July 2008: a bit plastered but beginning to feel better

We still haven't quite reached the stage where you can see the shape that everything will take but that moment is close at hand. Bob Morgan now has an assistant and he is making sure that the site is kept tidier than it has been. This makes it easier to see what is going on and to keep dust and stuff off my clothes as I wander about thinking 'what the b****y hell are they doing here'.

At today's date (9th June 2008) progress is as follows:

  • The temporary roof is off and the scaffolding is coming down- you can see the new colour scheme (Farrow and Ball colours - 'Strong White' on the wood, 'Elephant's Breath' on the cills and rendered work and 'Railings' on the rainwater goods)
  • The main roof and the Dairy Wing roof are finished and have been signed off. The Kitchen roof is about 75% complete - the last 25% can be done now the scaffolding has gone from this area
  • The new toilets and kitchens/tea spaces have been built on ground, first and second floors
  • The installation of electrical cables and heating pipes is about 90% complete
  • Most floorboards are now back in place and there are new boards in four of the lesser rooms where old boards could not be re-used because they were in such poor condition
  • Paint stripping to timber panels, windows, shutters and other joinery, etc is about 70% complete
  • The pointing to the exterior brickwork is about 95% complete
  • Plastering to the 2nd floor is 95% complete. Plastering to the new lift shaft is complete
  • Decorating on the top floor is well underway (and very nice it looks too)
  • The Quadrant area toilets have been built and the leadwork to the roofs is finished. The roof lantern lights will be installed in a couple of weeks
  • The car park is 80% complete
  • The new foul and surface water drainage systems are 90% complete - all old runs have been renewed or lined to make sure that there will not be any future drainage problems
  • The stained glass and painted scene for the balcony fanlight window is being made and this should be fitted in the next week or so.

Archaeology

We should be getting the first draft of the Archaeological Report by the end of the month. Nothing of any note has been found in the drainage trenches except bits of old brick used as a base material for some of the paths and the roadway.

The main roof

This is now finished and a safety harness (fall arrest) system has been installed to protect staff who may need to get out onto the gutter walkway just inside the parapet walls.

The Boiler Room and Cellar

I have had to take the view (now that the boiler control panels are all in place) that access to the cellar will have to be controlled and that people will not be able to look around unaccompanied. This is a shame, but it is impossible to protect or board off all the electronics, pump switches and so on. So - on Open Days, a member of staff or a volunteer will need to be available to show small groups around in safety.

Under-floor heating

The under-floor heating and screed coverings are being installed at the moment in the Kitchen, the Servants' Hall and the new access corridors to the toilets behind the porte cochere.

Wiring

The wiring for electrics and data has been the most nerve-wracking part of the planning process since we really only have this one chance to get it right if we want to avoid unsightly conduits and trunking all over the walls. However, I think that we should have provided enough in the way of sockets, lights, Internet points and phone outlets.

Redecorations and finishes

The top floor studio rooms are being painted in neutral tones of off-white and are beginning to take shape well. No painting is yet taking place elsewhere. Two rooms will be wallpapered:

  • the East Bedroom (the one with the decorators' signatures) which will be a special scheme of paper pasted onto a linen backing to match what we think was there in the 1720s
  • The new 1st floor function room.

We have had a 2 x 2 metre sample of floorboards machine sanded on the top floor and this has revealed a lovely orange coloured softwood board. Floors in all areas will be left sanded and polished. Fitted carpet would ruin the rooms and rugs (sadly) are considered trip hazards. The main stair will have a runner (probably a natural fibre such as sisal) with stair rods.

Stained glass

The architect and I visited the studios of Hardman and Son in Birmingham to see the work they are doing on the balcony fanlight and the plans for the big Venetian Window. It was a great day out and all the staff were clearly dedicated to doing the best job they could. The work they are doing for us looks fantastic and I hope that the Friends will like it as much as I do (after all you're paying for some of it).

The Lantern Light that sits on the vestibule roof is back on site and has been restored extremely well. If all goes well this will be re-installed in the next two weeks and then it will get a new roof in leadwork.

Money and time

We have now spent all of the Contingency Sum and bit of the spare budget as well. On a job like this it is very difficult to find economies without affecting the integrity of the finished product.

The contractor now estimates he is about 12 weeks behind programme (i.e an early September finish) and we can just about live with this because it does not affect the opening date of January 2009. However, I have made it clear that any further delay is unacceptable and have suggested that more labour on site might reduce the current overrun.

Once the building work is complete then there will be a feverish period of getting the house prepared for business, dressing the period rooms and making sure that everything works as it should.

What's next?

The next three months will see:

Everything virtually finished - Hoorah! (I hope).

And finally ...

The top floor is looking good and it is simply great to see that sad old space transformed into a series of light and airy studios. It is nice to see the scaffolding coming down and be able to see the Mansion again. Hopefully the new fixing of anti-pigeon devices will force those numerous little beasts to find a home elsewhere and stop fouling the new paintwork.

The area in front of the main entrance now looks like a ploughed field with odd piles of builders' materials. However, once the ground workers get going this will be transformed into an elegant approach of hard and soft landscaping. This will be at the end of the project so any of you visiting the site now will just have to imagine how good it will look.

The Park scheme is almost finished and we will be opening the area between the Long Water and Valentines High School at the end of June.

Valentines Mansion Project Director, Nigel Burch