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Kier sprints to the finish line on Nottingham sports hall

Building redesign, a complex demolition and value engineering are just some of the challenges that Kier is facing as it races to get the University of Nottingham’s new sports hall ready in time for the 2016/17 academic year.

Project: University of Nottingham Sports Hall
The University of Nottingham
Contract value:
Region: East Midlands
Main contractor:
Start date: March 2015
Completion date: August 2016

When a project is described as ‘design-and-build’, it’s generally accepted that it means the project is designed first and built after. Ordinarily, one part of the project wouldn’t be going through the design process while one part is already being built.

But that’s exactly what Kier has had to do to deliver a new sports hall for the University of Nottingham.

Project redesign

The team’s original design for the £30m project was to part-demolish the existing sports centre, which stands adjacent to a nursery, outdoor sports pitches and an indoor swimming pool on the university’s main campus.

Kier lodged the original plans for the building towards the end of 2014, with the client intending a completion date of summer 2016 so the new facility would be ready in time for that summer’s graduations.

But, with the design already in place, planning permission was rejected in December 2014. This was due to the presence of three large oak trees adjacent to the sports hall that could not be cut down, as the area surrounding the hall is designated as a tree protection zone.

“We’ve been through a redesign, and have re-cost the job, re-do the contractors’ proposals, all the while maintaining the original programme”

Dean Cobley, Kier

This meant that the team, including the engineers, the client and consultants, had to quickly reassemble to agree on a redesign, so that the project could stick to its target completion date of summer 2016. “I have to say that it’s been one of the toughest starts to a project that I’ve ever encountered,” says Kier’s senior project manager Dean Cobley.

With the redesign, the original sports hall would now be demolished in full, rather than part-retained, while the new building would have to be moved away from the existing indoor pool facility by 9 m. And while a redesign was being worked on, the team had to get works on site under way to ensure they would meet the client’s deadline.

Tough deadlines

“We had to maintain the client’s completion date,” Mr Cobley explains. “We’ve been through a redesign process, and have had to re-cost the job, re-do all the contractors’ proposals, all the while maintaining the original programme – that’s been a massive challenge.”

The team started on site on 23 March 2015, despite planning permission for the redesigned scheme only being achieved on 25 February. To make sure works could begin and the client’s deadline could be met, the design of the building has had to be split into five phases.

“Because of the tightness of the programme, the design team, particularly the structural engineer, couldn’t achieve the steel dates that were in the original programme,” Mr Cobley says. “So what we had to do was to make our programme of how we were going to build it, and split it into phases.”

The team would then work through each phase in turn, starting with phase one (see box). But due to the client’s schedule, the design has been a very fluid process. “The steel was going up in phase one while we were still designing phase five,” Mr Cobley says.

Five phases of design

Phase one: Squash courts on a semi-basement level around a metre-and-a-half down from ground level, and archery on the floor above.
Phase two: Main sports hall.
Phase three: The changing rooms and the dance studio.
Phase four: Offices, entrance, café and amenities.
Phase five: Hydrotherapy pool and a running track.

The design for phase five was only completed in August 2015, when the team had already been on site for over four months. But again, that brought with it its own set of challenges.

The steel frame was designed by the structural engineer in sections, while the rest of the team had to follow closely behind to stick to schedule.

“Everyone has had to follow on behind the designer, to detail the envelope and everything that goes with it,” Mr Cobley explains. This includes the consultant, the client, architect, and the main contractor.

Phase shift

From the phasing system, Kier was able to work out a schedule and plan for all the procurement and subcontractor work that they would need as the project went on.

The first phase, which will contain international-standard squash courts on a semi-basement level, as well as archery on the floor above, required the full demolition of the existing sports hall before it could begin. As a result, all work was done over five weekends at the start of the project, with the team working 13-hour days to get the first phase finished.

“There’s been a lot of out-of-hours working, and a massive amount of liaison with end users, which was great because we’ve developed a good relationship”

Dean Cobley, Kier

The boundary wall for the building was only 12 m away from its main structure, while the client wanted the adjacent lane – which provides access to the nursery and the swimming pool – to remain in use at all times. “The sports hall was virtually taken down brick by brick,” Mr Cobley adds.

In the original scheme, the part-demolition meant the nearby sports pitches, pool and nursery would all continue to be supplied with power – the substation would be retained in the original building.

Under the new plans, the demolition had to be phased to initially retain the substation. After the bulk of the demolition work was complete, a temporary substation was constructed to keep all the adjacent buildings in use.

In phase two, which comprises the main sports hall, the team have had to put cladding up first and complete the roof afterwards due to the constrained site and tight schedule. “There’s been quite a lot of out-of-hours working, and a massive amount of liaison with the end-users, which was great because we’ve developed a good relationship,” Mr Cobley says.

Value-added engineering

The relationship with the client has been further enhanced by the team’s dedication to value-engineering the project, keeping it within budget even after the extensive redesign.

The university was aiming for around £3m of value engineering, according to Mr Cobley, and the team has “looked at absolutely everything” to keep costs down.

Kier has looked at around 300 items that could be taken out or changed to save on costs for the client. Some larger value-engineering measures undertaken include the roof trusses in the main sports hall, which have been changed from cylindrical to square, while retaining the aesthetic of the exposed beams. Mr Cobley estimates that this has saved the client around £60,000.

The team also shifted the completion date back slightly to allay any safety concerns over having to use the part-completed building for graduation ceremonies.

”Through all the redesign process there’s only been a two-week hit on the project – we’ve developed it so that we’ll finish on or around the original plan”

Simon Brown, Kier

“We agreed on a completion date – 19 August 2016 – and that gave some value back in the project, as the client didn’t have to worry about working around us and having to have the graduation in a part-completed building,” he adds.

Kier is still value-engineering as work progresses. Mr Cobley says that getting a fixed costing for the project was only achieved in June – three months after the team had started on site.

But despite having to entirely redesign the job and the ongoing adaptations, the impact on the overall completion date has been minimal, according to the project’s senior planner Simon Brown.

“In our original tender programme the steel was due to be put up on the 17 August, but under the new programme we started it on the 1 September,” he says. “Through all the redesign process there’s only been a two-week hit on the project – we’ve developed it so that we’ll finish on or around the original plan.”

Kier then remains on course to deliver the university’s state-of-the-art sports centre in time for the 2016/17 academic year, even if the project has turned out to be a sprint rather than a marathon.

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