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Durham University News

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Durham invests in enhanced student experience with new Palatine Centre

(24 October 2012)

Durham University has officially opened a new centre to enhance the experience offered to students as part of a wider £100m investment in facilities.

Nobel Prize winning scientist and President of the Royal Society Sir Paul Nurse unveiled a plaque to welcome students, staff and visitors to the Palatine Centre, which houses key student services and the University’s headquarters on one site.

The centre is the culmination of a four-year, £50million development programme to create a hub at the heart of the University in Durham City.                                                

For the first time it brings together all student-facing services, alongside the extended Bill Bryson Library and the new Durham Law School.

The Palatine Centre, on Durham’s Stockton Road, houses specialist student services including the University’s Careers, Employability and Enterprise Centre, Academic and International Offices, Counselling and Disabilities Services, the Student Immigration and Financial Support Office, and the IT and Finance help desks, which were previously spread around the City.

These services are complemented by Durham University’s unique College system which provides students with a first point of contact for pastoral and welfare support.

The University’s professional support departments have also relocated to the Palatine Centre and to modern, open-plan offices at nearby Mountjoy, after vacating Old Shire Hall which was the University’s headquarters for more than 50 years.

Wider investment in the University estate includes £12m on sports facilities at Queen’s Campus, in Stockton, and the Graham Sports Centre, in Durham, which boasts one of only three indoor powered rowing tanks in the UK.

A further £10m, including generous funding from alumni and charitable foundations, has been spent redeveloping facilities on Durham’s World Heritage Site including Palace Green Library, which will host the Lindisfarne Gospels, on loan from the British Library, in the summer of 2013.

A £16.6million rebuilding and major extension of Durham Business School’s current Mill Hill Lane home in Durham, is also underway.

Approximately £5-6million is spent each year on refurbishing student accommodation and facilities, including recent work at University, Grey and Trevelyan Colleges.

Durham is ranked as a World Top 100 University and is consistently one of the top five UK universities.

Professor Chris Higgins, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, said the Palatine Centre was a "wonderful building" which he hoped would add to the architectural heritage of Durham City.

Professor Higgins added: “Our investment in the Palatine Centre, Bill Bryson Library, Durham Law School and the wider University estate underlines the commitment we have to providing students, staff and visitors with the very best facilities in what is a rapidly changing and highly competitive environment.

“Durham is a global university, attracting students from more than 140 countries, and the on-going development and enhancement of our facilities reflects our position as a world-leading institution.

“The Palatine Centre serves all student groups across the full ‘student life cycle’ from recruitment, through to admissions, enrolment, study progression, examination, graduation, to employment and alumni status.

“Durham delivers internationally recognised research-led teaching, coupled with the opportunities offered by our Colleges and extra-curricular activities which put our graduates among the most sought after in the world by leading employers.

“The investment we are making will add to the experience we already provide, allowing students to further develop both key academic and non-academic skills which will prepare them for their future lives.”

Jenny James, Durham Students’ Union Education and Welfare Officer, said: “Student consultation was important during the planning and design of the Palatine Centre and initial feedback has been positive.

“The services it offers will complement the work the students’ union is doing to support the student experience through our own activities such as our advice services, societies and outreach.”

In opening the centre, Sir Paul Nurse talked about the important role univeristies play in educating future citizens and in bringing improvements in areas of society, such as health and environment, through research.

Describing Durham as "one of the great British universities", he added: “Student experience – facilities, teaching, research and extra-curricular activities – is important in helping to develop the future researchers, teachers, entrepreneurs and leaders of tomorrow.

“Durham’s commitment to developing this experience will benefit generations of students and the entire University community for years to come and I am greatly honoured to have officially opened the Palatine Centre.”

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) provided £3m advance funding for preparation work ahead of the development of the Palatine Centre, library extension and law school development. 

Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of HEFCE, said: “HEFCE is delighted to have contributed to the funding of Durham University’s Palatine Centre.

“We welcome this clear demonstration of the University’s commitment to investing in its students, and the opportunities the Centre presents for enhancing student support and experience.”

* On Wednesday, October 24, Durham University also hosted one of the Royal Society’s new regional meetings. Arranged as part of the Society’s new Fellowship engagement programme, these meetings give Fellows and Royal Society funded research fellows an opportunity to come together and discuss the Society’s activities.

The Palatine Centre – architecture, art and environment

The Palatine Centre also blazes a trail on the environmental front, with green technologies and eco-friendly materials at its heart.

Designed by _space and PH Partnership, with Laing O’Rourke as the main contractor, the development  sustained 200 construction jobs at the peak of building works.

Designed with sustainability in mind, materials such as solar thermal collectors, photovoltaic panels, air source heat pumps, solar shading, rainwater harvesting and sedum roofing are used in the building. 

The integration of these elements has already been recognised with an ‘excellent’ rating on the Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM).

Artwork also forms an important part of the Palatine Centre, complementing the public art on display in the surrounding area.

Two major commissions are displayed in the Palatine Centre - mural painting Crystal Forms and sculpture Elvet Colliery.

The original 30-metre long Crystal Forms mural was created for the Festival of Britain in 1951 and displayed in the Regatta Restaurant on the South Bank, London. The original, by John Tunnard, was destroyed at the end of the Festival and the mural in the Palatine reception area has been re-imagined and painted by the Northumberland-born artist David Venables.

Elvet Colliery, by County-Durham based artist Peter Sales,depicts the mining activity on the site of the Palatine Centre in the 19th Century. Three mine shafts had to be filled and capped in order to build the present building.

The sculpture, displayed in the Palatine Centre restaurant, acknowledges and commemorates the importance of coal mining in Durham in the economic fortunes of the area.

The art displayed throughout the Palatine Centre is designed to showcase some of the best of the University’s collection. Durham University houses the largest collection of 20th Century art of any university in the UK.

Facts and Figures 

£50million – the cost of building the Palatine Centre, Bill Bryson Library extension and Durham Law School

530 tons of structural steel were used on the Palatine Building

At its peak there were over 200 workers on site who worked a total of 675,000 man hours

Over 130 subcontractor companies worked on the project

Across the duration of the project over 90 per cent of all waste generated was recycled

Three previously unknown mineshafts, a legacy from the site’s history as a colliery, were discovered during construction and had to be filled and capped

A single bat had to be re-housed during the project

To move every member of staff and all filing to the new building took a total of 1,335 crates

When stacked up, the 979 linear metres of filing moved across to the new building was 15 times the height of the tower of Durham Cathedral.

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