As the Spring term draws to an end, so should the West Basement refurbishment which has seen numerous student media facilities intermittently being cordoned off over the course of the last few years. This last leg of the works should mark the end of a cumulative £1.27 million investment.
If all goes according to plan, next term should most importantly see the reopening of the Jazz & Rock (J&R) practice room which has been closed for over a year now as a result of poor soundproofing.
The J&R room was originally delivered back to students in 2014, after a major overhaul of the West Basement that cost about £1 million. The project was a result of Imperial College’s accommodation expansion into Beit’s East Basement, which was previously a Union space used by student groups. The East Basement hosted, among other things, the Chaplaincy (which has been temporarily moved to Princes Gardens). In exchange for the lost space, College financed a state-of-the-art media redevelopment. The Union invested an additional £100,000 in equipment. However, almost immediately after the delivery of the West Basement back to the students, the poor quality of the works became evident.
The main issue was and still is soundproofing. Inadequate vertical soundproofing has lead to the raising of complaints from residents in Beit and the subsequent limitation of practice hours to 11pm at first, then 9pm, then 7pm and eventually the complete shutdown of the space. Similarly inadequate horizontal soundproofing has meant that J&R use has been disruptive to IC Radio’s broadcasting as well as ICTV activities in the neighbouring shared studio. The poor construction is not limited to the J&R room, but affects other spaces as well, as became widely apparent during the 2016 Meet the Candidates Broadcast (the pundits in the supposedly isolated radio suite could be heard through to the shared studio where the candidates were being interviewed). In the original report produced by Max Hunter, a then student who’d been heavily involved in Imperial Student Media, the recommendation is for the J&R room to be specifically “designed by acousticians and soundproofed to high grade (particularly to avoid spill onto Beit Quad, and across the rest of the media basement.”
Despite the report’s recommendations (and inclusion of suggested acousticians) College decided to go ahead with Sandy Brown, who might be a large and reputable firm, but mainly specialise in educational consultancy for the construction of lecture theatres.
The Sandy Brown consultants reportedly advised that the soundproofing values requested by the students are for professional studios and it would be very difficult and costly to achieve such levels of isolation in the West Basement. In fact it would require building a room inside a room. The counter proposal was to follow current acoustic performance standards for schools widely used to set acoustic performance standards in other educational buildings. Despite Hunter and others at the time noticing oddities and potential errors in the report, their objections were unreported and the construction went ahead. “I didn’t feel qualified/competent to argue with acousticians,” says Hunter.
The completion of the works only confirmed the student advisors’ fears. “There were plenty of mistakes which would be apparent to an acoustician (flanking paths built, big holes through the ceiling, etc.) but nobody picked up on that,” adds Hunter.
The result? Inadequate facilities, which needed a follow-up repair visit reportedly costing an additional £20,000. The follow up work didn’t improve isolation. According to a Sandy Brown report, “It is considered that the sound insulation performance is unlikely to have significantly increased” and in fact it appears to have been reduced by 8dB according to a May 2015 report, making J&R practice louder to the bedrooms above than it must have been before the changes. Up until last year, the Union, College and the contractors have been constantly locked in endless backs and forths. However, last term, Union President, Nas Andriopoulos, confirmed that works would be taking place to rectify the situation. Whether the record low NSS scores encouraged college to pour more resources in this project remains unconfirmed, though a Union source heavily implied they did. Regardless, Andriopoulos’ work in securing funds has been invaluable. As current chair of the Club told felix “Nas has done a terrific job at making things actually happen.”
It should be noted that this year’s works have reportedly cost an additional £50,000 and have in turn met a series of delays. Though they were originally meant to be undertaken over the winter break and completed by the start of spring term, construction workers told felix that the works have suffered delays due to unpredictable issues such as the need to reroute heating pipes, the discovery of “mystery pipes” which weren’t in the the original building plans and a near flood among other things.
These complications, as well as the need to limit working hours to minimise disruption, have caused the move of some students staying in the rooms directly above the space, as well the pushing back of the delivery date; first to February, then to March, and now April. When students will reclaim the J&R room remains to be seen.