• Overview of the construction plans

    Juggling real estate

    The RUG is on the verge of a major construction project. In ten years, the University will have to be prepared for the future.

    Zernike Campus: impressions of the exterior and interior of the new buildings.

    in short

    The RUG will be juggling a lot of real estate over the next ten years.

    Some properties need to be upgraded, the UMCG campus will be expanded and Zernike is also being tackled. In total, more than 150,000 square meters of space will be added, renovated or replaced.

    The cost of the project is estimated around 380 million euros.

    Academic and research facilities will be replaced by meeting rooms and restaurants in the interest of creating a relaxed environment.

    The Healthy Ageing campus at the Ebbinge quarter will also be further developed. The University College will move in 2016 to the Bloemsingel. Housing for the students will also be created in the neighbourhood.

    A branch of the Sport Centre will come to the Ebbinge quarter and Usva will find a new home there, too. A new educational building will replace the current accommodations for the Faculties of Behavioural and Social Sciences and Medicine.

    As was previously made known, Zernike will also be undergoing changes. A new exam hall, the Energy Academy and the Zernikeborg will be built.

    The Harmonie complex is the biggest renovation task ahead of the University. The chore will take four to six years.

    The law faculty will head to the building currently housing the Public Library in 2020.

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    While the first pylons are driven into the ground for the Energy Academy at Zernike, plans are being made to significantly develop the campus around UMCG. Next to the Ebbinge quarter in the northern area of the city, a new location for culture centre Usva, a branch of the Sport Centre, a new research building and a permanent location for the University College (UCG) are all possible.

    More than 150,000 square meters of space will be renovated, replaced or built in the coming ten years. A total investment of 380 million euros will be made for the plans.

    A monster chore

    Creating the plans was a monster chore unto itself, according to University board member Jan de Jeu. ‘That’s why we don’t do it annually’, he says. ‘We have many buildings and facilities, and once every few years, we look at what their status is. You look at the buildings, and you ask the users of those buildings where the problems are. What is the state of our real estate? Are there buildings whose rental contracts are about to end? That has happened over the past year.’

    The Real Estate and Investment Projects (VGI) department, which is responsible for the buildings of the University, visited the faculties and various departments of the RUG to see for themselves what sorts of issues existed. The Harmonie building is the most significant renovation project awaiting the University. ‘That is still four to six years away, though. The utilities need to be addressed, the flooring, et cetera. There are two faculties that both consist of multiple buildings in the surrounding area. The building itself has become a little bit cluttered over time.’

    We have plenty of room, according to an analysis by VGI. But that room is not always in the right place and not always of good enough quality. What’s more, some properties are not future-proof. ‘If you look at what is ahead of us in the coming years, there is a lot of uncertainty. That’s why we are looking to be as flexible as possible’, De Jeu says.

    Smarter layout

    ‘As for student numbers, there is something to be said. There are already relatively large lecture classes, but we think that by introducing new techniques, we may be able to change that’, according to the University board member. In addition to digital learning, the RUG is focusing more on learning communities. Students are encouraged to spend more time at their own faculty, together with their classmates and lecturers. Buildings have to be adapted for that purpose.

    The campuses will no longer be only educational buildings. Study and research buildings will be replaced with meeting halls and restaurants. They will be mixed together, which is meant to provide a more relaxed environment and a smarter layout.

    The most remarkable change is the expansion of the Healthy Ageing Campus in the Ebbinge quarter.

    ‘You see the same thing in office spaces. By introducing new ways of working, there is more need for meeting spaces and more flexibility. But that is not something that you can change overnight, and it’s not the same situation for everyone’, De Jeu says.

    ‘I want the University College to be in an environment with culture and a gym.’

    Not only will construction and renovation take place, but many facilities will be relocated or split up differently. A whole lot of juggling of the RUG’s real estate is necessary to prepare for the future.

    A home for University College

    The most notable change is the development of the Healthy Ageing Campus in the Ebbinge quarter, between Antonius Deusinglaan and Vreydemalaan. Nothing is concrete yet – all decisions still have to be made, according to VGI-head Erika Hepping. But there are plans.

    The UCG, which is still temporarily housed on the Hoendiepskade, will potentially move into the historic building on the Bloemsingel in 2016. The property there originated in 1911 and resembles a large mansion. But that mansion has gone wrong over the years – it needs some tender loving care.

    ‘A lot of construction will be done there and some additions may be made. Over the course of the year, an overview will be created of what has to happen to the building and what the costs will be’, De Jeu says. ‘It’s our preference, but whether or not it’s the most logical remains to be seen.’

    Somewhere in the neighbourhood, housing for the UCG students will have to be provided. Plans for the housing are, according to dean Hans van Ees, in the late stages of development. But neither Van Ees nor De Jeu is willing to say much. Housing company SSH has been hired to find the residential quarters. ‘They are currently in discussions with a pension fund and developer. The ground is owned by the municipality, and it has to be determined if it’s feasible. A decision about that will likely be made this summer.’

    But why wouldn’t UCG move to Zernike instead? That possibility was considered, De Jeu says. ‘Not because of the costs, but because of what we want as a study culture. The dean was quite clear about that, he thought that the Zernike Campus was too industrial as an environment. He said, ‘I want the University College to be in an environment with cultural and gym facilities. I want to have both side by side, that cultural environment and the housing for the students.’

    Usva and Sports Centre on one campus

    Those components – gym facilities and culture – will now be brought together in one place for the first time. In the terrain, a branch of the Sports Centre will most likely be created.

    According to Sports Centre, a second location is urgently needed because there are progressively more students and staff who are signing up for aerobics, Zumba, step and spinning classes. In 2014, 19,000 students and 2,000 staff members had a gym pass. ACLO expects the number of student pass holders to rise to 21,000 within four years.


    The development plans for the RUG are being made with consideration to a period of ten years. But the building projects often exceed the timeframe of the plans. The projects all cost time and guidance. Can it actually be done in ten years?

    ‘Sometimes, you are overtaken by the reality’, De Jeu admits. ‘The renovation of the Public Library and moving the law faculty in is dependent on the library moving to the Forum. Construction on the Forum is completely stopped now because of research being conducted into making it earthquake-proof, and that will probably take six months. So, we will have to speak with the Forum about what that means for the plan and for the renovation of the Harmonie. Within a year, all kinds of things can change.’

    According to Hepping, the planning will be updated each year based on the actual situation. ‘In June 2014, we really nailed down the plans, but since then, plans in Friesland have become a reality and Yantai has been announced. That doesn’t necessarily have any impact on Groningen, but it does place more demands on the department. On top of that, the earthquakes are of course commanding a lot of attention in the department, too.’

    Research shows that 17 to 22 per cent of students think that Zernike is too far to bike to just to go to the gym. A facility in the centre is therefore preferable, according to the organisation.

    But where the gym-goers will be headed is not yet certain. ‘The municipality is a major advocate for it. We have not only the campus as a potential location, but we are also looking at the surrounding area. It’s also possible that it will be in a new building, or on the ground floor of a new to-be-developed property. We don’t know yet’, De Jeu says.

    Usva will most likely also be relocated closer to UCG. The cultural centre has been housed for 17 years in an historic building on the Munnekeholm, but they are eager to move because the building has become too small and the neighbours are bothered by the noise.

    Delinah Halvorson, head of the cultural centre, is happy with the moving plan. ‘Not only because our current location ends up limiting our ambitions and we feel we can better realize those goals in a new place, but also because the chosen location is an area where many other cultural activities take place, like NNT, Simplon, het Paleis and the Infoversum’, she has said previously.

    New education building

    On the Healthy Ageing Campus – which is what the area next to the Ebbinge quarter is called – a building for giving classes will have to be resurrected for the Faculties of Behavioural and Social Sciences and Medicine. The rental property on the Bloemstraat and the outdated housing at Antonius Deusinglaan 2 will be replaced.

    ‘The problem is that we don’t have any more room on the Grote Kruisstraat to expand our educational facilitates. The majority of our educational activities already take place in a temporary location nearby the Healthy Ageing Campus’, De Jeu says.

    Zernike getting a makeover

    The plans for the Zernike Campus were made known at the end of January by the University, the Hanzehogeschool, the province and the municipality. The entire area will be getting a makeover. Stores, cafes, more green space, student housing and other businesses will come to the campus.

    Together, the parties are investing 14 to 17 million euros to transform the grey Zernike Campus into a more lively area. It needs to become more park-like with improved bike routes, attractive footpaths and gym facilities.

    ‘We want the terrain to become more dynamic. We want to make it attractive for the knowledge-intensive businesses who are located there’, De Jeu says. Last week, construction began on the Energy Academy Europe. The construction project of nearly 10,000 square meters should be standing in the field beside the Bernoulliborg by next summer.

    The property, the home base for all Groningen energy education and research, is intended to be an example for new construction project worldwide. The institute will utilize earth, water, air and sunlight to warm and cool the building. Solar panels on the slanted roof will capture energy from the sun, but will also permit sunlight to pass through. A 200-meter long tunnel underneath the building will be used to heat up or cool off air and water. The ventilation will be supported by a ‘solar chimney’ – which captures warm air – in the ridge of the roof. Rainwater will be used for the toilets.

    ‘We will not be leaving the City Centre Campus’

    Betas inheriting Zernikeborg

    ‘The Energy Academy will be a beautiful building’, De Jeu says. But the Zernikeborg will be the real star. Nijenborgh 4, the extremely obsolete laboratory facility of the beta faculty, will be levelled. A more modern Zernikeborg will take its place. A building of roughly 53,000 square meters, 200 meters long and five stories tall.

    The building will be a mix of lecture halls, restaurants, canteens, offices, research clusters and clean rooms. It will be built in two phases: if the first phase is completed on schedule in early 2019, the first institutes can move in to the south side of the building. In 2021, construction should be completed.

    ‘For us, that is by far the biggest project. And we are also building it with a potential expansion of up to ten per cent in mind’, De Jeu says.

    If the Kapteyn Institute and space research facility SRON are drawn to the building, space will be freed up in the Kapteynborg. Because of its central location, it would be a perfect location for extra educational facilities and an ideal place for stores and restaurants, according to VGI.

    Extra exam hall

    The Sport Centre at Zernike is also getting old. The building was constructed in the sixties and now consists of various expansions attached to each other. ‘Should we keep it? Rebuild it? That is what we will consider in the coming months’, De Jeu says.

    The BALANS building on Blauwborgje, where RUG employees can take classes about healthy living, will also be torn down. ‘The building is dying’, Hepping says. ‘We are going to clear it out and demolish it this summer. We want to develop a new, much more compact building for the faculty services.’

    An extra exam hall is also being considered. The exam halls are overly full because all faculties have exams at the exact same time due to the new academic year schedule. In years past, the University has rented halls at the Martiniplaza, but that is not always an option. Additionally, renting is an expensive option.

    ‘We are currently preparing a proposal for the new exam facilities’, Hepping says. ‘That would need to be created in the same area as the existing exam halls. The entire area will look different eventually.’

    Heart of the University

    The heart of the University has always been in the centre, but over time, the RUG has spread out across the city. As such, many buildings are not immediately recognizable as part of the University. That also makes it difficult to efficiently use the property.

    1. The books from the social faculty will be moved to the UB, after which the library space will be upgraded.
    2. The Grote Rozenstraat has been restored to its former glory.
    3 and 7. The law faculty will move to the Public Library, after which the Harmonie complex will be renovated.
    4. The University Library will be modernized (renovations will continue until 2018)
    5. The attic of the philosophy faculty will be updated (2018).
    6. The books from theology will move to the UB. In the freed up space, study and work spaces will be added.

    The biggest difficulties are the Harmonie complex, the Usva, the University Library (UB) and the many offices of the Bureau of the RUG in the Academy building. There is enough space, but some of the properties are old and illogically designed, which makes them less useful.

    Harmonie building

    For the Harmonie building, both issues are present. There are two faculties – law and the arts – which, over time, have become extremely intertwined. At the same time, they are spread out across the city centre. ‘That is a hindrance for both faculties’, VGI writes in their plans.

    Another challenge is that the Harmonie building is in serious need of an update. ‘That means that more space has to be created and some things will have to be moved out, be it temporarily or permanently. You can temporarily rent space where the law faculty can go so that you can renovate the building. But if you want to solve the diffuse spread across the city, you could also buy a new building. Coincidentally, when we were beginning to think about that, the Public Library suddenly went up for sale.’

    The RUG had already had its sights on the 95,000 meters squared building for a while. But previous negotiations didn’t lead to anything. Since the law faculty wanted to move, the library once again became an attractive option.

    If all goes according to plan, the library will move into the Forum in 2017. After that, renovating the building will start. In 2019 at the latest, the building has to be ready for the law faculty. The Harmony building will then become the home base for the arts faculty.

    The arrangements with the smaller buildings which are currently used for both faculties can be stopped. That will be a major step toward more efficient facilities, according to VGI. ‘We are also doing things that will yield more money’, De Jeu says.

    New organisation for the Bureau

    The Bureau of the University – departments who work on policy and fulfil support and administrative functions for students and staff – is presently flung across different buildings and wings. ‘A different organisation and design of these buildings can result in more employees being able to work there while the quality of the office environment will be improved and flexibility increased’, Hepping says.

    ‘We have difficulty finding room for each of the different organisational departments every time we have to do it, even though there is plenty of room. If the buildings are divided up in a new way, we can absorb these organisational differences more easily. That is being worked on now.’

    Charm of the centre

    With all of the creeping-and-crawling properties in the city centre, you may ask yourself how useful it is to even stay in the centre. If we tackle the Zernike Campus and expand the Healthy Ageing Campus, doesn’t that mean it’s time to move out of the centre?

    Perish the thought, De Jeu says. ‘We will not be leaving the City Centre Campus. We have to realize that the centre hold a lot of charm for the students. The Academy building is there, which is the heart of the University community. If you take internationalisation into consideration, then we really have something special here. In the whole world, this is a special area. That’s also how we looked at Leeuwarden. You can see it as a provincial city, but for the rest of the world, it’s a beautiful, old city where people can safely live and work. When you look at it that way, it’s very attractive.’


    The real estate policy of universities has been in the news a lot in the past few months. De Jeu is aware of that. ‘For us, real estate isn’t a goal unto itself. We aren’t here to earn money or to just collect nice-looking properties. It’s an instrument that enables you to do research and provide an education. But it is indeed an important instrument, because we see that students and staff alike come here because we have nice facilities.’

    But can the RUG really afford all of it? The total cost for all of the construction and reconstruction will be at least 380 million euros. ‘We can pay for most of it through our own means’, De Jeu says. ‘But it’s possible that, at the end of this period, we will be in the red. That is doable, though: we don’t have to take any long term loans, and it’s also possible that we won’t have to go into debt.’