Pooling ideas: cost, energy AND strict design?
A state-of-the-art council sports centre in classical Poundbury shows how cost and energy considerations can sit happily alongside strict design parameters. Elaine Knutt reports.
Facilities will be shared with a school that contributed to the funding
Dynamic roof shapes and eco-chic might be the hallmarks of many new local authority leisure centres, but that was never going to be the right look for Dorchester’s newly completed sports centre. The £8m project, currently undergoing fit-out, sits on land belonging to the Duchy of Cornwall and close to the “urban extension” of Poundbury, the capital of neo-classical architecture.
With a design developed in consultation with the Duchy’s own architect and masterplanner – Ben Pentreath & Associates – Dorchester Sports Centre has classical colonnades, the solidity of stone and a decidedly traditional appearance. Clients West Dorset District Council and Dorset County Council were advised by project manager Drivers Jonas Deloitte, which reports that “the hardest part” of the project was ensuring that a state-of-the-art facility was sensitive to the Duchy’s aesthetic. “It’s a classical building, and trying to get the architectural team [at architect Dyer] round to the Duchy’s point of view was a challenge at times. But both parties are now pleased,” says Peter Curtis, a director of sports and leisure at Drivers Jonas Deloitte.
Reconstituted stone panels blend in
Design-build contractor Leadbitter, joining the project at a later stage, was apparently spared much of the architectural debate. “There were one or two meetings as we were developing final designs, but once we got to site, we knew exactly what the brief was and we were able to get on with it,” says managing surveyor Rob Fish.
Prince Charles evidently approved of the completed project, visiting the site early this year to bury a time capsule. Filled with artefacts from 2012, it was buried under the paved area at the entrance of the new sports centre by six of the students from the neighbouring Thomas Hardye School.
The centre is divided into two distinct volumes, reflecting the internal arrangement of pool hall and changing village. Above the changing village, there is a dance studio and fitness suite, and an open-plan café/vending area at ground level opens on to a piazza. Internally, the pool hall is orientated to maximise views across the sloping site to Dorchester’s Maiden Castle in the distance.
But rather than use stone from the nearby Portland quarry, the steel framed-building is clad in reconstituted stone panels. “Real stone was an option, but longevity and maintenance, as well as exposure to the weather led to the switch,” says Fish. The reconstituted stone panels were manufactured and installed by Marble Mosaic.
The changing village
As is typical for cost-conscious local authority clients, the project has been designed for high energy-efficiency, with both PV and solar thermal panels installed on the roof to control operational energy bills. In the reception, there’s an energy monitor showing the building’s energy usage and rainwater storage capacity. Meanwhile, heating for the pool as well as the centre’s electricity will be provided by a gas-powered CHP unit, manufactured by ENER-G and installed by Lorne Stewart.
The bulk of the budget came from West Dorset District Council and Dorset County Council, while the neighbouring Thomas Hardye School – which will use the facilities – also contributed, and the Duchy of Cornwall made an £830,000 payment under a planning gain contribution linked to the Poundbury development. The project also secured a £600,000 grant from Sport England.
The client hopes that the new centre will be cheaper to maintain and more environment-friendly than the 1930s pool it replaced and ultimately be less of a drain on local council tax payers.
According to Curtis, many local authorities that are heeding the “inspire a generation” Olympic rallying cry will be examining a similar stock of ageing leisure centres and wondering how dilapidated buildings from the 1960s and ‘70s will fare. As in Dorchester, many calculate that increased sports participation will increase their revenue, while reduced running costs averaged over the life of the building can justify the upfront costs of redevelopment.
“A lot of the materials used in the 1960s and ‘70s haven’t fared well, there’s a lot of degradation of concrete and asbestos. It’s often cheaper to knock these centres down and start again [than refurbish],” Curtis says. “But local authorities can borrow cheaply through Prudential Borrowing. For the savings they could achieve in reduced running costs and maintenance, they could fund new buildings. We say to them, ‘You can replace these buildings and in effect it won’t cost you anything’.”
Prince Charles buries a time capsule
With Drivers Jonas Deloitte estimating that 50% of council-owned leisure buildings will reach the end of their useful life in 5-10 years, combined with increased public interest in sport, the post-Olympic period could bring opportunities for contractors such as Leadbitter, which has also recently delivered new facilities for the London boroughs of Barking and Hillingdon.
“We’ve just seen a ‘citizens relay’ from the Olympic Park to Winchester, with participants asking for a new council leisure centre,” says Curtis. “Local authorities will be getting on the bandwagon and looking to consolidate their estates. There are definitely contractors out there who could be prepared to offer private finance or land deals to get these projects off the ground.”