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Property Here - Saturday, June 15, 2013

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The old Lion Breweries site in Newmarket is about to become a hub for engineering research and post-graduate students. Property editor Anne Gibson reveals the wider implications of Auckland University's big move
The University's three city campus sites: Newmarket (pink), Grafton (yellow) and City (white).
The University's three city campus sites: Newmarket (pink), Grafton (yellow) and City (white).

Auckland University is about to shake up the neighbourhood when staff and students move into Newmarket next year - but neighbours don't have to worry, as they won't feel a thing.

The country's top-ranked university is initially planning to devote all the space at the 5.2ha former Lion Breweries site to post-graduate engineering studies, including earthquake testing for three-storey buildings by civil engineers using a 9m high wall which will be one of the strongest in Australasia.

Student accommodation and multi-disciplinary facilities may come later, but at the start, the engineers will have this fashionable shopping suburb entirely to themselves.

Property services director Peter Fehl says the decision in engineering's favour is driven by huge demand in the lucrative sector - which has been constrained for decades at the Symonds St city campus - plus the university's longer term plans to ramp up post-graduate ratios from last decade's 17 per cent of the student population to 25 per cent by 2020.

Engineering already has 3,600 students: 2,700 undergraduates, 430 in taught postgraduate programmes and 480 research postgraduates. With the new site in Newmarket, huge expansion is possible.

Vice-chancellor Stuart McCutcheon sees the Newmarket jump as the start of the institution's biggest transformation in a 30-year plan to expand not just the property assets, but re-establish the university's entire future direction.

Outlining the vision on the university's website in April, he said Auckland was targeting a big increase in money from research grants and contracts, from an annual $131 million last decade to $433 million in seven years. Total revenue would climb from $578 million in 2004 to $1.3 billion by 2020.

"We have a strategy of significantly growing the postgraduate school and research activity to levels consistent with those of leading international research universities," he said on April 22.

"The Newmarket campus provides the university with an opportunity to ensure long-term integration of our activities across the main campuses.

"The high density development potential and size of the site will support a further 30 to 50 years of growth, providing the university with a rare opportunity to secure our space needs for the future."

Fehl says the level of change planned means the university is looking to sell the 32ha Tamaki Innovation Campus in Glen Innes and the 9ha Education Faculty Epsom campus because the Newmarket purchase, settled on May 31, means those two parcels are now regarded as inappropriate geographically and physically, constrained in suburbia, far from the city campus heart. He won't discuss what the university paid for the Newmarket site - the Weekend Herald has been told it was a relative bargain at $67 million after previous bidders AMP were forced to pull out in the aftermath of the global financial crisis - but the cost is thought to be roughly matched by the likely combined sale prices of Tamaki ($40 million) and Epsom ($20-40 million).

Fehl says engineering will spread across so much of the Newmarket site simply because of its sheer importance, as well as years of little spending at existing city campus facilities.

"We have to do this because the engineering faculty has had very, very strong growth in undergraduates and post-graduates and this is part of the Government's science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills drive, the backbone of an innovative and productive economy."

Contractors working for ex-owner Lion Breweries this month began demolishing buildings between the Khyber Pass Rd entrance and the no-exit Suiter St; the university handing that job over because specialist skills were needed to remove technical equipment.

In August, contractors will begin work on three existing central-site warehouses, to be reclad and fitted out for the move of staff and students from the city campus. A new building will house more research equipment, including a large structures-testing laboratory (which will carry out the earthquake testing, among other things).

The main entrance-way will be off Park Rd, at the western or Auckland City Hospital end.

Architects Jasmax designed the new building, 906, to be developed at the Suiter St or eastern end.

Fehl is pleased with the buildings, which the university will keep on the site sloping 15m from Park Rd to Suiter St. "The warehouses are very strong and they have really good spaces, particularly with the height internally between 3m to 6m so it's really good for our big kit," he says, referring to the faculty's experimental facilities.

"This is such a large site that for the foreseeable future, we don't really have plans for the rest of it. This is a 30- to 50-year planning horizon and we're just concentrating on engineering because that's so desperately needed," he says. "We bought this site because it was there and it's so much more central than Tamaki or Epsom."

"Guess how far it is from the Grafton Campus to the Park Rd entrance to the Newmarket campus?" says Fehl, who measured it himself in his car. "Exactly 400m and less than 2km from the city campus."

The $1 billion upgrade

• Huge new engineering research centre in Newmarket
• Epsom and Tamaki campuses to go over time
• Revamp for science and engineering at city campus

City Campus - 16ha site based around Symonds St

1. New science building at corner of Symonds and Wellesley Sts
- 11 levels
- $200 million
- Completion: 2017

2. Engineering building doubles from five to 10 storeys
- $160 million
- 2015-2017

3. Teacher training moves from Epsom to human sciences building

Grafton Campus (Medical school) - 2.2ha opposite Auckland City Hospital

- $240m upgrade completed in 2011

Newmarket Campus - 5.2ha site, formerly owned by Lion Breweries

- Bought last Sept for an undisclosed sum, understood to be $67m.
- $86m redevelopment budget
- Engineering post-graduate students and staff moving in from April next year

Initial plan
- Refit existing warehouses and add new four-storey "structures hall" at eastern end
- Civil engineers will use the hall for earthquake testing on three-storey buildings

In future
- New student accommodation, possibly a new tower hostel like the 442-room
University Hall on Whitaker Place
- Multi-disciplinary technology projects, currently city-based but requiring more space