Tuesday 12 July 2011

We did it! But only just....

Thanks to an outstanding effort by Mike Canham and his team the building was just about finished for the opening event. The three glazed sliding doors arrived in the nick of time (so I don't need to name and shame the supplier) and they were fitted ready for the official opening.
So much happened in the last three days apart from the delay with the doors. The light fittings chosen were not in stock so last minute alternatives had to be found (late night trawling on the Internet!) then delivered and fitted. The floor in the main room had to be sanded and oiled and a host of other individual tasks completed.
And so here we are....the finished product (bar a few minor details).
Above is one of the large oak framed sliding doors that created so much angst.

The main teaching room is a delight being half glazed creating a feel of being right in the wood. The recycled pine floor from the Foxburrow Farm barn has turned the most incredible colour after being sanded down and treated with a hard oil. It was worth all the effort to dismantle and re-use (a special thanks for the Ipswich volunteer team who de-nailed and sorted all the good timber).
Small details make a real difference such as using off-cuts of oak to make the window sills and left-over cedar for the window reveals.

The covered deck area is as useful as the main room providing a large space for gathering school groups. The outside areas are illuminated with low energy lighting which is activated by motion sensors ensuring it is only on when required.

Yesterday Lord Tollemache (above left) undertook the honours and formally opened the building in front of an invited audience of funders and donors, SWT Trustees and many other people with a special link to Bradfield Woods.

The sun shone and our guests enjoyed some hospitality and had the opportunity to see the building at first hand followed by a walk in the woods. With around 100 people this was a real test of the building and its functionality.....and it worked brilliantly.

It's hard to believe that the building work only started in March and to reach this point in just over four months has been a remarkable achievement for all involved. There are still some bits and pieces to finish but the building will be open to the public this coming weekend and we are already starting to take bookings from schools and other organisations wanting to use the centre.

I must say a final thank you to Ralph and Richard of Modece Architects. Their inspiration has given us a building we will be proud of for a very long time and one that we hope in the coming years, many thousands of visitors to Bradfield Woods will equally enjoy.

Thursday 7 July 2011

Almost there!

Just a few days now to the official opening and its going to be very tight to finish everything.
The first batch of windows are all in and look very good but we are still waiting for the three sliding doors for the main teaching room.
Now the scaffold is down the real form of the building is revealed. While as much as possible of the ground around the building was left undisturbed, small areas were cleared for drains and services. Once these areas vegetate over it will make a big difference to the setting of the building especially when some of the coppice grows up.
The oak framed windows are UK made and and very nicely made at that. Having pondered what to do to them as they have been supplied unfinished we have decided to leave them just as they are. Because of the way the building roof overhangs the walls, the windows will not be exposed to too much weather, the oak will just harden and turn a silvery colour over time.

A great internal touch has been using the same cedar cladding to make the internal doors. These are cupboard doors in the entrance area.

So its just down to the window supplier to make good on their promise to deliver the doors in time for the opening. Several missed delivery dates later we are getting quite frustrated so if they don't arrive in time I might just have to name and shame the supplier!

Sunday 3 July 2011

Car park and kitchen

Even more activity this week as the pace really picks up. Joe Davis and Kerry Vaughn (SWT West Suffolk staff) started work resurfacing the car park while the plumber started work on the kitchen and toilets.
An access area at the front of the wood adjoining the main parking area is being resurfaced with a base layer of waste stone and then dressed with 20mm gravel to create several additional spaces, while all the remaining car park area will also be surface dressed with gravel. The car park work will include the creation of a dedicated disabled parking space.

The office will include a few kitchen units and a sink.
The outside toilet will have full disabled access. The plumbing is being kept very simple with hot water being provided by 'heat on demand' electric heaters. Because the demand for hot water is likely to be quite erratic it was decided that this would be more efficient than continually heating a hot water tank ready for use.
The roofing company finished more quickly than they initially said and apart from not picking up all the little off-cuts of zinc sheeting they left all over the place, did a reasonable job. The flue for the woodstove is in although has yet to be extended to its full height. The thin section of wall between the over-lapping sections of roof has still to be clad. We cannot use the western red cedar for this area as any water running off the cedar onto the zinc would be slightly acidic and i time would eat through the zinc. Instead, larch boards will be used as these don't create the same problem and will almost perfectly match the cedar.
A small area of the floorboards that were salvaged from the barn at Foxburrow Farm have been sanded down to reveal a wonderful red colour and very attractive grain. Once the floor in the main teaching room has been given the same treatment it should look quite spectacular.

The most significant event of the last week was the delivery of the first batch of windows and doors on Friday. Had the windows been delivered late that could have thrown all the opening plans into complete chaos! All being well we should finish just in the nick of time.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Shiny Roof and Hairy Walls

The roofing contractors have made great progress and are on course to finish the roof by the end of the week.
The zinc sheeting is quite shiny at first but the other side of the roof that was completed last week has already started to dull down.

The lime plaster comes ready mixed and has a remarkable texture, not least because one of the main constituents is goat hair. This acts as a binding agent but also gives the wall a textured finish.

Once a section of wall has been plastered it has to be left for a day to partially dry before it can be smoothed over to give the final finish.

It's not nearly as easy to apply the lime plaster compared to a conventional gypsum plaster so it does take longer. The end result though, will be a wall that is far more 'breathable' than a conventionally built wall.

The fireplace in the main teaching room is a triumph with its chunky oak beam and clay lump walls. The clay is still incredibly damp.....it might be Christmas before it is properly dry! It will almost certainly crack as it dries but any cracks can simply be filled with more clay.
Less than three weeks left now before the building has to be finished so its getting tight but the plumber is due to start in a few days and as soon as the plastering is finished the second fix electrics will be done.
A delivery date for the doors and windows would be nice!

Monday 13 June 2011

Work starts on the roof

There has been no let-up in the pace of work in the last week with the roofing company now starting and the final stages of both the internal and external walls.
The ramp leading to the building entrance is almost complete. As much as anything, finishing this will help the builders who are backwards and forwards all day.
The first panels of cedar cladding have been fixed. The cladding is really just a rain screen as there is a breathable membrane underneath which will stop any moisture getting into the walls.

This picture shows the outer layers of the wall. The green breathable membrane has been painted black as otherwise  the green colour would still be visible between the gaps in the cladding. A fine mesh fly screen is then put over the battens (this will stop hornets trying to build nests under the cladding!) before the cedar is nailed on with stainless steel nails.

The internal walls are being lined with a wood wool composite called Heraklith. This is a much more environmentally friendly alternative to plasterboard with excellent fireproof, sound proof and insulation properties.
This will be given a single coat of lime plaster as the final finish.

The company doing the zinc roofing have just started. This picture shows the flashing detail that will ensure that water running off the roof will fall into the gutter.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Floors and Fireplace

Progress is really rapid now with work on several aspects of the building all happening simultaneously.
The cedar decking has been installed throughout the covered areas and the ramp that leads out of the building (shown above) has been finished. The builders have done a particularly good job fitting the ramp between the hazel stems either side creating exactly the effect of walking through the trees that was wanted.

The picture above shows the cedar decking on the 'balcony' on the left hand side and the floor of the main teaching room being put down on the right. Much of the internal floor has been constructed using floorboards salvaged from an old barn at the Trust's Foxburrow Farm centre. The redwood floorboards were quite sound (apart from a little woodworm that has been treated). The boards will be sanded down and treated with a hard oil which will bring up a lovely orange/red colour.
A fully glazed wall will separate the outside deck from the teaching room.

The woodburner which will heat the entire building has to sit on a substantial hearth to isolate it from the timber floor structure. This has been built using old hearth bricks and a lime mortar.

This is the view looking down into the shuttering that has been put in place to enable a clay lump wall to be built in the fireplace. The wall will be 300mm wide and approximately 1.5m high and will act like a giant storage heater soaking up the heat from the woodburner and then keeping the building warm at night.

The original plan was to make the clay lump from clay dug in the wood but it wasn't quite the right consistency. Instead, Mike Canham found some original  clay lump (at least 170 years old) that was left as waste after an old cottage was renovated.

The clay lump is simply shovelled into a cement mixer with some water to wet it enough to reuse.

We have also got Excel Electrical on site this week doing the first fix electrics so lots of decisions needed on lighting, placing switches etc.

Thursday 26 May 2011

Roof structure completed

The last couple of weeks have concentrated on finishing the roof structure in preparation for the zinc sheeting finish.
The rafters have been clad with sterling board (or OSB) a Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) approved product. Initially gaps were left over the parts of the roof where insulation was required because it was easier to install the insulation from above rather than below.
The roof (seen here) together with the walls and floor are being insulated with 200mm of insulation made from 60% sheep's wool and 40% recycled polyester plastic.
This picture shows the roof almost ready for the zinc sheeting. The OSB has been covered by a layer of plywood separated by 50mm batons to create a vented cavity. The plywood has been temporarily covered with polythene sheet (as on the left hand side above) to keep the roof dry. The zinc is the final layer. Now the roof is watertight work inside can start in earnest with 'first fix' electrics and plumbing.
Up on the roof it is really apparent just how close the neighbouring trees are. This one is literally 100mm from the edge of the roof!

These last two pictures again illustrate just what a snug fit the building is amongst the trees, something that would have been impossible with a more conventional foundation design.

With only 7 weeks to the target completion date and opening it is going to be very close. The zinc roofing company are booked to start in early June and the windows and doors were ordered a couple of weeks ago with a 4/5 week delivery so fingers crossed it can still be finished on time!