SPRAWLING underground chambers which have housed the historic collections of Oxford University's world-famous museums will need urgent repairs after water started to leak through the ceiling, the university has revealed.

Heads of the Radcliffe Science Library, on the corner of Parks Road and South Parks Road, have submitted plans to Oxford City Council to renovate a two-storey 1970s extension to its basement with the hope they can be approved within months.

The original Grade II-listed library was built in 1901, with its Worthington Wing following in 1934.

However the basement extends underneath the library’s courtyard and into the front lawn of the neighbouring Oxford University Museum of Natural History – a Grade I-listed building.

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The top floor of the basement, the Lankester Room, was completed in 1975, named after its architect, Philip J Lankester.

It was originally used for book storage and as a reading room. It has been used by the university’s museums as a storage area for their collections. All objects have been removed ahead of the work. 

Oxford Mail:

Repairs are now needed after its external waterproofing failed and water started to seep through the ceiling.

Architects Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp say work needs to be done now to ‘safeguard the building and the museum collections it will store’.

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The plan is now to install a new waterproofing system on the top of the underground concrete slab and to the outside of the underground concrete walls.

Asbestos will also be removed, while other work will be done to improve airtightness and vapour control works.

Oxford Mail:

Some of the damage caused by the water leak.

‘In all likelihood’, three trees that run along Parks Road close to the library will need to be cut down, the architects say. A bike path on that road will be temporarily closed and a temporary footpath will be created during the works.

In a report to the council stressing the scale of the works, the architects explain: “Given the significance of the adjacent buildings and their proximity to the excavation within the contractor’s site area along the north and east sides of the basement, retaining measures such as sheet piles or trench sheeting will be put in place in order to retain earth below ground level and to protect the nearby buildings.

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“The measures will also be used where the basement extends beneath the footpath along Parks Road.

“Then, having fully exposed the concrete slab and the top of the concrete walls, the contractor will carry out the external waterproofing, drainage and insulation works and, after the external work has been completed, the courtyard landscaping and the lawn will be reinstated.”

Oxford Mail:

The university said it consulted the city council in June about the possibility of carrying out the works. A public information event was also held on June 21.

The institution now expects to get a decision from the authority in October on its planning application and bid for listed building consent. The contractor’s site is then likely to be set up and internal maintenance will begin.

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Following that, the contractor’s site could extend in March 2020 and external work will then begin.

That is then expected to be completed by August 2020.

Last December, Oxford University said a new graduate college was due to open at the Radcliffe Science Library site.

Oxford Mail:

Most of its students will belong to the Division of Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences but others will be taken from other academic areas.

At the time, Professor Anne Trefethen, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Gardens, Libraries and Museums, said: “The university is fortunate in holding some of the world’s most significant collections. They provide extraordinary opportunities for scholarly enquiry, and represent a ‘front door’ to the wealth of our knowledge and research.

“For our revitalised library to share its home and everyday life with Oxford’s newest college is a wonderful expression of the commitment to engage broad audiences with our work.”