“It’s a bit of a running joke that we’re doing so much of the landscaping before the structure’s even complete,” says Willmott Dixon senior site manager Richard Weaving.
And you can see why this slightly unusual sequencing is required as you pull up to Hart’s new leisure centre in north-east Hampshire, which aims to not only offer sports and activities but become a centrepiece of the local community.
The 3 ha site will feature 4,800 trees and around 50,000 plants upon completion in February 2017 – hence the early landscaping – which will surround the main centre comprising a sports hall, three swimming pools, a gym, spa facilities and a climbing wall.
Throw in five 3G pitches, two large multi-use areas, a full-size grass pitch and a 300-bay car park, and you’ve got a worthy successor to the council’s old leisure centre next door.
Willmott Dixon has been on site since September last year on the £23m project for Hart District Council, won under Scape’s Major Works Framework.
The first challenge was the high water table, extremely soft ground and poor drainage on the site. Richard fondly recalls how one of his apprentices acquired the nickname ‘Swampy’ early on after returning to the site office in just his socks having lost his boots in the mud.
Two swales now collect stormwater to manage the drainage into natural waterways, while heavily silted ditches along the site’s perimeter also posed an obstacle early in the programme.
Open Doors 2016 Willmott Dixon Hart Leisure Centre 11
As our tour leaves the surroundings and heads into the main structure, Richard points out the part of the project he’s most looking forward to: one of the centre’s three swimming pools will feature an adjustable floor, allowing the water level to be changed to suit the swimmers or lessons taking place.
Installation of this feature is pencilled in for later this year and will require the help of specialist scuba divers; Richard will be visiting a similar project in the coming months to see the process ahead of time.
Open Doors 2016 Willmott Dixon Hart Leisure Centre 10
No doubt local residents will love this quirky party trick, but Willmott Dixon is already in their good books thanks to extensive community engagement.
The contractor has set up a webcam so locals can keep up with the project’s progress online, organised numerous school visits, sent out newsletters to the project’s neighbours and fundraised for good causes in the area.
Open Doors 2016 Willmott Dixon Hart Leisure Centre 16
Work experience is also high on the firm’s agenda – music to the ears of one visitor on our tour, Wil, who’s training to be a site manager at Guildford College. He’s impressed with what he sees on the site and makes sure to strike up a conversation with Richard about the possibility of getting some experience on the project.
Proof if proof were needed of the value of Open Doors Week.
Hart Leisure Centre
Contractor: Willmott Dixon
Client: Hart District Council
Start date: September 2015
Completion date: February 2017