course.

Planon changes will improve customer communication

The Direct Labour Organisation (DLO) and other teams within Estates Services will shortly be making changes to how they communicate with customers via the Planon database. These changes are intended to remove common causes of frustration and give building users more clarity on the progress of maintenance jobs.

For instance, if the DLO are waiting for parts before proceeding with a repair, at present the customer sees this job as ‘technically complete’ on Planon, suggesting that the DLO wrongly believe their work to be finished. The forthcoming changes to how the team record jobs in Planon mean the customer will get a more informative description stating the job is on hold until parts are delivered, and the target date will accurately represent when they can expect it to be finished.

If the job has had to be transferred to another team within Estates Services, such as Conservation & Buildings or Building Services, customers will also be able to see that in Planon, so they know who to contact with any queries. 

Event organisers enjoy venue showcase trip

More than 40 guests from all over Oxford enjoyed a showcase trip around the venues operated by the FM Events team in mid-April. They visited the Exam Schools, Osler House, the Sheldonian Theatre and St Luke’s Chapel, enjoying lunch and a behind-the-scenes look at some of Oxford’s most iconic buildings, finding out about their interesting histories as well as what they can offer to modern-day event organisers.

Guests on the tour were among the first to hear about various exciting new services the FM Events team have launched, including dinner at the Sheldonian. Those who book the venue out can now choose from three different dinner options – a buffet, a three-course seated dinner – with the option of watching chefs cook their food out in the midst of the guests in the theatre – or even an ‘East Meets West’-themed street food fair. More information about dinners at the Sheldonian can be found at the Oxford University Event Venues website.

Updated Planning Procedure released

Estates Services has updated its Planning Procedure, ensuring it reflects best practice. The Buildings and Estates Sub-committee (BESC) approved the new document in January. The main changes since the previous version from two years ago include clarification of when and if planning permission is needed, more guidance on the timing of public consultations, more clarity on key people and milestones in the planning process and the inclusion of a dedicated process for smaller projects. Key points from the document include that the planning process often takes longer than expected and that all University planning applications need BESC approval. The procedure will continue to evolve, but for the moment this is the best guide to the University’s planning procedures and should be consulted by everyone working in this area – it is available in the ‘Strategies and Policies’ section of the Estates Services website. For more information, consult the Estates Services Town Planner, Rebecca Horley

CCTV accreditation for Security Services CCTV Camera - modern

In February the Security Services team reached its goal of certification under the government’s CCTV Code of Practice, which is designed to regulate the use of CCTV systems and to reassure the public that they are used in a proportionate way to protect their safety, not to spy on them.

The team completed the first leg of the certification process in late 2017 after a full audit of documents and procedures relating to the University-wide CCTV system. This was followed by a site visit to the Control Room and further assessment in early 2018, which revealed four areas of best practice in which Security Services already exceeds the Code’s requirements. The assessment process has involved a thorough review of the system itself and the policies, procedures and standards in place and operated by Security Services staff.

The team is one of only a handful of university security services in the UK to achieve certification. Compliance with the code is currently voluntary for higher education institutions, but the team believe that the requirements may be tightened up over time and that compliance may one day be mandatory for all system operators. If this happens, Security Services will be well-placed to advise other parts of the University that operate their own CCTV systems on how to go about gaining accreditation. In the meantime, the certification demonstrates the team’s commitment to ensuring a safe and secure University estate while also improving customer satisfaction. Furthermore it will form an important part of the University’s evidence that it is complying with the new General Data Protection Regulation, which came into force in late May.

Ginkgo Gates open

The University Parks have a splendid new entrance after the completion of work to install decorative iron gates opposite the Department of Materials on Parks Road.

The new entrance, which opened in April, gives visitors a new way to enter and leave the Parks, midway between the two existing entrances opposite Keble College and at the North Lodge. Landscaping the area around the gates, including the creation of new paths and borders, took a few more weeks but has now been finished.

The gates were designed and made by artist blacksmith Terrence Clark in 2007 and originally stood outside the Clarendon Laboratories before being removed ahead of the construction of the Physics department’s new Beecroft Building. They are known as the Ginkgo Gates because their wrought iron posts are topped with finials shaped like ginkgo leaves.

Another new and improved entrance to the Parks is being created near the Beecroft Building. The Keble Gates are being moved a short distance as part of the landscaping work around the Beecroft; hard landscaping has been finished and planting by the Parks team will start later in the year. The gates are expected to re-open later in 2018.

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