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  • Glaslyn's solar panelled roof

  • The laboratory's sustainable urban drainage system

Taking the waters

Charlie-KortensIn a matter of weeks Welsh Water converted an abandoned call centre into a state-of-the-art water testing facility. Charlie Kortens dives behind the scenes

It’s difficult to walk down a high street without spotting a former bank which hasn’t been turned into the latest trendy bar. But the market isn’t so buoyant for former financial services call centres. Which made the decision by Dwr Cymru Welsh Water (DCWW) to transform a former HSBC call centre in Newport, Gwent into a new water testing facility all the more interesting.

The project to convert the 25,000 sq ft building from a former HSBC call centre into a new £10.4 million laboratory with office space for around 50 members of staff, took just 16 weeks. It was finished in August 2012, with the first water samples for analysis being accepted in November that year. DCWW commissioned Brecon-based Beacons Business Interiors (Bbi) to complete the design and build project which also involved building a new exterior to replace the existing 1980s industrial façade. They also increased the building’s level of insulation, introducing a sustainable urban drainage system designed to drain surface water from buildings, in a manner that will provide a more sustainable approach than what has been the conventional practice of routing run-off through a pipe to a watercourse, and fitting solar panels to the roof.

The laboratory, known as Glaslyn, which means blue lake in Welsh, is where water samples from across Wales and Herefordshire are brought to be tested.

So why choose a former call centre as your new base? “There were two reasons,” explains Sharon Evans, head of water quality, at DCWW. “The first was transport links – water samples need to be brought here from across Wales and Herefordshire. That meant that we really needed to be based in the south-east of Wales.” Cleppa Park is a 90,000 sq ft business park situated off the M4, 10 miles east of Cardiff, which is also home to HM Prison Service, and aerospace company EADS, making it easy for staff to access. The specific building was chosen, Evans says, because it was on one level and gave the organisation a blank canvas to work with.

With water samples, equipment and staff needing to move about all over the facility, fewer staircases and changes in levels means a more efficient and safer environment. The space provides great working surroundings for staff, with an open plan design and lots of glass creating visibility between individual rooms and contributing to improving employee morale.

The laboratory carries out a wide range of microbiological and chemical tests on drinking water and the rivers, reservoirs and springs that it comes from, to verify the quality of drinking water supplied by the company to 1.4 million homes and businesses across Wales and Herefordshire.The 750,000 analyses per year include tests for acidity, alkalinity and colour, as well as for more than 40 metals, nutrients, pesticides and herbicides.

A water sample arrives at Glaslyn where it is logged and registered by one of the team. All bottles are barcoded to ensure full traceability. Next they are transported to a fridge the size of a living room. No sample stays there long before being swept off to one of several laboratory facilities replete with the latest technology.

Alongside the labs, corridors and storage areas, there is a plush reception area, open plan canteen space, meeting rooms and office space.

Perhaps this is why, despite the intricate and exacting nature of the work, the building is run by a very small FM team, comprising senior project manager Mel Richardson and site co-ordinator Patrick Sweeney together with two cleaning staff and two security staff. Vinci Facilities has held the FM contract since the facility opened, providing security (which is subcontracted to OCS Group), cleaning, maintenance and grounds maintenance.

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