Full steam ahead for old Belfast Met building engine
Edwardian heater feared lost will be centrepiece in new student building
An Edwardian steam engine that heated the old Belfast Met building for more than 100 years is to become the centrepiece of the refurbished building.
Industrial heritage campaigners had feared the steam engine that has been in place since 1902 could be lost as the College Square East building is converted into student accommodation.
Rumours on Facebook had suggested that the working steam engine built by Belfast firm Musgrave & Co could be under threat.
Industrial heritage enthusiast Gavin Bamford said: "I've no idea of the value to an enthusiast's group, but I have to assume that a working Edwardian steam engine built by a local Belfast manufacturer is of some value to city industrial heritage. Hopefully it has been offered to a heritage group and is not being destroyed."
But developers Lacuna Developments insist the steam engine is "not going anywhere" and is destined to become a centrepiece feature in the restored building.
Anthony Best said that as part of the planning permission the company has agreed to retain the steam engine, even though it will no longer heat the building.
"It will be kept where it is and indeed will be a feature, protected behind a glass screen so it will be a feature as you walk past," he said.
"The steam engine was put in in 1902 and heated the college until it moved in 2007. It worked under coal, then oil, then gas, and was converted to use different fossil fuels.
"There were two people working on it and running it full time. It worked by convection, heating the air and blowing it through big grilles in each of the rooms - these are all listed and will remain.
"It's still in pretty good nick and we will see it in all its glory."
Mr Best said the £16m refurbishment being carried out by contractors O'Hare and McGovern will be sensitive to the building's heritage value, with very little structural work being carried out.
The Grand Hall will be converted into a student common room, with lightweight partitions breaking it up.
"The library will be brought back to its former glory, with a suspended ceiling, and the old committee room will be retained as a study room," he said.
"We're reusing as much of the character of the building as possible. It's in a very bad state of repair as it has lain vacant since 2011. Between pigeons getting in and water pouring through, there's a lot of work to do."