Bam’s Hull Venue project will create a lasting legacy for the former UK City of Culture; but the contractor has had to endure a gauntlet of obstacles in order to bring the events complex to life.
Project: Hull Venue
Client: Hull City Council
Contract value: £36.5m
Contract type: Design and build
Region: Yorkshire & the Humber
Main contractor: Bam Construction
Cost consultant: NPS
Project manager: NPS
Start date: November 2016
Completion date: June 2018
Hull’s year as UK City of Culture may have come to an end, but the legacy of its time in the spotlight shows no sign of abating.
The year-long festival of events and exhibitions attracted an estimated 3.5m people to the Yorkshire city last year and was judged by most observers to have been a roaring success. And now, the most prominent physical example of its legacy is readying itself to open its doors to the public.
Hull Venue is a state-of-the-art music and events complex with of capacity of up to 3,500 people that will allow Hull to attract large corporate conferences, exhibitions and trade shows, as well as major touring concerts, stand-up comedy, family shows and sporting events.
The centre will have the flexibility to reduce to a 2,500-capacity for an all-seated event and a 2,000 sq m exhibition space, as well as an 800-capacity conference auditorium.
According to the city council, it will also deliver 30 full time jobs with 100-150 temporary jobs on event days, as well as an annual £13.5m boost to Hull’s economy.
bam hull venue new north view new trees introduced
A site of two halves
Main contractor Bam Construction won the £36.5m NEC design and build contract from Hull City Council following a competitive tendering process in December 2015. It has since proved a challenging job.
Firstly, only half of the site was owned by the city council, with the remainder owned by the adjacent Princess Quay shopping centre. As project manager Luke Milner puts it, negotiations over the land “didn’t quite go to plan”.
“We were meant to start on site and the council didn’t actually own all the land,” Mr Milner recalls.
“We ended up having to reprogramme all the work so we knocked down the council-owned buildings first and started the piling. The land swap [continued to be delayed]. It was just the complexities of the negotiations.”
Series of unfortunate events
The state of the existing buildings on the site was also an issue.
Located close to Hull’s main transport interchange, the Hull Venue site was occupied by a series of redundant buildings, including two old pubs and a former ambulance station that had been neglected for years. As a result, extensive works were required before they could even be demolished.
“One of the complexities was that in some of the old buildings there had been fires; in others the roof had collapsed and there had been water ingress over time, so we had to work our way in and do a lot of asbestos surveys,” Mr Milner says.
“There were quite a lot of dead animals that had been living in some buildings and there had been quite a lot of drug use, so we had to do things like needle surveys. We had to make them safe before we could take them down.”
“In some of the old buildings there had been fires; in others the roof had collapsed and there had been water ingress over time”
Luke Milner, Bam
Then there was the small matter of an old car park on the site, which was originally meant to be refurbished. However, when Bam got involved in the project it quickly realised that the issues with the structure were so substantial that it would be more expensive and involve higher risk to refurbish it than it would be to knock it down and start again.
“We looked at it, came up with a design for a new car park, put the business case to the client and they accepted it,” Mr Milner says.
That wasn’t the end of the matter, however. It turned out that there was also a Vodaphone mast on the car park’s roof – and the process to get it removed would take anything from six to eight months. Bam duly sent off the notification to the company and then set about reprogramming again.
“We had to take half the car park down, which allowed us to get the piling done on the venue and the car park,” Mr Milner says. “Then, once the time elapsed and Vodaphone came and removed the mast, we were able to take down the second half.
“The phasing of the project has been really quite challenging.”
The upshot of all of this was that both Bam and the council had to accept the idea that Hull Venue wasn’t going to open in time for the closing of Hull’s UK City of Culture festivities.
However, the client understood the issues involved and was happy that Bam’s reprogramming would mean that the venue would open as close to 2017 as possible.
“This was always going to be a legacy project and it still is,” Mr Milner adds.
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Once the site was cleared, the construction of Hull Venue was far more straightforward and since the car park issue was resolved, the completion date hasn’t shifted by a single day.
The piling was relatively simple, with the issues identified and addressed early on. “We knew what we were up against and had remediated quite a lot of the ground,” Mr Milner says.
The steel frame “caused a few sleepless nights”, he adds, but ultimately proved unproblematic.
The structure certainly looks challenging, with a bullnose protruding out substantially from the building’s footprint. Add to that the fact the space contains much of the precast concrete seating for the rear of the venue and the concern is understandable.
“We knew what we were up against and had remediated quite a lot of the ground”
“The steel frame was quite complex,” Mr Milner says. “One of the challenges for us was getting that structure stood up and getting the weight of the precast seating on there and the stability of all that. Once we got the first three months of the steel erection and the precast done, it was a fairly simple job, but we did start out in quite a complex area.”
Today, the building is substantially complete, with decorators, joiners and floorers much in evidence during Construction News’ visit. The ground floor still needs a bit of work in terms of cosmetics, but all the internal walls are finished and plastered, and the M&E is complete. One challenge, however, does remain: the acoustics.
As the venue will be in part a space for major concerts, the quality of Hull Venue’s acoustics will be critical to ensuring that it is popular with touring bands.
As a result, Bam is working towards getting the building finished by the second week of April in order to give it plenty of time to test the acoustics and make any changes necessary by the June deadline.
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“The last big risk is the noise and acoustics,” Mr Milner adds. “One of the big things for the acts is that the reverberation and acoustics work. There is a planning condition that we have to achieve in terms of noise breakout, which is pretty standard and factual. Internally, it’s all about the quality of the acoustics for the acts.”
Assuming nothing goes wrong at this late stage, Bam is set to deliver Hull Venue to the revised timescale and to budget. Given the number of un-costed issues encountered, that latter fact is particularly impressive.
“The value of the project was £36.5m and that’s what it will be delivered at,” Mr Milner says. “We did do quite a lot of value-engineering work early on to make sure we met the client’s budget and that they got the quality that they wanted.
“There is a planning condition that we have to achieve in terms of noise breakout. Internally, it’s all about the quality of the acoustics for the acts”
Luke Milner, Bam
“Since then, we’ve had a few issues on site. When we were remediating the ground we found quite a lot of asbestos contamination. Straight away that was £150,000 of asbestos that needed digging up and removing. At that point it was an additional cost, but we’ve done more value-engineering and found scope within the budget to pay for it.”
Mr Milner and his team can no doubt take a lot of the credit for delivering to budget, but he is at pains to point out that achieving the result requires mutual respect and flexibility.
“There is a lot of trust in the relationship, which is good because there are always challenges. But when there is trust between contractor and client you end up making the decisions that are right for the project. It’s a team effort.”
When Hull Venue opens in the summer, the rewards of such partnership working will be made material. Just six months on from the end of Hull’s year as UK City of Culture, its citizens will have reason to celebrate once again.
Today, using local labour is an important factor on any substantial construction project.
However, Bam understood early on that it was particularly the case for Hull Venue. After all, the city suffers from relatively high unemployment rates and as a legacy project for the UK City of Culture the venue had to deliver for local people.
“We focused on using local labour,” Mr Milner says. “A lot of the supply chain that we used are companies that we know and we’ve vetted before. We do quite a lot of work in Hull and know a lot of local companies.”
He adds that some firms engaged on the project are based in cities such as Leeds and Sheffield, but local labour was still predominantly used.
“We did use companies from a wider area, but they then used labour that is local to Hull. We’re at around 65 per cent coming from a Hull postcode and a lot of the steel was made in Scunthorpe, so we’ve also tried to use local materials where we can.”