Two days in the life: Go for that wow factor...

March 30, 2007

…but does good design have to break the bank? wonders UCE estates director Graham Rhodes, as he battles with budgets, builders and casts an eye over a blueprint or two

FEBRUARY 12, 2007


It’s a mid-year budget review with the vice-chancellor next week. He is looking for efficiency savings and a three-year strategic plan. So it’s brainstorming with my finance manager and assistant directors. One option is to tough it out and claim that no savings are possible, but that does not seem a good career move.

After discussion, I make some hard decisions and can go into the meeting offering a 2.5 per cent revenue saving. There are glum faces as some pet projects and purchases go on the back burner. But the three-year strategic plan was a real team effort and contains 13 points. I just hope the vice-chancellor is convinced.


Meeting with our lawyers to confirm that the building contract can deal with the poor performance of the contractor on a major project. The contractor has led us a merry dance, promising to deal with a list of defects but failing miserably. It turns out we can have the main contractor off site while another completes the job. This is when you appreciate your lawyer, even if that short meeting probably cost £500.


We are keen to establish a new campus in the city centre, but we need the support of the council and the regional development agency to secure land. The pro vice-chancellor and I attend an evening meeting at the council offices to convince that them we are perfectly placed to bring life to the Eastside urban regeneration area. The meeting goes better than expected.

FEBRUARY 13, 2007


I receive two impressive A3 documents, feasibility studies on refurbishment projects. The brief specified minimal costs. The architect’s design ticked all the right boxes, the images and perspectives looked fantastic — but the price! Architects always tell you that good design does not need to break the bank, then offer you one that does. But I am going to stick my neck out and support it. It’s worth it to get the wow factor these buildings desperately need.


The regional meeting of the Association of University Directors of Estates is at the end of March, and it’s my turn to host. These experts will be eyeing up our buildings, making mental notes of the chips on the woodwork, the dripping tap and the loose paving slab. And I need to entertain them.

The last meeting was at Oxford and we did a tour of the Bodleian Library. How do you compete with that? I am panicking, and my PA senses I need help. Within two hours, Mina has sorted it. Even I’m looking forward to it — a tour of the Eastside, the city’s biggest physical regeneration project, then lunch and the business meeting in university’s Technology Innovation Centre at Millennium Point, an iconic Nicholas Grimshaw building. I shall feel no shame in the illustrious company of my colleagues from Warwick, Birmingham and Oxford .

2.30pm–4.30 pm

A first meeting of a Bicycle Users Group, or BUG, then a meeting of the Smoking Policy Group. So, support for the healthy lot and then the unhealthy lot. The BUG meeting is chaired by my assistant director, a keen cyclist.

Next I join the director of human resources and the health and safety officer to consider how we deal with smokers. We have a total ban on smoking in buildings, but the huddle of staff in doorways has raised complaints from nearby offices and from visitors. There is no quick fix. We recommend a dual approach: to provide smoking shelters and a "quit smoking" support programme. We also propose a 5m no-smoking zone around doorways.

Graham Rhodes is director of estates, University of Central England.

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