It seems that each year we uncover more serious deterioration of our ageing infrastructure which requires immediate action to ensure the safety of the Living Collection but also that of our staff and visitors. This year has been no different unfortunately. After a series of failures of glasshouse vent drives, a thorough inspection was carried out in order to ascertain whether there was a common theme and indeed there was. The cause of the initial vent issues was a corroded locking pin, common to all of the vents. These pins were original elements of the Front Range and Research houses systems and it was concluded that all were in a similar state of deterioration. This was a major safety concern, as the failure of a vent drive can cause glass breakage which results in shards falling into the space below presenting a major risk of injury to anyone in the vicinity. A plan of action was quickly developed and replacement parts procured.
These priority, reactive works take a significant resource to resolve both financial and human, which has a knock on effect to routine works around the garden. We have been supported by both SG Access, who are our contract rope access specialists and Atalian Servest, our Facilities Management contractor, throughout which has made a great difference but the commitment of the Hort and Maintenance teams to put in the extra hours and work together to push these works forward has been invaluable. The support of all RBGE is also noted and we would ask for continued patience in relation to other daily issues faced whilst we tackle these on going challenges with the aim of safeguarding the Living Collection and maintaining safe access for all.
Assistance was required from SG Access to undertake the repairs at high level and they worked in conjunction with our in house maintenance team to facilitate the repairs. Due to the risks involved, the glasshouse zones had to be closed whilst the repairs were undertaken. However a programme was pulled together in coordination with the Horticulture team and Visitor Welcome team to ensure that as much access was maintained for the public and for the Hort team to undertake their routine watering and plant care, whilst the operation was ongoing.
In order to complete the works as quickly as possible the maintenance team worked additional hours into the evening, working through high and low level vents one house at a time. With favourable weather conditions the works were completed safely and ahead of schedule. Unfortunately this wasn’t the end of the problems however. Additional issues were found on the Victorian Temperate Palm house vertical glass elements around the building. Deterioration of the iron glazing frames was causing expansion to occur resulting in glass shearing and cracking due to the pressure being applied. This issue had occurred sporadically in the past with localised repairs being undertaken, however a surge of rapid failures had again raised serious concerns regarding the condition of the structure and the safety of staff, public and plants in the vicinity.
It is anticipated that the Biomes project will involve the total renovation of the Palmhouses however this is still potentially a number of years down the line and without immediate action, there was a risk that complete closure could be the only safe option. Again the teams came together to review the issues and plan a course of action. Safety barriers were quickly erected to create an exclusion zone around the risk areas and safe access routes agreed in order to maintain visitor flow. It was decided that repair work had to be undertaken to facilitate a longer term solution whilst we await the outcome of the Biomes funding applications. The RBGE maintenance team developed a programme of work to tackle each glazed panel in turn, erecting a scaffold tower and covering the area with debris netting to allow them to strip out the most seriously affected areas in order to carry out treatment to the metal work and re-glazing operations.
This work is currently progressing and it is hoped that it will not impact on the forthcoming Christmas at the Botanics event. It is painstaking work and will take time to address. These challenges are daunting but demonstrate the best characteristics of team working within the organisation. Many thanks to all involved.