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Birmingham NIA refurb turns Bam into a blur of activity

Contractor has overseen a hectic shutdown of Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena to bring it up to modern entertainment arena standards.

Project: NIA Redevelopment
Client: NEC Group
Project value: £26m
Contract value: £22m
Contract type: JCT Design and build
Region: West Midlands
Main contractor: Bam Construct
Start date: July 2013
Completion date: December 2014

If anyone doubts the benefits that a fully functioning, well-planned, well-developed and well-built indoor sporting and leisure arena can bring to run-down city centres, then they need look no further than the National Indoor Arena in the UK’s second city.

Since 1991 the NIA and its NEC Group stablemate the International Convention Centre has anchored the redevelopment of the west end of central Birmingham around Broad Street and Brindley Place, the hub of the city’s famed canal network which boasts more miles than Venice.

But 20 years and millions of happy customers have taken their toll on the NIA. Demands change and customers’ requirements and expectations differ from those when the arena was in its infancy.

Which is why some £26m is being ploughed into the redevelopment of the centre.

“We had a very tight turnaround from when we signed the contract with the client on the 24 May to starting on site just a few weeks later”

Paul Avery, Bam Construct

Contractor Bam Construct has taken the lion’s share of that sum under a £22m deal that will see the concession stands around the arena floor and concourse levels rejigged, back-of-house and hospitality areas revamped and a new steel-framed extension tied in on the east elevation of the building to provide new access and floor space at each level.

“There will be an increase in floor space of around 30 per cent,” explains Guy Dunstan, general manager of arenas for client NEC Group.

“The NIA has been very successful over the years and we want to be able to keep on attracting the high calibre of artists and events we have managed during that time. We have to keep performers and audiences happy and this major work will help us do that.”

Project manager Paul Avery is overseeing the project for Bam Construct and has been involved in the scheme since before its July 2013 start on site.

“We had a very tight turnaround from when we signed the contract with the client on the 24 May to starting on site just a few weeks later,” he says.

A 13-week blur

Part of the reason for the immediacy of getting onto site was that the NIA management team had rejigged its bookings.

This enabled the project team to have a 13-week window of opportunity where the arena was to be completely at its disposal to carry out all the major impact work that couldn’t be done during standard operating times.

“We were lucky to have that 13-week shutdown but it was difficult to manage,” Mr Avery explains. “When you get given that amount of time you know you have to take full advantage of it.”

Those 13 weeks soaked up a huge chunk of the project’s funding.

“It’s a major refit but also there are a lot of services that are being retained. There is some modification, some fitting new systems into existing. It is challenging”

Paul Avery, Bam Construct

Around £6.5m was spent during that time alone on stripping out the old concession areas and bars, reconfiguring block walls, mechanical and electrical feeds, finishing and flooring.

It was, Mr Avery admits, like a 13-week-long shop fit-out, with every day a blur of activity.

With 275 people on site the scheme needed close management and was divided into four sections, each with its own detailed sectional programme and completion schedule.

“It’s a major refit but also there are a lot of services that are being retained,” Mr Avery says. “There is some modification, some fitting new systems into existing. It is challenging.”

Heavy M&E element

The scheme also involves a major mechanical and electrical rework, with fan coils, air-handling units, the expansion of the building management system, lighting, heating and power supplies all requiring attention, even down to where exactly a socket needs to go in a concession stand.

Different concession operators might have different layout requirements and what may seem to be an innocuous measurement can have major consequences further down the line.

“For example, it might mean that a fast food operator is unable to fit its preferred kitchen equipment into a designated space,” Mr Avery explains. “That could have a major influence on the commercial value of that unit.”

Despite the huge amount of refurbishment, redevelopment and realignment of services throughout the building, there has been little or no repetition of work.

The project has not lent itself to large-scale prefabrication across most of the scheme.

It is a triumph for the skills and expertise of the tradesmen that have been working on the project that they have been able to handle its complexity, not least when the NIA also accommodates the existing live chillers and heating system for the ICC next door.

Catastrophic consequences

Any wrong wire or any slip of equipment could have had a catastrophic effect – not only on the site itself but also on the day-to-day running of the convention centre.

“We have weekly phasing meetings, which are over and above the contractual meetings. Bam Construct and the client have to keep each other informed of the operational side of things”

Paul Avery, Bam Construct

Yet with all that the team was able to hit its sectional completions before the end of the 13-week deadline and get the arena back out and available as an entertainment centre (see box).

Another 12-week shutdown is anticipated in the summer to allow the NIA management team to change the seating under a different contract and for Bam Construct to complete the remaining work to bring the back-of-house and bar facilities up to standard.

Until then, the focus is on bringing the eastern elevation extension up (see box) and erecting the huge 50 m-long by 10 m-high ‘Wonderwall’ advertising and show screen above the main east entrance and the 20 m-high LED ‘Sky Needles’, which will launch from the new extension.

With scheduled project completion set for December 2014, Birmingham can look forward to celebrating the first of many festive seasons in the revamped arena.

New steel elevation perfect for audience figures

As well as the major refit of the backstage bars, dressing rooms, arena floor and concourse concession areas, the Bam Construct team is providing a new extension to the eastern elevation of the arena.

The extension features the existing concourse level, two mezzanines and a planned walkway and access from arena floor level to the canal. These will provide open seating and bar areas, as well as panoramic views.

It will make the building more accessible for audiences and will “increase customer dwell time,” NEC Group according to general manager of arenas Guy Dunstan.

For the construction team, however, the difficulty providing new piled foundations and then threading the new steel structure through the existing building dwelt on minds.

“The piles were being installed either side of the West Coast Mainline tunnel coming out of Birmingham New Street, adjacent to the canal and around the existing live chiller and heating system for the ICC,” Mr Avery says. “There was a lot to think about.”

Specialist subcontractor All Foundations installed as many as 60 CFA piles, 300 mm in diameter and to depths of 13 m across the site. The structural steel installed at the NIA includes some 25 tonnes in the basement with a further 50 tonnes at the arena floor level.

At these levels the build punches straight through the existing flat slab, with transfer beams passing the load from the 300 tonnes of steelwork in the extension itself through into the new array of piles, pile caps and ground beams.

“There are difficult tie-in details where we connect back into the existing structure,” Mr Avery explains. “We have had to pop the existing blockwork and put ties into the existing reinforced concrete columns.”

The team has had to temporarily back-prop the existing concourse floor to provide additional support for plant operations while the new-build section is completed.

Composite flooring and single ply roofing systems will be installed with a glazed curtain walling system providing the final outer finish.


Events cause handover headache

Working on an entertainment arena such as the NIA can prove difficult, with the number of live events and shows over the course of a typical year each requiring a detailed handover plan.

For the project team, that means the work has to start focusing on the pre-event handover weeks and sometimes months before its date.

“We have weekly phasing meetings, which are over and above the contractual meetings,” Mr Avery says. “Both Bam Construct and the client have to keep each other informed of the operational side of things. We keep a very close relationship.”

He’s not wrong. A week before Birmingham’s finest heavy metal export Ozzy Osbourne was due on stage at the NIA, he was chatting with his entourage about the type of paint that was being used.

“Apparently it can affect artist’s voices,” he says. “We have to have that sort of close relationship if we want everything to be perfect.”

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