SIR Algernon Firth was a man ahead of his time, whose philanthropy provided hope to cancer sufferers around the world.
When he died in 1936, he left behind a laboratory which provided inspiration for the finest medical minds.
Now, the Grade II-listed building which carries his name is being converted into student apartments by Esh Build, on behalf of the Rushbond Group, in a contract worth £3.2m.
The project, which is now underway, is expected to be completed by August 2013.
The building should be available to students who are seeking accommodation for the new academic year.
Rushbond Group bought the Algernon Firth building for an undisclosed sum from the University of Leeds earlier this year.
The company has carried out a wide-ranging consultation exercise on the conversion process, in order to protect the historic facade.
The conversion is designed to create accommodation for 110 people, and includes 17 cluster flats and 26 studio flats.
A fitness room and laundry are also being built in the basement.
When it was placed on the market in 2010, the university was seeking offers over £1m for the building.
Jonathan Maud, the managing director of the Rushbond Group, said yesterday: “This is a really important property in Leeds both in terms of its history and its location.
“We’ve seen a trend in students choosing to live more centrally in recent years.
“So we believe that great design, combined with close proximity to specialist dental and medical schools and other university faculties will make the apartments particularly appealing.”
Rushbond Group’s design has included a “sustainable travel plan” which will promote walking, cycling and the use of public transport.
The residents’ parking on site is mainly for bicycles.
A spokesman for Esh Build said: “As one of the most notable properties built between the World Wars, the Algernon Firth building has a distinctive appearance, and is believed to be one of the first buildings constructed of reinforced concrete.”
It is named after the well-known Yorkshire industrialist and benefactor, Sir Algernon Firth, and was designed by Yorkshire architect, John Clifford Proctor who, in turn, was inspired by the Dutch modernist, Willem Marinus Dudok, the architect of Hilversum City Hall in the Netherlands.
The redevelopment plan has been described as a ‘good forward-looking step’ by Coun Neil Taggart, chairman of Leeds City Council’s planning panel.
Coun Taggart said: “This is a very good scheme to deal with a redundant university building. It blends in well with its surroundings and is in a very sustainable location”.
Chris Walker, the divisional director of Esh Build, part of Esh Construction, which is carrying out the conversion work, said: “This is a great scheme which has been very carefully thought through with great respect for the historic integrity of this important building.”
Mr Walker said that there was a general shortage of good quality student accommodation in a number of UK cities.
He said that Esh was “looking positively” towards the first half of next year, and was currently pricing potential refurbishment and extension work at a number of schools in Yorkshire.
Originally part of Leeds University, the Algernon Firth building was opened in 1933 as the University’s Institute of Pathology following a donation of £25,000 by Sir Algernon of Firths Carpets of Brighouse.
It was used as a cancer research laboratory, and for medical research and teaching purpos- es.
The building closed in 2009 and the institute moved to other premises.
It remained empty until it was bought by Electric Support, which is part of Rushbond Developments earlier this year.
Seven Architecture has carried out the design work, and structural engineering and quantity surveying services are being provided by Adept and Richard Boothroyd Associates.
The 40,000 sq ft building is situated behind the old medical school and St George’s Church, so it is largely hidden from the public.
It is now overshadowed by the Clarendon Wing of the LGI.
When it went on the market in 2010, it was understood to be the largest of a number of buildings Leeds University was looking to sell.