IT ONCE seemed like a project too far. Since it closed as a working dock in 1972 the 14.6 ha Kings Dock site sat unused on the edge of Liverpool city centre.
It had been considered as the site for a raft of proposals including a major retail development and the new home stadium for Everton Football Club.
Yet despite all these grand plans and the occasional temporary structure built on the site for events, the site seemed allergic to redevelopment.
But with the 2003 celebrations of the city winning the right to become the European Capital of Culture in 2008 the city council took matters into its own hands.
Through the city's regeneration company Liverpool Vision, the council put together proposals for a convention centre and arena for the site. Following a design competition won by Wilkinson Eyre, Stirling prize winner for the Gateshead Millennium Bridge and the Magma Science Centre, the project team was keen to make sure the project - now called the Arena and Convention Centre Liverpool - was actually viable rather than a pipe dream like the previous proposals.
A feasibility and buildability study was required so the council called upon the services of Bovis Lend Lease. Early in 2004 Peter Roberts, who had worked on major projects for the firm including the Manchester Civil Justice Centre, the Manchester Evening News Arena and the Lowry Centre in Salford, was drafted in to work with the city's design team on the plans.
'We had been involved in feasibility studies going back at least 10 years, most recently for Everton Football Club. I had an involvement in looking at that but it fell by the wayside. The council took up the battle and decided it was time that something was done here.
They wanted a premier facility, ' says Mr Roberts.
A trip to the Kings Dock today will show that this is precisely what the city looks set to get. Bovis's early involvement in the scheme was converted into the main construction contract after a competitive tender in the summer of 2004.
The award of the contract was a major coup for Bovis as the firm looked to re-establish itself in the city having worked on major schemes such as Liverpool John Lennon Airport. 'This was to renew our presence in Liverpool. We previously had a regional office here and we had done a lot of work here so we wanted to demonstrate that we were firmly committed to supporting the regeneration of Liverpool far beyond this one single project, ' says Mr Roberts.
But with st rong competition from national rivals Bovis could not rely on its preliminary work on the job to win the project. How did the firm differentiate itself to win the job?
'We had a strong team that we put forward. We had the track record and I would also like to think that we demonstrated our commitment to the project.
A number of the staff including myself are from Liverpool so we welcomed the opportunity to build back on home turf.
'We showed a level of understanding the building.
Part of our presentation was that we constructed a 3D model of the building that we went through week by week in the build and which we portrayed on a screen to illustrate how we go about putting it together.
I think that proved that we knew what we were talk ing about, that we had the professionalism and the dedication of the people to make th is project work , ' he says.
Having agreed a fixed price, lump sum deal for the job the firm got under way with building work in October 2005. Right from the 'off' it was a case of all hands to the pumps.
'We are on a phenomenal rate of build. A lmost from day one we have spent £1 million a week and consistently maintained that level and speed of build.
You only have to look at the figures; 1,300 piles, thousands of cu m of concrete and nearly 6,000 tonnes of steel. You look at what is being achieved and the pace at which it is being achieved and it is amazing, ' says Mr Roberts.
This pace is a reflection of the amount and variety of work that is required to complete the job. When finished, the development will feature an arena big enough for crowds of 10,000 as well as an auditor ium with a capacity of 1,350; a multi-purpose hall of 3,600 sq metres, exhibition capacity of 7,000 sq metres and 18 mee t ing room s .
This variety of uses tested the abilities of the site team:
'You have an interface between the arena with the multi-purpose hall and the convention centre all in the same building and all with different levels of finish, characteristics and requirements. There is no one standard across the building, ' says Mr Rober ts.
A large part of the responsibility for this work falls to Watson Steel, which has taken the complicated steel package for the job. Mr Roberts explains why the firm was chosen:
'Someone can give you a tender that is compliant with all of the requirements and can make all of the right noises at interview and say yes we can do the job.
I think the extra step that Watson went was that they took us to see the work that they had done at the Arsenal Emirates Stadium. They said they would bring the same team to th is job. That also works because we work with the same roofing contactor - Prater - so the two are used to working together. That was a double ace because we were able to use two contractors that are used to doing this kind of work, that are providing us with experienced teams and had worked together so they knew what each other was about'.
The arena element of the project has a relatively traditional design, featuring a basic steel frame with pre-cast concrete terracing, covered over by large span steel roof trusses. The convention centre has a more mixed structure:
'There it is a complicated mix of steel and concrete.
It is primarily a steel structure driven by the design and loadings being carried through the building and also to give flexibility. The balance becomes that there are some fairly hefty concrete elements in there both in terms of intra-floor slabs and particularly the internal roof that goes over the mult ipurpose hall. It then doubles as the floor for the conference reception area above, ' says Mr Roberts.
This means that one of the major challenges that Watson had to overcome was simply the huge amount of steel required for the build.
'There are some very sizable members in there. By far the biggest challenge is the logistics of getting that amount of steel into the building. This may look like we have a very large site but it is also very tight. There is very little room outside the building so all of the steel comes inside and is lifted into place from within the building footprint. That has proved to be quite a challenge with 10 to 15 wagons a day com ing in with structural steel, quite apart from the traffic bringing in reinforcement, formwork, blockwork, roofing and cladding onto site, ' says Mr Rober ts.
The main roof span in the arena is 85 m and each truss weighs in at 100 tonnes, while the trusses for the multi-purpose hall were so large they had to be brought to site in pieces and assembled on-site, before being tandem-lifted into place.
Another key issue was that in order to achieve the most efficient programming it was decided that the team would essentially end up building a structure inside the main structural envelope.
'We took the decision that we needed to get the base envelope in place to allow Prater to start putting the roof covering on, ' says Mr Roberts. 'That allowed us to do the main steelwork in the building with some level of weather tightness.
'The diff iculty that it gave us was that we lost the ability to use huge cranes and lift things from a height because you are lifting from within a structure. With a lot of hard work and a lot of co-ordination that has been achieved.'
Steelwork on the project is scheduled for completion by Christmas, while the whole project is pencilled in to open in early 2008. At that time, and after many attempts, Bovis Lend Lease and Watson Steel will be able to say that they played a part in the regenera ion of the Kings Dock.