Rebirth of Glasgow School of Art building delayed till 2019

The planned reopening of the GSA has suffered a setback. Picture: John Devlin

The planned reopening of the GSA has suffered a setback. Picture: John Devlin

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THE reopening of Glasgow School of Art’s iconic home is set to be delayed by up to two years, it emerged today.

The restoration of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed building at the heart of its Garnethill campus may not be ready for students to move into until the start of the 2019-20 term.

Contractors will finally start work next month on a £25 million project to bring the “Mackintosh Building” back to life - more than two years after it was almost destroyed in a devastating blaze.

The “world-class” restoration will be carried out in two-phases by Kier Construction under a contract expected to run until the spring of 2019. Snagging issues and a final fit-out mean it is unlikely students will be moving in until the following academic year.

The early stages of the project will see the building covered in an “external envelope” to ensure it is wind and watertight during construction work. The main restoration which will focus on the west wing, the worst-affected part of the building, will not get underway until the spring of next year.

Students were putting the finishing touches to end-of-year projects when the fire caught hold at lunchtime on 23 May 2014. The official investigation found the blaze was triggered by flammable gases from a canister of expanding foam.

In the aftermath of the fire it was hoped the building may be ready to reopen by the 2017-18 term. That timetable was still in place when architects Page/Park were announced in March 2015.

Liz Davidson, senior project manager of the restoration at the art school, described Kier’s bid as “tight, extremely well structured, highly competent and confident.”

She added: “The team they’ve assembled has a depth of experience and knowledge combined with solid construction methodology and practice.

“They convinced us of their organisational abilities to deliver a highly successful project, deliver good community benefits for local employment targets and social enterprises and engage with the range of skilled crafts people and sub-contractors which will be essential to move this project from excellent to world-class.”

Brian McQuade, managing director of Kier Construction Scotland, said: “Glasgow School of Art is an internationally-recognised building and it’s a huge honour to be working on such a culturally-significant project. Kier has extensive experience on working on iconic buildings and our appointment is testament to the dedication and talent of the team.

“We’re committed to working closely with the local supply chain, specialist conservators, local artists, students from the art school and other industry training and employment groups to create valuable training, apprenticeship and employment opportunities throughout this restoration.

“We hope to also be able to attract a diverse range of new talent to the industry through our work on this historic and much loved building.”

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service report also revealed that the rapid spread of the fire through the building, which dates back to 1909, was aided by the presence of original ventilation ducts and a large number of timber-lined walls. A new fire-prevention system was in the latter stages of completion and was not operational on the day. Firefighters received huge praise after managing to salvage 90 per cent of the Mackintosh Building and rescuing around 70 per cent of its contents, including the “vast majority” of the art school’s archives.

Forensic archaeologists began a painstaking sift through the iconic building, including the remains of its historic library, last November.

The 12-week operation to document and remove the remains uncovered parts of a studio clock and its mechanism, a silver salver, most of the metal from the lamps in the library’s iconic central light fitting and a number of rare books.

But 90 oil paintings, including two by Mackintosh himself, and around 8000 books and journals were all lost.

More than 75 firms from around the world had expressed an interest in the restoration project.

Art school chiefs pledged it would explore “how to best meet the needs of the GSA in the 21st century whilst remaining true to Mackintosh’s astonishing vision.”

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