Update on Harpenden sport and cultural centres

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News release: 13 May 2019

A temporary sports building will ensure new leisure and cultural centres in Harpenden remain financially viable and the ambitious project can still be delivered.

Harpenden Cultural Centre
The initiative will reduce potential costs by allowing the two adjacent centres to be built at the same time rather than one after the other. 

The amount saved will be around £0.5 million and will allow St Albans City and District Council to keep within its £18.8 million budget. It also means the project will be completed well ahead of schedule.

The temporary sports building will be located for about 10 months beside the existing sports centre in Rothamsted Park, providing planning permission is obtained.

It will be of the “highest standard” and contain a fully-equipped gym, two exercise studios, a creche, changing rooms and a reception area.

The move allows the sports centre to be closed without most services being suspended while the building is converted into the cultural centre earlier than was originally planned.

This accelerated construction programme will bring forward the opening date of the new cultural centre by six months to January 2021.  

The temporary structure will be open from March next year until a new state-of-the-art multi-sports leisure centre is completed, also in January 2021.

It means that wherever possible, sport centre users will not lose out on classes or other services during the construction work. 

The sports hall will close from November this year while it is converted into the theatre.  Arrangements have been made to allow trampolining, badminton and gymnastics to be held at Batchwood sports centre, in St Albans, until the new leisure centre opens.

As part of the project, the swimming pool building is being extended and transformed into the multi-sports centre. 

That will include a larger gym with first-floor views across the park. There will also be exercise studios, an improved main pool, a five-lane 17-metre learner pool, a sports hall, changing village, steam room, sauna, café and reception area.

The new cultural centre will have a 511-seat theatre, two function rooms, an exhibition space, bars on two floors and a café overlooking the park.

Richard Shwe, Deputy Chief Executive (Commercial and Development) of St Albans City and District Council, said: “The original plan was to construct the two buildings, one after the other, so there would be no loss of service to sports centre users.

“However, during the tendering process, it became clear that the construction costs of doing it that way were going to significantly exceed our budget.

“The solution is to create this temporary sports building which will allow for work on both the cultural and the sports centres to take place at the same time. This way we can deliver the whole project within budget and earlier than scheduled.

“Disruption to sports centre users will be minimal and I want to assure them that the temporary building will be fitted and furnished to the highest standard. I’m aware of some local concern that the temporary building will be a flimsy portacabin, but that couldn’t be further from the case. It will be a high-quality amenity.

“Shortly we will be applying for planning permission for the temporary structure.  I hope that it will be granted so we can push on and provide Harpenden and the surrounding areas with fantastic new sport and cultural centres.”

In another initiative, spoil – the soil and other material dug up during excavation work – will no longer be removed from the site.

It was originally planned to transport it by a fleet of lorries from Rothamsted Park to a landfill site.

Instead, the spoil will now remain in the park where it may be used to level an uneven events area and improve flood defences.

The move, which will also require planning permission, is seen as environmentally-friendly as it will reduce by around 1,400 the number of heavy vehicle journeys required by the project.

Mr Shwe said: “Our contractor Willmott Dixon Construction is to be congratulated for seeing this opportunity to reduce both the environmental impact and the extra traffic that the redevelopment work will generate.

“We have consulted with the park’s management committee and Hertfordshire County Council about this proposal and will continue to engage the community while we finalise the details.”

Picture: How the new Cultural Centre will look.

Contact for the media: 
John McJannet, Principal Communications Officer: 01727 296130, john.mcjannet@stalbans.gov.uk.