Auckland University plans to spend $240 million on a massive overhaul of its health campus in Grafton - to refurbish and expand the facility, and to soften its raw-concrete exterior.

The Grafton campus, opposite Auckland City Hospital, is the main site of the faculty of medical and health sciences, which includes the medical school.

To cater for an increasing number of students, the university will expand facilities at Grafton with a new, four-storey building on an area currently used as a carpark, subject to resource consent, in addition to the refurbishment of the three existing buildings.

The new building will be connected to the existing blocks by an atrium, which will become the main entrance.

The three, five-storey buildings were put up between 1965 and 1970 for the medical school, which took its first students in 1968. They were built in the concrete-based "Brutalist" architectural style widely used in university developments at the time. The faculty has 3200 equivalent fulltime students and runs programmes in health sciences, nursing, pharmacy, medicine and biomedical science. The number of students is expected to increase to about 4000 within several years.

The medical school has 135 new places a year for undergraduates and anticipates this will rise by more than 100 under the Government's five-year plan to increase the number of state-funded new-entrant medical degree places at Auckland and Otago universities by 200. Currently there are places for 365 new entrants annually at the two universities.

Faculty dean Professor Iain Martin said the airy, glassed atrium would have a "great working feel about it" and he hoped the new look would attract staff and post-graduate students. "It's not the most welcoming of places at the moment. It's not by any stretch of the imagination attractive."

Part of the project has already been completed, with the opening last month of a laboratory complex on level 5 of the existing buildings.

Professor Martin said that, subject to consents, construction of the new building would start in about six months and be completed by late 2011. The refurbishment of the other buildings would be finished by early 2013.

The project was largely being funded by the university, but "we will be looking to the Government for a contribution".