May 20, 2019 Last Updated 8:31 AM, Apr 10, 2019

A model facility

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The age of austerity may have brought many challenges for local authorities, but it has also engendered a solutions-driven approach when it comes to making capital expenditure projects happen.


A new £13.5m project delivered by Eric Wright Construction, part of the Eric Wright Group, to build a new leisure centre in Blackburn provides a stunning example of how a collaborative approach to improving facilities while driving down overheads can offer a win/win solution for public sector organisations and service users.

Business case

The existing swimming pool and leisure centre in Blackburn was a 26-year-old local authority operated facility called ‘Waves Water Fun Centre’. As the name suggests, the centre was heavily focused on the pool facilities and, with its lagoon-shaped pool, wave machines, water slide and ‘alien spaceship’ was very popular with families. However, it offered very limited gym and studio facilities, which prevented it from competing commercially with private sector fitness and leisure providers and its maintenance and running costs meant that it was no longer viable.

Mark Walker, Senior Project Manager at Eric Wright Construction, said: “Leisure centres offer a valuable source of revenue for local authorities but if they are to attract regular gym users they have to offer an environment on a par with the private sector.

“Blackburn with Darwen Council was in the enviable position of having a proven business case for replacing the Waves Water Fun Centre because it was able to compare the running costs of the facility with a new leisure centre completed in Darwen in 2010. The annual operational costs for Darwen Leisure Centre were £500,000 less than those in Blackburn, demonstrating a sound financial argument for constructing a new facility that will both boost revenue generation and reduce overheads.”

A survey of the Waves Centre also found that the facility was ‘dilapidated’ and ‘not sustainable’, which meant that capital expenditure would be required on a refurbishment programme as a minimum measure even if the decision was taken to retain the existing leisure facility rather than construct a new one.

As a result, Blackburn with Darwen Council developed plans for a 41,960ft2 new leisure centre for that would halve the running costs of the Waves centre while providing an increase in space and a considerable improvement in the range and quality of services provided.

The total cost of the Blackburn Leisure Centre project was £13.5m and Blackburn with Darwen Council was able to further increase the scope of facilities and enhance the business case for the development by working with Blackburn College to design a facility that would incorporate a sports science performance and testing lab and two four-court sports hall for college use during the day.

By combining a community leisure centre and college sports facility in a single development and sharing the cost as an £8.5m local authority/£5m college split, Blackburn with Darwen Council and Blackburn College has established an innovative capital expenditure model for others to follow.

Energy efficiency

The scheme was delivered as a design & build contract by Eric Wright Construction, building on the company’s experience of leisure centre and education projects, which includes the Bolton One health, leisure and educational facility, Blackburn and Oldham Youth Zones and Furness College. The Eric Wright Construction team was clearly focused on delivering a scheme that would offer long-term value through robust construction, with operational efficiency built into every element of the specification aligned to the council and the college’s environmental goals.

Mark continues: “We used thermal modelling to develop a specification that enabled the building to achieve an EPC A rating with low U-values delivered by a heavily insulated external envelope, which is very difficult to achieve in a leisure centre scheme.

“The building was also designed and constructed to deliver low air permeability of just 6.1 and this will ensure that the facility will gain maximum benefit from the low energy building services strategy that has been implemented.”

The high efficiency building services specification at the leisure centre includes a zoned HVAC system that exploits passive pre-heating and pre-cooling of fresh air using exhaust heat recovery to reduce the required heating and cooling load.

“A number of measures have been built into the specification to ensure that energy is used on an as-needed basis,” Mark continues, “such as the use of variable speed drives on fans and water-circulating pumps, for example.

“This means that the flexibility to adjust to different occupancy levels and seasonal requirements has been built into the leisure centre reducing operational costs still further.”

The flexibility of the building services is delivered through user-friendly intelligent controls including temperature and lighting controls with daylight harvesting. The lighting installation itself is a key element of the energy saving strategy and the Eric Wright Construction team developed the specification to enhance this still further.

Mark continues: “LED lighting was specified for the Atrium to deliver a high performance, low cost and low maintenance solution, while the pool hall lights were chosen for their low maintenance and ease of cleaning.

“Our approach was to consider costs holistically, incorporating maintenance requirements in the operational model to assess the benefits of key areas of the specification.”

Maintenance and longevity were also factored into the concrete structure used for the pool hall. Eric Wright Construction included Xypex, a waterproof concrete additive in the specification. This crystalline matrix self-heals cracks up to 0.4mm and enables all construction joints to be sealed right up to the edge of the concrete for maximum durability and protection of the reinforcement steel. As a result, the company has been able to maximise the BBA certified design life of the pool for 25 years.

Phased delivery

The leisure centre opened to the public in March 2015, following a phased programme that saw Eric Wright Construction complete the college facilities in time for the new student intake last September and continue to work on site while those areas were occupied.

Mark adds: “It was a very tight and challenging programme but we believe the completed scheme sets a benchmark for efficient leisure facilities and a progressive approach to shared public sector services.”

More in this category: Seamless sports facility »
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