When the Met Office relocated from Berkshire to Devon more than 75 per cent of its staff chose to follow. And they weren't to be disappointed with the new place and its distinctly outdoor feel.
10 December 2009
by David Arminas
Climate change analysis and prediction is an energy-thirsty, but increasingly essential, business for the Met Office's headquarters in Exeter. Despite its acknowledged large carbon footprint, thanks to its massive computer system the office is Breeam Excellent and offers a work-lifestyle balance that is second to none.
Employee loyalty is high to the point that eight out of 10 workers relocated in 2003, when the Met Office consolidated several locations to a site on the outskirts of Exeter. The previous office in Bracknell was a nondescript rectangular 1960s structure with cubical spacing for employees. In particularly short supply was room for the Met Office's ever-expanding IT equipment.
Nonetheless, relocation is always a major issue for many employees, so senior Met Office management put site choices to a vote. The Devon option eventually won over a site in Norwich and two others in Berkshire.
It was a sign of success that 79 per cent of employees opted to move 200 miles to a greenfield site with the Met Office, explains Lynda Jones, property and FM programme manager, and one member of staff who made the move.
It was more a cultural and lifestyle change for many employees, and moving was a big decision for them, says Jones. But the drawing card for the majority of employees was the outdoor opportunities offered by living in Exeter, with its access to the south-west.
In fact, working for the Met Office is a lifestyle choice in itself, says Jones, who understands the loyalty aspect. People dream of being a weather person at the Met Office, so will go where the office goes.
She began her career with the Met Office in London 20 years ago as a weather observer counting snowflakes, sometimes on Christmas Day. She eventually moved into IT business development and then into HR, where she was involved in the logistics of the massive office relocation.
As much attention has been paid to the grounds of the building as the Breeam Excellent structure itself, which sets the tone for the entire development. The site is large enough to have warranted a city bus route that not only extends to it, but also runs around the building. There is also parking for nearly 800 cars and 50 motorcycles, and space for more than 150 bicycles. The Met Office runs a successful car share scheme and encouraging employees to cycle to work (pool bikes are available).
The location is pastoral, with manicured lawns, trees and waterways that surround the building. Visitors follow a wooden walkway over a stream, which connects two large ponds. Apart from being a landscape feature, the ponds: each holding 90,000 litres - capture rain and supply grey water for flushing toilets. There is also a 75,000 litre grey water tank, enough to supply five days requirement during dry periods so the ponds are not literally siphoned down to mudflats.
The path continues past the unusually acute angle of the building"s edge, called the ship's prow, up the entrance. Inside the building just past reception, stretches the 'Street', the main people circulation area. The stream, seen from outside, is flowing down the Street beside the meeting rooms and general areas.
In effect, the building is a series of structures under one roof. There are four main office blocks and a large building called Green Island, which houses the main restaurant and conference facility. Further down the street are two IT buildings with additional office accommodation. Behind these are two buildings that are the energy centre. A separate, smaller building is the IT/computer workshop.
The broad Street has a cafe, rest areas and breakout areas. The first 'shop'on the Street, opposite the reception, is the restaurant with expansive views across the side of the front path and towards the pond. Wide, open walkways above the Street allow access to different areas of the building. More breakout areas are dotted along the walkways.
The open-plan offices are generous in spacing for the 1,480 desks in the 136,000 sq ft of office accommodation space; gross floor area for the building is 360,600 sq ft.
Because of the international importance of the building's systems, there are four back-up generators rated at 1.6MW each. The UPS system can run at 3.2MW for 15 minutes. There is also a 1.5MW gas CHP plant which supplies the base electrical load with a further CHP plant being considered.
Environmental control of the building is by Swedish manufacturer TermoDeck, whose system uses 100 per cent fresh air. On each of the spines of the floor plates, warm air is forced through chambers in the concrete shell. Over time, the concrete warms and then cools. Air is released into the office through round grilles on the floor plates.
The structure was a design-build-operate project costing £83 million. It was set up as a public-private partnership between the Met Office and G4S Integrated Services, who are specialists in providing integrated facilities management services in secure and critical environments - and at the time were called Group 4 Falck - and a construction joint venture between Costain and Skanska (see box, left).
G4S, with its 94 staff, is the Met Office's major subcontractor and specialises in major security-sensitive clients, says Chris Elliott, group managing director at G4S Integrated Services. The Met Office's computer system is one of world"s most important and complex.
The Met Office is a high-profile clients for us and brings into play our knowledge of managing prisons, large training centres and other secure and sensitive sites that are of national importance, says Elliott.
The Met Office provides forecasting for all the UK, including severe weather warnings and flood forecasting. Its IT systems are used to analyse climate change, and the Met Office advises the UK government and many world organisations, including the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Also, the Met Office is one of only two World Area Forecast Centres for Civil Aviation, operates its own satellite-based broadcast system to distribute real-time weather data to airports all over the world, and without which a plane cannot take off.
Little wonder that moving the centre from Bracknell to Exeter in 2003, one of Europe's largest IT relocation exercises, cost around £150 million. The heaviest object to be moved was the four-tonne weather radar system.
An organisation"s need to maintain such a large IT infrastructure is the Achilles heel of all energy managers bent on improving their building's efficiency. Around 18,700 sq ft of the structure accommodates IT. A peek into the high-security IT areas reveal rows of tall, dark, ominous-looking Cray and NEC supercomputers, and they are hungry beasts, says Peter Tierney, G4S director of services at the Met Office.
A report in the Daily Telegraph in August suggested that the centre's latest IBM computers, capable of 1,000 billion calculations a second, needs 1.2MW to operate - providing enough electricity to power a small town, and which produces around 12,000 tonnes of CO2 annually, a factor that results in an unavoidably large carbon footprint.
However, if you consider that footprint in a wider context, the Met Office estimate that its forecasts save close to 3 million tonnes of CO2 emissions by improving flight efficiency for the European aviation industry alone. This is almost 300 times as much C02 as the Met Office supercomputers produce.
They use around 90 per cent of the building's energy consumption, acknowledges Tierney. It is, without doubt, the building' single biggest challenge. The building gets a DEC rating of G, which seems unfair. But take away the IT infrastructure and it would be significantly better.
However, that doesn't stop Tierney and others from being energy-conscious. More energy-efficient internal and external lights have been installed and a closer watch on when lights come on has saved money, too.
Site purchase and construction costs:
l Preferred bidder, the Stratus consortium, comprising Costain/Skanska and Group 4 Falck Global Solutions
l Architectural design by Broadway Malyan
l Structural design by Arups
l Building services design by Hayden Young
l Environmental, mechanical, electrical and structural engineering by Zisman Bowyer and Partners (ZBP)
FM SUBCONTRACTORS NOW ON SITE
l G4S: 94 staff (15-year contract to operate the building)
l Eurest (catering): 23 staff
l Devon Garden Services: 3 staff
l Active Health (gym): 5 staff