UCD Convert 40 Student Accommodation Beds on Blackrock Campus into Executive Seminar Rooms

UCD are converting 40 student accommodation rooms on the Blackrock campus into corporate seminar rooms at the cost of €2.5 million. The works which started last summer  are expected to be completed by September. Two floors of Blackrock ‘Halls’ accommodation in Management House are being redeveloped as four 40-person seminar rooms, fine dining facilities, and a floor of office space for the college’s Executive Development programme.

  • College spending €2.5 million to convert Blackrock accommodation into seminar rooms for ‘executive’ business weekend courses. 
  • FOI documents obtained show UCD felt redeveloping the rooms for executive diploma courses ‘provides a far better financial return’

University documentation outlines the college decided the redevelopment ‘provides a far better financial return’ as the corporate diploma courses are a significant revenue stream.

The Executive Development programmes are diploma courses offered to mid and high level corporate clients in areas like strategic growth, innovation and change, corporate governance and leadership development. The executive seminar classes are run over six weekends and cost from €7,750 to €9,000, with approximately 1,600 participants a year. UCD have identified the professional diploma courses as a key way to ‘generate additional non-exchequer income’.

A university report obtained under the FOI act reveal the 40 rooms of student accommodation were reaching their current ‘end-of-life’ utility, and it was decided ‘refurbishment of them to modern standards is not a feasible option’. The 40 beds were separate from the newer Proby House accommodation on the campus, which has 140 beds available. Minutes from the UCD finance committee (FRAMC) show the administration approved the conversion works on April 29th 2015. The resulting decision to redevelop the accommodation will enable the Executive Development programme to double its capacity. UCD Governing Authority noted the proposals in May 2016, without any ‘major opposition’ from the Students Union a source on the authority outlined.

Student Union Response

Students’ Union President Conor Viscardi said that ‘during the time information was presented to student representatives, it was at the same time of the inception of the Ashfield residences project. In line with this, it was communicated that there would be a net increase in student beds, compensating for the re-purposing of accommodation in Blackrock’.

Viscardi said it was outlined to the SU that the ‘accommodation units had deteriorated to a state of disrepair that were no longer fit for purpose’. The final proposals were introduced by the college to FRMAC and Governing Authority in April and May of 2016, during the changeover of SU President between Viscardi and former President Marcus O’Halloran.

The income in rent from the 40 student accommodation units was €196,040, as the older single bed rooms were among the cheaper residences options at €4,900 a term. Despite the health and safety concerns a university review of the proposed project outlined the accommodation could still be used ‘in the short term’.

The SU President Viscardi said he did recognise there was an ‘acute shortage in light of the student accommodation crisis’ and the redevelopment meant the overall number of beds available decreased. He was also critical at the disparity in costs between the new Ashfield accommodation, which is now €8,334 a term, compared to the cheaper Blackrock units. ‘The underlying cost of on-campus accommodation is a significant concern which has to be addressed’ Viscardi stated.

In May 2015 the estimated cost of the planned works was €1.8 million, according to a source on Governing Authority, however later in October 2015  UCD decided to increase the scope of the project to add in facilities for the courses like a coffee dock, to the adjacent Ligouri House, beside Management House, as well as other changes. This brought the project’s cost to €2.5 million.

The Executive Development courses have been prioritised in UCD’s internal strategy for 2015-2020. Documentation from that strategy detail that UCD will plan to ‘generate additional non-exchequer income by attracting increased numbers of non-EU and graduate students, [and] by the further provision of professional development programmes’. The current Executive Development courses are run in a building adjacent to the Smurfit campus library.

Premier ‘Customised’ Courses

UCD is also privately renting out seminar rooms for the Executive Development courses in the Royal Marine Hotel in Dún Laoghaire. Some of the professional programme seminars were run in the ground floor of the Management House, below the other two floors of student accommodation. The construction works means the university has been paying for seminar space and fine dining all-day catering in the Royal Marine Hotel from January 2016 to September 2017 to house the executive ‘customised’ course clients. The customised clients are the premier courses designed to each company’s requirements for development, and past companies include the Department of the Taoiseach, Bord Bia and Microsoft. UCD outlined it will have 902 customised clients from June 2016 to September this year. The open-enrolment participant’s courses are still run on the Smurfit campus.

Executive fine dining suite and lounge facilities, as well as a separate coffee dock are being incorporated into the new redeveloped Management House on the Smurfit campus, to cater to the courses clients. Brown Bean Coffee Company have been contracted to run the corporate dining facilities being developed. The UCD contract specified ‘the food provided must be of an exceptionally high standard at all times, similar to what would be provided in a 5-star hotel’. The contract was awarded to Brown Bean Coffee Ltd in December 2016.

Caroline Kinsella is the head of business development and marketing within the Executive Development programmes. Kinsella confirmed the programme was ‘looking to double the size of our business. We’re in a real growth phase at the moment. We’re going through a huge revamp, so there’s a multi-million refurbishment going on, we’ve taken over the Management House residences’ she told the Tribune.

The three new seminar rooms, break-out, and group learning rooms will ‘offer us more flexibility to take on more [clients], and take on more at the time we want to take on more, rather than trying to shoehorn things when we’re tight on capacity’ she explained. The corporate Development courses cater to international clients, and the college ‘are looking to expand overseas’ in terms of clients and reach Kinsella said.

The school of business’ executive programme also required increased office space and are taking up one of the floor’s redeveloped from student accommodation. In FOI’d reports from 2015 it was noted by UCD that twenty offices could be built on the second floor ’without significant structural work’.  The executive development programme ‘has a pressing need for 10 office spaces for new faculty hires’ documents detail.

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Image: Current Executive Development Seminar Rooms opposite the Blackrock campus library on the Smurfit campus. 

Building Contract 

Duggan Brothers Contractors are the company who won the €2.5 million contract to convert the Novitiate or ‘Management House’ student accommodation into seminar and office space. Duggan Contractors are the same building firm who previously constructed the more modern 140-bed Proby House accommodation bloc, which adjoins Management House – that contract was worth €11 million. The conversion project also required work to be done refurbishing the building’s roof and windows, and works to bring the fire safety requirements of the building in line. The Management House was originally built back in 1908.

Minutes from the Governing Authority on the 16th of May 2016, sourced under the FOI act show queries were raised about ‘inflation in the construction sector’ over the recent project. The minutes noted that the college’s head of finance Gerry O’Brien ‘advised that the university always sought to minimise costs. To this end professional project managers were assigned to monitor progress’. The minutes continued to detail that UCD felt ‘momentum was important, and attempts were made in all cases to commence construction as quickly as possible after the tender was awarded’.

It is unclear if the €2.5 contract cost of the project was higher than initially estimated by UCD back in 2015, as several financial figures were redacted from documents by the university FOI office on the grounds they were ‘commercially sensitive’.

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Jack Power  Editor  

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