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Transformation of Sunderland’s Old County Court Well Underway

Newcastle-based Sendrig Construction (Sendrig) is making good progress with its total transformation of the old Grade II listed County Court building on John Street, Sunderland where the contractor is creating a 45-unit luxury student accommodation block.

Sendrig, which plans to develop, build and operate the accommodation, purchased the building in 2018.  Its design and delivery team has spent the intervening period consulting with local businesses, residents, the planning department and various heritage bodies during the pre-construction phase to develop the design, gain planning consent and undertake exhaustive surveys given the building’s many heritage assets – some of which, such as elegant cornicing, were discovered when the lowered ceilings were removed.

John Street occupies a central location within the City of Sunderland, close to Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens and sits within and contributes to the Sunniside Conservation Area.

The County Court was built in 1875-76 to a design by James Williams of the Ministry of Works.  Some of its details are exceptional, specifically, the presence of a figure of justice and an image of Queen Victoria above the two doors.  The front of the building is Italianate in style with dressed ashlar stonework while roof coverings have secret gutters and parapets, so common in Victorian times.

Initially, the ground floor level was where fines were paid, the lower ground floor was for record storage and floors one and two were the court room and meeting rooms.

Soon it will be home to 33 generously proportioned student bedrooms, each with en suite facilities  and featuring a communal leisure area, cooking and laundry areas and studies.  A further 12 bedrooms form part of a new build extension to the rear of the building, which is accessed by a bridge between the two buildings at first floor level.

The County Court building is situated in a challenging location with particularly difficult access constraints – the lane to the rear is very narrow and only wide enough for blue light vehicles and dust carts – while to the front, is a busy city centre pedestrian and bus and route.

This area was also a hot spot during WW2 and there are estimated to be between five and ten unexploded bombs within the locality, an aspect of the project which alone, has created a great deal of additional consultation and careful piling.

Managing director of Sendrig, Michael Lee, believes it is one of the most challenging jobs they have ever worked on.  He said:

“We are looking forward confidently to the completion of this project, which will be an impressive, luxury student accommodation building by the end of August,  but as a project it is certainly putting us through our paces!

“By necessity, we have had to undertake a great deal of liaison with a wide range of stakeholders, ensuring party wall agreements are in place to minimise disruption and noise while we are working.  Additionally, we have had to take the utmost care to ensure of the safety of passing pedestrians and traffic when erecting scaffolding.

“The internal strip out has been carefully undertaken so that its listed features can be fully restored where required alongside the major update we are undertaking to bring the property in line with current building regulation standards.

“I should also like to take this opportunity to extend our thanks to Sunderland City Council, which is one of the best local authorities we have worked with and who have been tremendously supportive throughout.”

On project completion, the finished building is expected to set the standard for student accommodation when it welcomes its first students in September 2023.  It will make full use of either high tech or SMART technology and the fixtures and fittings will be of a high quality throughout.

Additionally, its location should prove highly popular, set within the historic conservation area of Sunniside with its popular bars and restaurants and both university campuses being no more than 15 minutes’ walk away.

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Transformation underway at the old Grade II listed County Court building on John Street, Sunderland by Sendrig Construction

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