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Kier off and running at Cheltenham Racecourse

Working around the racing calendar has required some very careful planning from the project team as it works to finish in time for next year’s world-famous festival.

Project: Cheltenham Racecourse Redevelopment
Client: The Jockey Club
Contract value: £45m
Region: South-west
End-user: Cheltenham Racecourse
Main contractor: Kier Construction
Structural engineer: Furness Partnership
Start date: March 2014
Completion date: May 2016

In just a few short weeks the eyes of the horse racing world will be on the events at Prestbury Park in Gloucestershire.

If that name doesn’t mean anything to you then you are clearly not one of the almost 250,000 people who will crane their necks trying to cheer their chosen horses across the finish line in early spring.

Prestbury Park is the official home of Cheltenham Racecourse and of the Cheltenham Gold Cup – the most prestigious prize in National Hunt racing.

For four days in March, this outpost of provincial Britain becomes the epicentre of the equine world as the Cheltenham Festival sees an estimated £50m injected into Gloucestershire’s economy.

But despite the huge amount of money those Cheltenham racegoers bring into the sport of horse racing, they have been short-changed in terms of facilities available to them at the course.

Now though, a major revamp across the course will see a new 6,500-capacity grandstand built alongside a complete refurbishment of the weighing room and jockeys’ changing rooms as well as new public realm space, bars, restaurants and elevated walkways around the parade ring.

These walkways will eventually offer more race-goers an overview of the pre- and post-race parade ring, as well as enable easier pedestrian access to the new grandstand and viewing terrace in front of it.

Calendar complications

It is a complicated project for the Kier team, not least because there are several race meetings that need to be accommodated during construction.

“Other schemes have had the luxury of having racing fixtures transferred to other courses”

Andy Bolas, Kier

“That was one of the prerequisites when we took the project on: that we would have to work around the Cheltenham Festival and any other race meetings at the course,” says Kier design manager Andy Bolas.

“Other schemes have had the luxury of having racing fixtures transferred to other courses.

“The Royal Ascot meeting, for example, was transferred up to York when the grandstand at Ascot was rebuilt.

“There is only one Cheltenham though and our client, The Jockey Club, having tentatively looked at the idea of switching the festival, decided that it just couldn’t be done.”

The Kier team was officially awarded the contract to build the £45m scheme just before the 2014 festival and took over the site immediately after it.

Festival deadline

Its vision was to provide the bulk of the public realm, weighing room and restaurant and bar upgrade within the first year before handing over the main element - the new grandstand - in time for the 2016 Festival.

The team inherited the site after the old ‘A&R’ block had been demolished during the enabling works contract and set about carrying out the piling work across the whole of the scheme.

Specialist contractor Simplex Westpile has installed around 700 CFA piles across the site.

The 600 mm and 650 mm-diameter piles stretch 16 m into the underlying clay beneath the Prestbury Park site.

The piling installation started beneath the new ‘See You Then’ bar plaza – named like many of the racecourse’s bars and restaurants after one of Cheltenham’s four-legged heroes.

They then radiated around the parade ring, following the line of the crescent walkway which will link the plaza with the new grandstand, ending with those installed beneath the steel frame of the grandstand itself.

Built partly into the slope of the courses surroundings, the new six storey grandstand will feature the high-rolling Cheltenham Club at level four with private boxes and the Royal Box beneath.

At level two, bars and boxes for the owners and trainers will be provided with a members bar at level one, with a public bar and toilets on the two levels beneath that completing the layout.

“It was always going to be a steel frame structure,” Mr Bolas says, adding, “I think concrete had been mentioned at a very early stage of the process, but really there was never a doubt it would be steel.”

Light frame, huge elements

The obvious lightness of the main frame belies the huge structural elements that are contained within it.

A cantilevered roof stretches out some 24 m beyond the point where the main moment connections for the roof and balconies meet.

“We used plate welded sections because of the massive loadings they are taking. The balconies weigh in at 22 tonnes across their 8m length so it is quite a weight”

Andy Bolas, Kier

The huge steel trusses that form the cantilevered roof measure 4.5 m at their deepest and taper down to 1 m as they reach out over the stand’s course side elevation.

The main frame of the building features columns in an 8 m grid with balconies being supported off the main frame using bespoke manufactured plate welded steel brackets that are fixed back through into the structure.

“We used plate welded sections because of the massive loadings they are taking. The balconies weigh in at 22 tonnes across their 8 m length so it is quite a weight,” Mr Bolas says.

The slabs within the main structure are of composite steel/concrete with the balconies themselves manufactured from white-faced precast concrete.

These balcony slabs are produced in two sections, the first being at the same level as that of the internal slab with a second three-step terraced outer section completing the balcony.

These outer sections are lifted into position with the safety barriers already fitted to try and cut back on some of the amount of working at height required across the project.

At ground floor level the sections of terrace that will enable race-goers to view the finishing line from the front of the stand are being installed.

The terraces will be open to the public during this year’s festival, as will temporary bars and toilets in the lower two levels.

These will be the only sections of the new grandstand available to the public, albeit temporarily, until its completion in time for the 2016 Cheltenham Festival.

With more than £250m expected to be gambled at this year’s meeting, there will be plenty looking for a safe tip. Put your money on the Kier team finishing on time.

Plaza work

With so much work to be carried out around race meetings the project team had little choice but to divide the job into two main phases.

The first concentrated on the public realm work around the parade ring, with a redesign of the horses walkway from parade ring to course and the construction of a new pedestrian bridge over that walkway.

But the majority of the large-scale construction in this first phase has been across at the former Tote Plaza and the Paddock Terrace.

Formerly a rather dingy entrance to a packed outside betting ring and covered bar area, the plaza and bar have been transformed.

The existing plaza has been extended with a 400 mm-thick cast in-situ reinforced concrete slab providing an extension to the outside betting rink and a more suitable setting for the bronze sculpture of Arkle, one of racing’s greatest ever horses.

Reinforced with 25 mm-diameter steel at 100 mm centres both ways and supported on 600 mm-diameter circular section columns on a 4 m span, the slab provides an outside area for the ‘See You Then’ bar and a larger covered area for the new ‘Quevega’ bar beneath.

To accommodate this work the team needed to excavate around 6,000 cu m from the old Paddock Terrace.

“All of that was reused on the site. It has gone into some of the landscaping work around the project,” Kier senior project manager Paul Fowles explains.

It is from here that work on the new crescent walkway will begin, immediately after the festival circus has left town.

“We have six months after the festival before the next race meeting in October. That allows us to get on with what we have left. The piles are already installed, we just need to open them back out and launch the steel frame for the walkway from them,” he says.


The weighing room

One of the most important aspects of any race meeting is the weighing room.

This is where jockeys and saddles are ‘weighed out’ to make sure they meet set limits for set horses and ‘weighed in’ at the completion of a race to make sure they’re still the same.

Once the clerk of the course has called ‘Weighed in’, it means those weights have been verified and the bookmakers must pay out to grateful punters.

The Kier team has had the task of completely refurbishing the weighing room, jockey’s changing rooms and clerk of the course office. At Cheltenham, this has thrown up some obstacles that might not happen elsewhere.

Winning jockeys have the tradition of signing their names on the walls or timber changing rails that surround their allocated pegs in the changing rooms.

Over the years there are some very famous names in the graffiti and the Kier team has had to preserve them, in some cases by cutting out the plaster around the name and protecting it while the rest of the wall has been replastered and decorated.

“They were all meticulously photographed before we carried out any work and protected during the refurbishment. It looks fantastic now,” Mr Fowles says.

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