Harris Museum revamp set to begin amid warning over rising cost of construction materials

Building work is poised to begin on Preston’s Harris Museum after councillors gave the go-ahead to the main stage of the multi-million pound project to renovate the city centre landmark.

Monday, 25th April 2022, 2:41 am
Updated Monday, 25th April 2022, 10:18 am

The construction phase of the three-year “Reimagining The Harris” scheme will get under way early next month once final costs have been calculated.

However, a Preston City Council meeting heard that inflationary pressures may mean some savings have to be made on materials in order to keep the ambitious plans within budget.

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Passers-by are reminded of what there is to look forward to in aroud two years' time when the revamp of the Harris will be complete

The reimagining project will see more than £13m spent on the refurbishment of the near 130-year-old Grade I-listed building, with the aim of creating the country’s first “blended” museum, art gallery and library - and attracting an extra 100,000 visitors to the venue each year.

Within that pot, £5.5m had been set aside specifically for construction work - but that budget was last month boosted to £6.3m after an £800,000 government grant was awarded. Delivered via Arts Council England, the additional cash will fund repairs to external masonry.

However, a report presented to councillors noted that there was nevertheless a "risk surrounding inflation and increasing material costs”, which could require a “value engineering exercise…to reduce the scope and choice of materials” used in the work.

It should be known by the end of the month whether any such savings will be needed if the final costings are found to exceed the allocated £6.3m.

Ther currently closed--off entrance to the Harris, which will be made a more accessible venue as part of its £13m refurbishment

Cabinet member for culture and the arts Peter Kelly acknowledged that the price of basic materials had increased as a result of the pandemic, but said that he remained confident that a “fully worked-up” plan would be arrived at - and one of which the city could be proud.

Speaking at Thursday’s meeting, Cllr Kelly added: “I had the opportunity to go in [to the building] today and it's being stripped as we speak and [everything is being] boxed up.

“It’s quite emotional when you...see it, because the building will change, obviously, over the course of the next two years.”

He also paid tribute to two of his predecessors who held the city’s culture portfolio when the vision for a revamped Harris was first being developed - the late Cllr Tom Burns, who passed away in 2014, and veteran councillor Veronica Afrin, who retired in 2016.

The project to "reimagine" the Harris has been years in the making - but the vision is now being realised

Walton-le-Dale-based Conlon Construction was appointed as the preferred supplier for the building work back in December as part of a two-stage tender process which saw the firm selected prior to the final designs being confirmed.

Councillors were told that that approach enabled the company to work with the design team to develop the details required in order to fix the final contract sum - and reduce the risk of entering into a final contract by gaining advice from specialist sub-contractors beforehand.

Once the final costs have been agreed, that deal will be signed early next month, after members delegated approval of the terms to the city council’s interim director of customer services, in conjunction with finance cabinet member, Martyn Rawlinson.

Sharoe Green ward councillor David Walker questioned whether the specialist work to be carried out as part of the project would be subcontracted to firms “outside of Preston”.

Cllr Kelly said that while “the majority” of jobs would be undertaken by Conlon Construction, specialist firms would be engaged, as necessary, on the basis of advice from the Heritage Lottery Fund, one of the scheme’s main financial backers.

He added: “Where possible, [Conlon] will be using local [labour] and there always has been a commitment from them to develop apprenticeships…through this work.”

The meeting also heard that the firm had a history of involvement in heritage projects - and was involved in previous work at The Harris around 20 years ago.

Lottery funding has contributed £4.5m to the reimagining project, with the remainder coming from sources including Preston City Council, Lancashire County Council, the Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal, Arts Council England and the Friends of the Harris.

More than £2m has also been allocated out of Preston’s £20.9m grant from the government’s Towns Fund.

The construction work will include removal of the mezzanine floor within the building and changes to make it a more accessible venue. Original architectural features, which have long been hidden, will be uncovered as part of the revamp.

The Harris closed last October and is expected to reopen in 2024.