Slope stability impacted by Barts’ Gozo med school

Underlying blue clay renders site prone to slope instability and excessive subsidence

james
James Debono
1 March 2017, 9:15am
An earlier rendition of the new Gozo medical campus that will be constructed by the Vitals Healthcare group, and run by Barts. The ERA has expressed concern on how the removal of blue clay during construction, will impact the underlying perched aquifer and the catchment of rainwater
An earlier rendition of the new Gozo medical campus that will be constructed by the Vitals Healthcare group, and run by Barts. The ERA has expressed concern on how the removal of blue clay during construction, will impact the underlying perched aquifer and the catchment of rainwater
Environmental consultants have warned that the area earmarked for the construction of the new medical school in Gozo, could be unsafe. 

Experts expressed concern about the possible geological impact of the construction of the new medical school, on the grounds of the existing Gozo hospital in Victoria, warning that building at the edge of the plateau where the development is being proposed may undermine the stability of the slope on which the building will be constructed.

The delay in the building of the medical school, run by Barts and the London School of Medicine and Surgery, means that students are using a temporary premises at the Sixth Form college in Victoria.

Barts had planned to start offering courses to international students in September 2016 but this was postponed by a year due to the lack of premises.

However, given that Vitals Healthcare – the company which partly owns the Gozo hospital – has yet to start constructing the new campus, the medical school relocated to the refurbished second floor of the Gozo sixth form until the new campus is completed.

Studies have shown that the site earmarked for the campus is prone to slope instability, especially in the event of an earthquake. 

This is because the development will involve excavation of a relatively substantial amount of Upper Coralline Limestone and blue clay. The excavation of blue clay is generally discouraged in all building projects due to the possible impact on geology and water catchment.

MaltaToday is informed that studies are currently underway with the aim of establishing a safe distance between the plateau’s edge and the new building, and that the possibility of using piles to act as a foundation for the new structure is being considered. 

According to a report prepared by IAS consultants, the underlying blue clay renders the area prone to “lateral movements and subsidence” and the investigations carried out “have established that the site is prone to slope instability and to excessive subsidence”.

To mitigate this impact the construction methodology has been designed having regard to the geological characteristics of the site. 

“However, any excavation and construction works have the potential to create additional stress and exacerbate instability on this part of the plateau,” the report warns. 

The scale of the impact is deemed “uncertain” at this stage, pending revisions to plans to address these concerns. 

In a separate report the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has also expressed concern in this regard, warning that the proposed works on the hospital encroach upon the plateau’s edge and pose geological stability risks. This aspect of the hospital project is required to be further assessed.  

The ERA has also expressed concern on how the removal of blue clay will impact the underlying perched aquifer and the catchment of rainwater. 

One of the solutions being considered is the erection of piles to stabilise the slope.

The ERA is also calling for a visual and landscape assessment of the proposed hospital to better determine the nature of the visual impacts resulting from the proposed increase in the building height of the building abutting the plateau’s edge, from two to four floors, and how this affects the visual setting of the Rabat-Cittadella backdrop. 

The site lies on a plateau, and within 185m of the Rabat-Cittadella Area of Archaeological Importance. 

The development will involve the construction of a 225-bed diagnostic, treatment and clinical facility over four storeys, to support all inpatient beds, with additional future capacity for another 80 beds, and with a rooftop helipad for an air ambulance.

It also foresees the construction of a medical school over four storeys, including two lecture halls and theatres and 12 classrooms, anatomy and other laboratory facilities, meeting rooms, and offices.

james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...