Graham Fenton joined Laing O'Rourke in 1987 as an apprentice joiner. He worked as a planner on projects such as the quadrant extension to Old Trafford, before moving into construction management for a number of Manchester-based healthcare schemes. Born and bred in Manchester, he considers heading up the transformation of Central Library his most important piece of work to date.
"The past six months onsite at Central Library have been all about deconstructing the back of house spaces, such as the old book stack system. They used to measure the book stack-shelving in miles - so this gives some idea of just how much space these areas took up within the building and how much we've had to remove!
The project creates a new 'vertical circulation core and staircase'. This is basically a fancy term for the fantastic new scenic lift and stair spaces that will go from the basement all the way to the top floor of the building, greatly improving user accessibility around the building. Next to this, at basement level, we've been creating a new link underneath Library Walk which joins the buildings underground for the first time.
I believe this work is incredibly important. It will bring Central Library back to life. Before, 70% of the space was never even seen by the public. This project is reversing this so that 70% will be accessible by the public.
Since we started properly onsite around six months ago, there have been a lot of preparation works, involving an element of asbestos removal, as well as cataloguing and carefully removing various heritage items like the Reading Room desk (a challenge in itself!). We had to do a lot of work to identify which parts of the building are going to be removed, having to gain English Heritage approval.
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The biggest challenge to date for me has been educating people about the building and the importance of the heritage elements of the works. You don't get the opportunity to work on a project like this very often in our industry, so when people start work onsite they aren't always prepared for the environment they'll be working in. A lot of the work we do at this stage is about educating, reinforcing the heritage message. There are certain areas being deconstructed, certain areas being preserved so it's important we make it clear what can and can't do, what we have approval for.
The building looks a lot older from the outside than it actually is. The most unusual thing we've discovered, through our initial surveys and opening up the building, is that the way the building was constructed in 1934 is not so dissimilar to how we would do it today - the techniques they used were well ahead of their time, and back then this would've been a real technical challenge.
The coming months is going to see the end of the deconstruction period. Then we start building the building back up again, with the new layouts. It's going to involve pouring a lot of concrete, producing the new floor layouts and floor plans. Then we'll be starting the finishing works from the top down - these are the more conventional works, such as plastering and painting walls and so on."