Lucas van Vliet, Dean of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science (EEMCS) felt compelled to take this drastic decision after a new building inspection. The iconic building’s occupancy permit requires the construction beams to withstand high temperatures for 60 minutes. An inspection carried out by a specialised structural engineer showed that this cannot be guaranteed.
The inspection was carried out as part of the major renovation that is currently underway on the 22 floor tower. Floors three to eight have already been renovated and the steel beams on these floors have been covered in fire resistant material to withstand high temperatures for 90 minutes. The ground floor, the first and second floors, and the floors above the eighth floor have not yet been done. This means that safety cannot yet be guaranteed.
‘Safety comes first’
After consulting the municipality, the fire brigade and the Safety Region, Van Vliet saw no alternative but to halt all activities in the high-rise. “Safety comes first. The occupants are now wondering if they were in any danger.” Fortunately, the Dean stresses, the chance of fire is still very low. On Thursday, staff and students were asked to calmly and safely stop their activities and to leave the building as normal. When they may go and collect anything they left behind is now being assessed.
Van Vliet will look into the best way to make sure that the steel construction will withstand fire for 60 minutes. The question is how to minimise the fire load should a fire break out before a structural solution is found and carried out.
While the corona restrictions mean that the building is used far less than usual, it was definitely not empty. There are dozens of laboratories and measuring chambers where research continued, while the radar on the roof is still in operation and students could still come in in small numbers for learning purposes.
‘The limiting factors are manpower and materials’
All these activities will temporarily be halted. The Faculty has already started looking for alternative space, partly in the low-rise building and partly elsewhere. “We are doing everything we can to ensure the continuity of research and learning,” says Van Vliet. He is asking colleagues across the campus for help. The Faculty will then look into how staff can move their things.
Van Vliet believes that, now that the high-rise building is empty, renovation will be faster. The plan is to first make the ground floor and the first and second floors fire safe. He estimates that this will take three months and will involve moving everything out, stripping the building and then rebuilding. He will not guarantee this timing though. “The limiting factors are manpower and materials.”