Heron Bros continues to play a key role in helping Belfast City Council achieve its Leisure Transformation Programme goals.
The award-winning construction company has recently completed two state-of-the-art leisure centres as part of a £105m investment in Belfast’s leisure services. It says much about Heron Bros’ expertise in this sector of the industry that the projects – one in the east of the city, the other in the west – opened their doors to the public within 48-hours of each other.
Although they share the same sporting DNA, both complexes have their own very unique selling points. Lisnasharragh Leisure Centre, formerly the Robinson Centre on the Montgomery Road, becomes the leading Aquatic Centre in Belfast with an unrivalled eight-lane swimming pool. Brook Leisure Centre, on a site close to the former Brook Activity Centre in Twinbrook, places the emphasis on ‘outdoor leisure provision’, with no fewer than eight 3G pitches.
“There is no comparable size of investment in publicly owned leisure facilities anywhere else in the UK,” said Nigel Grimshaw, Strategic Director of City & Neighbourhood Services at Belfast City Council. “It is a real statement of intent by Council and demonstrates our commitment to improve the health and well-being of our citizens.”
For Heron Bros to complete two projects simultaneously required a substantial investment in manpower. “Our site resources ramped up to over 100 staff per project when in their busiest phase,” said Heron Bros Senior Contracts Manager, John Paul Higgins.
Building Information Modelling (BIM) has quickly become the construction industry’s go-to resource. The technology, embraced by Heron Bros, proved invaluable, particularly in the early stages of both the Brook and Lisnasharragh projects.
“We have a policy in place at Heron Bros were at the start of any project we sit down and look at ‘lessons learned’ from previous works of a similar type,” JP explained. “BIM has been a great addition and was fantastic early on with planning and coordination. The more complex the project, the more benefit you get from it.
“It is an important visual tool that enables you to view a very accurate walk through of the project. It also flags up clashes and issues, things you can catch off-site and resolve. BIM also came into its own in relation to choosing products and their finish. The design team could easily demonstrate different colour selections to the client, giving them detailed images to consider when making their decisions. BIM is also very effective as a collaborative tool for the main contractor at internal meetings, enabling any issues to be addressed and opinions sought.
“The client was able to use the design model when accessing the environment that staff would be working in. These walk through tools proved beneficial when making key decisions, such as life guard positions.”
Lisnasharragh Leisure Centre will be pivotal in helping Belfast City Council to achieve its target of doubling the number of swimming pool users to 1.5m per year by 2030. It could also prove a vital building block for young swimmers with Commonwealth Games or Olympic aspirations.
The eight-lane pool, the biggest in Belfast, incorporates state-of-the-art timing devices for competitive swim meets and spectator seating for 250. The complex’s diving pool will be home to an Academy set up by former World champion and To undertake construction of such specialized facilities would be a daunting prospect for most companies. However, it’s fair to say Heron Bros has long since ditched their water wings. “We have developed a lot of valuable experience in building leisure facilities, including pools,” JP Higgins added. “The biggest challenge is coordinating the different services within the structure.”
Although some aspects of the swimming pool are sub-contracted, much of the construction work remains the responsibility of Heron Bros. “We have been very busy with many projects that have similar needs and with that, you end up with a lot of awareness for the technical coordination issues that have to be considered, as many of them can have a knock-on effect to the finished product.”
Lisnasharragh Leisure Centre will become a focal point for swimming galas, water polo, and, of course, diving competitions. It’s an innovation Belfast has been crying out for. “Lisnasharragh transforms aquatics in the city and introduces some features that have never been here before,” said Gareth Kirk, Regional Director of social enterprise GLL (Greenwich Leisure Ltd) who will manage the facilities in partnership with Belfast City Council.
However, at the new Brook Leisure Centre the construction of a swimming pool has also caused a few ripples of excitement. Focused on the provision of outdoor sport facilities, the inclusion of a pool is nonetheless significant. The Brook Leisure Centre’s four-lane swimming pool is actually a first for the ‘Colin’ area of the city. Not only that, but it can be transformed into a specialized sensory pool that is currently the biggest of its kind in a public leisure facility anywhere in the UK.
Both the Brook and Lisnasharragh’s water provision areas presented a considerable construction challenge, not least because both boast a full moving floor system. “The two leisure centres have the benefit of state-of-the-art moving floor systems. This allows the client to alter the floor levels to suit the needs of the user. These uses have a very wide range; from competition diving, children’s lessons and sensory classes.”
If you weren’t sure what Brooks Leisure Centre’s USP is, then the sea of green provides a fairly useful clue. ‘Outdoor leisure provision’ is the buzz phrase, the reality is two full-sized 3G pitches for Gaelic games or soccer, plus three 3G outdoor door 5-a-side pitches, and a further three enclosed. That’s a lot of artificial turf, by anyone’s standards.
Heron Bros, thankfully, have a lot of experience with 3G pitches. The company previously constructed two FIFA Grade 1 standard 3G pitches at Loudoun Academy in East Ayrshire, Scotland, and the nearby Auchinleck Academy. The Brooks site covers more than 20 acres and the pitches devised by the design team are built, with accompanying drainage system, and taken to a base level. Then the sub-contractor is called to lay the actual 3G surface.
In addition to the extensive artificial surfaces, Brooks Leisure Centre is furthering the search for the next Olcan McFetridge or ‘Sambo’ McNaughton with the inclusion of a Hurling Wall, the first of its kind in a public leisure centre in Northern Ireland.
Home and away
Heron Bros considerable experience in the leisure sector includes recent projects in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales:
• The new grandstand at Kingspan Stadium, HQ for Ulster Rugby
• The £13.4 Aberavon Leisure and Fitness Centre, Port Talbot, Wales
• Sport Ireland’s National Indoor Arena in Blanchardstown
• FIFA Grade 1 3G pitches in East Ayrshire, Scotland.
If you’re keen to lift some heavy weights, then what better view than the iconic Harland & Wolff cranes? That’s what greets users of the new Lisnasharragh Leisure Centre gym, a spacious two-storey space offering 140 workout stations, the latest Technogym cardio and resistance stations, a dedicated free weight area, and additional functional training areas.
The centre also features three fitness studios, running classes from high intensity to Les Mills RPM virtual reality indoor cycling. If that isn’t enough to get up a sweat, then why not try the four court sports hall for gymnastics, to shoot a few hoops, play football or badminton. Also included in the Heron Bros remit was construction of an innovative Health Improvement room to support a range of specialist programmes including Healthwise and MacMillan ‘Move More’. This highly-accessible, user-friendly centre also includes pool pod, lifts, toilets, shower and changing, and a Coffee Corner for drinks and snacks.
If you want to get a pump on at Brook Leisure Centre you are also well served by an expansive gymnasium with 60 workout stations, plus the same cardio and resistance, fitness studio classes, sports hall and health improvement provision as Lisnasharragh.
Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Daniel Baker, opened both Lisnasharragh and Brook, saying: “The facilities will play a vital role in improving health and well-being in the local communities, which is a central aim of the Belfast Agenda, the city’s community plan.”
“This is an investment in our city and its people,” is how Belfast City Council’s Strategic Director of City & Neighbourhood Services, Nigel Grimshaw, describes the Leisure Transformation Programme. That capital investment in a more active and healthier population is welcomed by communities in the east and west of a city, who have responded with support throughout the construction process.
Multi-million pound projects like Lisnasharragh (£20m) and Brook (£15m) inevitably lead to disruption for the very communities the new facilities ultimately serve. Situated in residential areas of the city, it was important for the main contractor to engage with the local community and do everything in their power to keep disturbance to a minimum. “That was quite challenging in both instances as there is no way to prevent construction on this scale from impacting in some shape or form on neighbouring businesses and residences,” J.P. Higgins explained. “However, it was clear from the outset that the communities were fully behind the projects and appreciated the value they would bring.”
Keith Farren, Operations Director at Heron Bros, agrees: “We believe that the local communities who contributed to the success of these centres through their support and positive engagement will enjoy these amazing facilities for many years.”