University faces history test over £80m project

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THE University of Sheffield this week submitted proposals for an £80m engineering complex to replace part of the old Jessop Hospital, describing the design as “stunning”.

The proposed building would be the university’s biggest-ever investment, and is needed to meet growing demand for engineering places, it is argued. Once in use, existing accommodation would be refurbished at a cost of £56m.

However, the project involves the demolition of a listed building, the Edwardian wing of the former Jessop, and is being fiercely opposed by traditionalists.

The council, which received the application this week, will assess the balance between losing a well-known historic building against the value of the new engineering complex to the university and the city.

The design is by RMJM Architects, an international firm responsible for the university’s Information Commons building next to Brook Hill roundabout.

While the empty Edwardian wing awaits its fate, the Victorian wing of the old hospital has been converted for the university’s music department.

Sheffield University says it needs to demolish the Edwardian property to make way for a bigger building.

Keith Lilley, director of facilities and estate management, said: “I think the new building will be stunning. It will provide a huge opportunity for the city of Sheffield to celebrate its heritage by creating the engineers of the future. It creates a really positive statement about Sheffield.”

The university is spending £1m on temporary buildings to provide extra capacity for the engineering faculty over the next five years.

“The new building is vital for the future,” said Mr Lilley. “It will provide capacity for up to 5,500 students at any one time and will house teaching space plus laboratories and study areas.

“Importantly, construction of the new building will also allow us to embark on a £56m refurbishment of accommodation housing the existing engineering department, such as the Sir Frederick Mappin Building.

We cannot refurbish those buildings at present because we would have nowhere to put the students while work is carried out.”

Already the university has carried out public consultation, and Mr Lilley said the ‘vast majority’ of comments had been favourable.

But Howard Greaves, of Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society, said an important part of Sheffield’s heritage was at stake.

“Jessop Hospital is of great architectural merit, but arguably more importantly, it is held in great affection by the vast majority of Sheffielders who were born there and who would like to see it remain on the landscape.

“It has been there over 100 years and is in good condition. Its Victorian cousin has undergone an excellent restoration job and indeed the university was initially proposing to do a similar job on the Edwardian wing. What made them change their mind we shall never know, but their current determination to see it swept away is almost embarrassing.”

Mr Greaves said Sheffield was “awash with large sites on which these grandiose plans could be achieved and several within a half mile radius”.