Queen’s University cancels Bader College in-person classes at Herstmonceux Castle due to structural issues

Herstmonceux Castle, the home of Bader College. Photo by Paul Gillett.

Queen’s University has cancelled in-person classes at its Bader College campus in England following a structural engineer’s report which indicated a need for significant remediation of the Herstmonceux Castle property.

Long-time university benefactors Drs. Alfred and Isabel Bader purchased Herstmonceux castle in 1993 and donated it to Queen’s University. After multi-million dollar renovations, it opened to students in 1994 as the International Study Centre, becoming the Bader International Study Centre in 2009. The 15th-century English castle, part of a 550-acre estate in East Sussex, is named after the owners of the original 12th century building on the property – Ingelram de Monceaux, a Norman nobleman, and his wife Idonea de Herst. Current Queen’s University Principal Patrick Deane announced a renaming of the property to Bader College in 2022.

Students at the college found out about the closure via an email from Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Matthew R. Evans on the morning of Monday, Nov. 13, 2023 and have been told that the remainder of their semester will be conducted via online courses.

“As you are aware, parts of the castle have recently been closed for maintenance,” said Evans in the email to Bader College students. “Unfortunately, a structural engineer has advised us that the situation is more serious than previously understood. The remedial work required cannot start until March 2024 at the earliest because it is weather dependent.”

According to Evans, the university “made the difficult decision to cease operations in the castle building” last Friday “out of an abundance of caution.” Arrangements are being made for current Bader students to continue their studies in Canada at the Kingston campus beginning in January of 2024, said Evans.

The university said it would support students in completing their remaining fall term studies online, and that Queen’s would facilitate students’ return flights home “as early as this week.”

Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs at Queen’s, Ann Tierney, Undergraduate Admission and Recruitment Executive Director Chris Coupland, and other Queen’s University administrators were at Bader College to answer students’ questions on Monday. “[They] will be working with you this week to start developing individualized plans for your continued studies. The university is committed to the smoothest transition possible. Ann and her team will be working closely with your faculties on your winter term course plans to ensure a seamless completion of your academic year,” Evans assured students.

“I recognize this is extraordinary news, and appreciate it is not what you expected for your year at Bader College,” Evans continued. “I want to reassure you that everyone is strongly committed to minimising the disruption this will cause and addressing all aspects of your decision-making.”

In an interview with the Kingstonist on Monday afternoon, Evans indicated that the structural issues were first discovered as roof repairs were being conducted at the castle in early November. Roof workers at that time brought concerns about the stability of the castle’s south wall to the attention of the University, which immediately closed off that area of the castle as a precaution and commissioned a surveyor to further investigate the stability of the structure.

According to Evans, the remediation of the property will need to be done in two parts: firstly, a stabilization of the wall structure via the erection of a “bird-cage” structure, which will render the structure safe and is expected to take approximately eight working weeks. “Obviously we’re this side of Christmas (and) that’s gonna create a hiatus and it’s also somewhat weather-dependent…it can’t just be done if it’s pouring rain or snow,” Evans explained.

The second part of the structural work is likely to take 18 months to two years, Evans said, as it will require highly specialized work that is consistent with the castle’s history. “As this is a 600-year-old castle, it’s a specialist job to do the repairs,” Evans said. “That has to be done in conjunction with what is called English Heritage – it’s the body in the UK that [monitors and keeps track of] historical buildings. So we have to get whatever we do checked by them and they have to agree it’s okay. That all adds time,” Evans explained.

Specialized materials and workers knowledgeable in historical building practices will also be needed. “This is not a, you know, cement and mortar building. This has got historical mortar, it will need to be done in a historically accurate way. It can’t be done in the rain. It’s a particular kind of limestone mortar that has to have dry conditions to be put in. So it’s, if we’re honest, somewhat uncertain about exactly how long it’s going to be. But that’s in the nature of working with these kinds of buildings. It would need to be completely scaffolded on the side that’s affected, and as I say 18 months to two years worth of work now.”

As far as financial considerations for the remediation of the castle, Evans said that those remain uncertain. “We don’t really know exactly what it’s going to cost. We need to know that it’s a work in progress. The building needs to be scanned, so the surveyors want to do a LIDAR scan of the building, [a] computer model of it so that they can design the appropriate structures to help hold it up. It’s going be a while before we know the full cost of repairing the building. You don’t do two years’ worth of work on a building like that, and it’d be cheap,” Evans exclaimed.

While the cost of the structural work remains unknown, though, one thing Evans is certain of is that students will be made whole in their lost financial costs. “As far as the students are concerned, we’ve got the Student Affairs Team out there right now. They are working with students, each one of them will have their own kind of particular requirements – when they want to come back, what their commitments are. There’s 180 students [at the castle], there will probably be 180 different kind of scenarios that are going to play out from this point,” Evans continued. “What we will do is, of course, we will make sure the students are recompensed for any kind of financial issues that they have to incur as a result of us having to close the castle. I think that should go without saying, none of the students will be financially disadvantaged with this,” Evans assured.

“We’re very sorry that they’re not going to have the Bader College experience that they were hoping to get. But it’s completely outside our control, and we’re just acting as quickly and rapidly as we can to make sure that we can keep the students and staff safe, that we can make sure we meet our obligations to the heritage [of the] building, and that, as students carry on, have a good student experience wherever they are, whether that’s at Kingston or in Sussex,” Evans concluded.

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