Onsite

Stepnell steps up at Birmingham disability centre

18 March 2018

A tricky site and unusual design posed challenges for Stepnell’s project team on a Birmingham disability centre for charity Touchbase.

Contractor Stepnell is putting the final touches on its work at national disability charity Sense’s new community centre, TouchBase, in Selly Oak, Birmingham.

Designed by Glenn Howells Architects, the £14m project has been developed in consultation with adults and children with disabilities. M&E consultant ESC delivered the building services design and HRW looked after the structural and groundworks elements.

The three-storey 6,500m2 building aims to help people with complex disabilities learn new skills and become more independent.

The centre will also serve the wider community, providing facilities such as performance and exhibition space, a business centre and meeting rooms for hire.

Work on the project began in February 2016. The design and build scheme has been constructed with a reinforced concrete frame, and the facade features precast concrete sections plus brickwork at ground floor level.

The location and tight restrictions on site proved challenging, says senior quantity surveyor at Stepnell, Stephen Bell.

“The site is on the main Bristol Road and next to the Worcester and Birmingham canal, and a high voltage power pylon is located at the far end of the site,” he explains. “We resequenced the works and used a tower crane with a shorter tower and longer jib so that the work could be carried out away from areas of potential risk.

The location and tight restrictions on site proved challenging

“The precast concrete panels for the building were reduced in size so that we could use the shorter tower crane, while the roof plant area was constructed from aluminium instead of precast concrete to reduce the load.”

The centre includes a community room, performance space, recording studios, library, a catering kitchen, cafe, business centre, offices and car parking.

“The design has been developed in consultation with children and adults with disabilities and incorporates specialist features such as differing floor surfaces to help those with visual impairments identify different areas in the building,” adds Bell.

Outside, the building is arranged around a series of sensory gardens that serve as public, semi-private and private spaces.

During the construction programme, Stepnell linked up with Sense to offer interactive tours of the site, which allowed potential users of the new building to see progress on site and contribute ideas about events and activities they would like to see introduced at the centre.

“The tours were dubbed ‘hard hat days’, which gave Sense’s Touchbase ‘champions’ – individuals with disabilities and members of their families – the opportunity to review progress at various build stages and highlight issues around accessibility, lighting and acoustics,” Bell says.

“They were able to put forward suggestions to improve the ergonomics of the finished building to meet their particular needs.”

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