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Overcoming challenges to deliver a prestigious and complex construction project

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The Britannia Royal Naval College physical training centre has been completed and handed over to the Royal Navy. The building featured long windows on the front and side.
Britannia Royal Naval College’s newly completed physical training centre [Crown Copyright/MOD2020]
DIO works hard to deliver for our customers, at times overcoming challenges along the way.

We recently completed work on the new state-of-the-art physical training centre for Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) in Dartmouth, Devon.

BRNC, or Dartmouth as it is commonly known, is the UK’s naval academy and the site where Royal Naval officer training takes place.

The £9 million facility includes a multi-purpose main hall and three versatile activity spaces as well as changing facilities for staff and cadets, offices for the physical training instructors (PTIs) and storage of sports equipment. It will allow cadets to undertake essential military fitness training and a wide range of other sports. The new building will support the college to deliver 21st century physical training to modern Navy standards in a Sports England County standard facility.

There were many complex and challenging issues to overcome in order to be permitted to construct a building of this size. The site is located on a hill prominently overlooking the town and port of Dartmouth which is within The South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The new building is located within the college.  The college, main complex and walls are designated with a Grade 1* historic listing. There was the added challenge of the site ecology being home to numerous species of wildlife, flora and fauna including the extensive presence of bats!

How the project adapted to COVID-19

As with any project, health and safety is a key concern. The Covid-19 outbreak occurred near the end of construction. Ways of working had to be changed and adapted to meet the latest Government, Public Health England and Construction Industry Covid-19 safe ways of working. Working collaboratively with our contractors we were able to continue the project and complete the building despite associated material shortages and losing most of the workforce on the original lockdown. Final handover has been challenging as it had to be conducted remotely addressing all parties’ queries and putting in place new processes and procedures.  The added challenge of many furloughed contractors’ staff extended the time taken to achieve handover to our customer.

To be sure that the new building was fit for purpose DIO worked closely with Navy and DIO’s consultants Mott MacDonald to design a facility that met the Navy’s requirements while taking into consideration the College Navy Physical Training Instructor (PTI) staffing levels, the site constraints and costs.

The location and design also required DIO and its consultants to undertake extensive consultation with numerous stakeholders including the Local Planning Authority, Historic England and Natural England over a number of years both before and during construction.

Of particular importance was ensuring that the building did not impact any of the local indigenous wildlife while still meeting all Royal Navy training requirements. This was achieved with specialist input into the design from both DIO and Mott McDonald ecologists including specialists on bats due to their large numbers and diversity of species present on the site, including the Horseshoe bat.

Designing the building to be sustainable

Close attention was paid to materials choices so that the building blended seamlessly into its surroundings while maintaining consideration for both the historic significance of BRNC and the wider community in Dartmouth.  This has benefitted the project as we have been able to deliver visually the exact building as designed by the authority team pre-construction.

We also designed the building to be sustainable and resilient to future climate change. The facility is equipped with both solar thermal heating to reduce gas demand on the hot water supply and photovoltaic panels to reduce use of electricity. Wind catchers on the roof will help to naturally ventilate the main sports hall which is a greener alternative to air conditioning.

The location, size and number of students at BRNC created its own challenges. To avoid disrupting residents and those on site, extensive work was done both pre-tender and during construction on access and egress, site welfare requirements and locations and on planning vehicle routes, deliveries and storage areas.

I have worked to deliver this project for over 5 years and am very proud how all parties have pulled together to complete their respective tasks ahead of schedule for this Royal Navy project especially in these unprecedented times.


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