University bosses realised they had set aside just a quarter of the cash 'urgently needed' to rescue the buildings after discovering major faults previously unaccounted for.
The UEA had based its budget for the refurbishment, which runs into many millions of pounds, on what could be supported by student rents. But early surveys of the ground-breaking 1960s student accommodation, led by Cambridge-based RH Partnership, have revealed a number of 'horror stories', including large panel systems (LPS) that predate the Ronan Point disaster of 1968.
Rectifying such significant structural problems would ratchet up the cost of repair substantially.
'It's scary stuff,' said UEA estate development director Joseph Saunders, who labelled the work 'urgent'. 'The buildings are in the clear for four out of the seven criteria for progressive collapse but we're investigating the other three.
'They are in need of considerable refurbishment. It's had no work since it was built 40 years ago and it's had lots of rumbustious students running round it since then. Strengthening the structure would prove to be extremely costly,' he added.
Last September, the university launched a search to find an architect capable of handling the refurbishment. In October, RH Partnership was selected from a shortlist that included 20th-century specialists Levitt Bernstein and John McAslan + Partners, on a 'value-for-money basis'. The university also praised the architect's experience in dealing with 20th-century listed buildings.
RH Partnership spent the first two months of the job conducting a thorough survey of the 1966-67 ziggurats, officially named the Norfolk and Suffolk Terraces. These were thought to be structurally sound with deteriorating interiors but their robustness has since been called into question.
It is anticipated that planning permission will be applied for in May.