A traditional topping-out ceremony has been hosted at the University of Chichester’s £35m engineering and digital technology park on its Bognor Regis campus.
In a ritual dating back centuries vice-chancellor Professor Jane Longmore poured oil and wine and scattered corn and salt over the highest point of the building before completing the last section of concrete with a hand trowel.
The historic moment was witnessed by members of the university’s board of governors, senior executives of the construction company Galliford Try, and other builders.
Professor Longmore said the park will specialise in science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects to drive the much-needed regeneration of the coastal region, providing educational opportunities for a broad range of students and jobs in sectors identified as a priority in the government’s recent Industrial Strategy.
She added: “By combining engineering and design with creative and digital technology in one state-of-the-art development, we will equip graduates with the enterprise skills, creativity and technical knowledge to enter the workforce.
“The technology park will help us to deliver our vision of making our region a place where businesses, large and small, can thrive, create jobs, and where people can access the very best education and training opportunities.”
Opening next September the construction aims to attract 500 undergraduates and postgraduates to the university every year by 2021.
The topping-out ceremony was attended by engineering student Louise Grainger from the university’s integrated foundation course launched this year to make STEM degrees more accessible.
The 19-year-old, who will progress onto one of the technology park’s undergraduate degrees when it opens next autumn, said: “I’m so excited that I will take my first steps into engineering in such an incredible place.
“I’ve always dreamt of one day working for a motor sports or F1 team and now I feel that I can achieve that ambition.
“The park will give me the opportunities that I’ve never had before and I can’t wait to start learning in its laboratories and workshops.”
The university development will introduce a department of engineering and applied design, providing a machinery workshop with welding floor, fabricating laboratory, specialist 3D printers, and an engineering centre.
This will be built alongside a department of creative and digital technologies with a 300 square-metre television production studio, an auxiliary 100 square-metre special effects room, and a 400 square-metre media operation centre.
The park has been supported and part-funded with an £8million grant from the government’s Local Growth Fund through the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership, which works to encourage economic growth across the region.
Its chief executive Jonathan Sharrock said: “The technological sector in the Coast to Capital region is one of the most advanced in the country and addressing the skills deficit is vital to its continued success.
“We are thrilled to be a part of the engineering and digital technology park project which will provide students with high quality education, equipping them with the technical skills they need to enter the modern digital workforce.
“We look forward to seeing future developments and seeing the wider benefits of this project.”
The development has so far received the backing from over 40 industry organisations, including Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, Sony and URT Group, as well as small and medium-sized enterprises which have declared a shortage of workers with STEM skills.
Additional financial contributors include the Higher Education Funding Council for England which provided a maximum grant of £2.7million in funding.