Cork Savings Bank transformed into UCC’s Centre for Executive Education

Smart work by a local authority and a university has turned a venerable bank building into a city game changer, writes Tommy Barker.

Pictures: Clare Keogh

TOWN and gown have taken an intertwined step closer in Cork city, after the official opening this week of UCC Business School’s Centre for Executive Education, in the Cork Savings Bank of old.

One of Cork’s most refined neoclassical structures, and built with citizen’s money just before the Famine as a penny bank to promote thrift and temperance, it’s at 1 Lapps Quay, opposite Cork City Hall, and in the rapidly rejuvenated Parnell Place.

No1 Lapps Quay closed its doors as a bank in 2013, then under permanent TSB stewardship, as part of a bank reorganisation — and after a State-backed €4bn bank bail-out, effectively carried once more by citizens.

The much-loved bank building sold twice since; first in 2014 to Cork City Council for c€850,000. The city’s conservation architect, Pat Ruane, helped draft plans so skillfully executed by Jack Coughlan Architects for a sensitive expansion, into an enclosed side courtyard and rising over three levels, to give it enough functional space to complement the grandeur of the banking hall, and boardroom, all for a new purpose. City Hall then put it back for sale in 2016: in little more than a year, it attracted 19 expressions of interest, and sold once more through Lisneys, for €1.4m this time, banking a 78% return on the Council’s shrewd investment.

Unlikely to appear on any market now for a very long time, it’s set to be run by UCC in conjunction with their tie-in with the Irish Management Institute (IMI); No 1’s own stock in trade is to shift from cash, to the wealth of knowledge, but still with a commercial nous, with just about every party to the building’s transformation feeling that UCC was the perfect partner for this eminently historical edifice.

It’s a 19th century fore-runner of the yet-to be located major new 21st century UCC Business School, due to bring 4,000 to 5,000 students to a new Cork city campus in the next few years, with three locations still competing to house the huge investment, including at the docklands, and riverside settings, such as Union Quay/South Terrace. Those in the know say a decision on the new Business School and further, deeper intertwining of gown and town, may be made by Christmas.

But, in advance of that major locational decision, already perfectly located, fully reformed (extended, even) and built of Ballinlough/Beaumont quarry limestone, is 1 Lapps Quay, originally built in 1842, at a cost £11,000, at a time when the 1817-founded Cork Savings Bank’s cash on deposit had risen to £332,000.

Coincidentally, the design back in 1839 was by seminal Cork architects, brothers Thomas Deane and Kearns Deane, with Sir Thomas Newenham Deane later to partner with Benjamin Woodward to form Deane & Woodward, who subsequently designed the Queens Colleges in Dublin, Galway and Cork — the latter’s now UCC, so a wholly-appropriate Deane family link has been reforged, with Deane buildings bookending the city’s traditional core.

This former, columned bank building has its short but quietly assertive 18m facade to the river, and a longer 32’ facade along Parnell Place, where it links to 16 Parnell Place, a late Georgian residence associated with the Cork Savings Bank and now stitched even more deeply into the property, helping to provide a number of adaptable, future-proofed study, meeting, and conference-style rooms for post-grad education and management training purposes.

Conservation architect Gareth O’Callaghan, a director with Jack Coughlan & Associates, drove a professional team for UCC’s Buildings and Estates office, headed by Summerhill Construction, which worked for 12 months on the project, a protected structure.

He notes that its accommodation has grown from about 850 sq metres to 1,360 sq m, about a 50% increase, matching and counterbalancing what had been a few large volume, classical spaces albeit with limited 21st century functionality with practical teaching, meeting, and mingling spaces.

What’s old is still respectfully old (the decision to paint the original tall sash windows on the outside in black came from images showing similar in the Lawrence Collection) and part of the old, Spanish mahogany bank counter is now mounted upstairs within, on permanent display.

Just re-opened for business, 1 Lapps Quay is a refreshed sentinel onto Parnell place, where the former AIB bank at 97 South Mall also has a new, 21st century business use, whilst in recent days the hoarding have just come down on the new Maldron Hotel on South Mall and Parnell Place, due to open by Christmas: truly, a city quarter is reborn.

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