December 23 2014 Latest news:
Saturday, January 25, 2014
It’s a familiar landmark in Norwich. County Hall, the headquarters of Norfolk County Council, dominates the skyline to the east of the city centre.
But the 11-storey building, where key decisions such as how much council tax we pay are made, has looked a little different recently.
The building, where some 2,000 council staff work, is partially hidden, cocooned in a network of netting and scaffolding.
Almost 6,000 scaffold boards and enough metal bars to stretch the best part of 10 miles surround a building which cost £2.5m and was opened by the Queen in 1968.
That is because of a renovation project costing £32m – £10m more than was originally budgeted for.
The project to keep the building operational for the next 25 years was originally expected to cost £22.2m, but that figure has soared.
The extra cost has been added because the original repair programme assumed the existing insulation, heating and lighting would be replaced with similar systems.
But that is being replaced with solar photovoltaic panels and energy efficient LED lighting, while some £2.5m is to address fire safety concerns and to make security improvements.
Mike Britch, managing director of the Norse Group, which is owned by the council and is overseeing the work, said it became clear action was needed when blocks of the building’s facade fell off.
He said the building was showing its age. He said: “Inside, we have got lots of cellular offices and wanted to convert to open plan to increase the capacity we have. The services inside are very old and we wanted to put in a modern office environment to allow County Hall to develop and continue to be used for the next 25 years.”
Two floors are being worked on at a time, with 160 workers a day involved in the likes of construction, project management, asbestos removal, electrical work and quantity surveying.
Mr Britch said: “The biggest challenge is that it is an occupied building, so it is having to be carried out in such a way so as not to disturb the existing occupants too much.”
The building looks particularly striking after dark, when the scaffolding is illuminated.
Mr Britch said that was because a lot of the more disruptive work was being done after County Hall was closed.
He added: “When we finish work late at night, the lights get switched off.” He said the council had looked at alternatives to repairs, such as leasing buildings or building a new one on a greenfield site, but fixing up crumbling County Hall turned out to be the most affordable option.
The cost of the renovation comes as the council looks to plug a £189m funding shortfall in its revenue budget, which funds ongoing services, over the next three years.
Refurbishment of the tower and parts of the south wing is due to be finished in January 2016, after which further essential maintenance work will be carried out to the remaining areas of the building.
What do you think of County Hall? Love it or loathe it? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.