Nihon University's Newcastle campus on track for completion next year

Campus vision: What the front entrance of the Nihon University campus will look like when completed in mid-2021.
Campus vision: What the front entrance of the Nihon University campus will look like when completed in mid-2021.

The $41 million transformation of the former Newcastle courthouse into a Japanese university campus remains on track for completion mid-next year despite COVID-19, convict-era mine workings and giant termite nests.

Nihon University hopes students studying at its first overseas campus will arrive in Newcastle by the end of 2021.

Among the project team's first challenges was the remains of old mine workings connected to the Dudley coal seam located about 20 meters below where the eastern courthouse building stood.

"We had some indication that they were there but we didn't exactly know where. About 40 metres under the Dudley seam you have borehole seam" project spokesman Edward Clode of dwp, who works closely with Japanese lead architect Mr Jun Yokobori, said.

Several tonnes of grout was used to stabilise the area before the installation of footings for the accommodation building began last month.

The next issue was two giant termite nests in the heritage-listed main courthouse building.

The first nest was located in the portico of the Bolton Street entrance, while the second was found in one of the small courtrooms.

In addition, extensive water damage at the back of the building also needed to be repaired before work on the restoration commenced.

"There is a heritage retaining wall running between the hospital and the courthouse building that had to be stabilised by building a new wall in front of it," Mr Clode said.

"The building's foundations are over two metres deep founded on a sand base, which is quite interesting."

"It's all part and parcel of working on a heritage project like this," Mr Clode said.

Secure: A new wall was built to secure the original retaining wall. The sand foundation can be seen below the layer of rubble.

Secure: A new wall was built to secure the original retaining wall. The sand foundation can be seen below the layer of rubble.

Mr Clode said the complications had added about eight weeks to the project, but he said he was confident the campus would be completed by mid-2021.

Minimal time has been lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nihon has previously said it hoped the first students would come to Newcastle in late 2021.

Founded in 1889 as the Nihon Law School, the privately owned institution has about 75,000 undergraduate students across various colleges and campuses, studying a full suite of subjects from medicine and dentistry through to science, technology, economics and the arts.

Newcastle is the first overseas campus for the university.

It has previously said its vision for the Newcastle campus is to serve as a "hub for international mutual exchange programs between Australian and Japanese students promoting and understanding Japanese culture."

"They looked at sites in the United Kingdom, the United States, Sydney and Melbourne," Mr Clode said.

"It just happened that the courthouse building came up for sale at that time.

"They were particularly attracted to Newcastle's smaller population and were also interested in the synergy between the age of the courthouse building (circa 1890s) and the establishment of Nihon University, which was founded by Japan's first justice minister," he said.

Leveled: The eastern courthouse building was removed in April. Construction of the new accommodation building is under way.

Leveled: The eastern courthouse building was removed in April. Construction of the new accommodation building is under way.

Nihon has signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of Newcastle for future exchange programs in February 2018 as part of its commitment to the Newcastle project.

Nihon has described its proposed exchange program with University of Newcastle as "the efficient re-use of the old courthouse".

"It is also intended to open the doors to students of Newcastle University to experience mock-up trials, debating with visiting Japanese students and cross-learn the judicial systems of both countries," Nihon said late last year.

Nihon University will also donate more than 5000 books on Japanese criminology and law, for the use of Newcastle university researchers, with some lectures to be open to the public.