Awarded the biggest lottery grant for a sports building refurbishment, Hemel Hempstead Sports Centre has been given a complete facelift. It is a success on all fronts, with attendance figures up 80% and the work costing half that of new-build

<b>At-a-glance guide</b>

<b>Project</b> Upgrade and remodel Hemel Hempstead Sports Centre, a 1970s council facility with outdoor pool

<b>Client</b> Dacorum Borough Council

<b>Location</b>Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire

<b>Project significance</b>


  • Development of large modern facility at a fraction of the cost of new construction
  • Largest English lottery grant for sports building refurbishment
  • Seven distinct pools totalling 900 m2 of water area, plus sports hall and dry sports facilities
  • Attendance up by 80% since opening

<b>Project challenges</b>


  • To make a exciting building
  • To attract users of all ages across a range of sports
  • To unify additions
  • To introduce views and natural light into building
  • Phased work to keep building in use
  • Asbestos removal

<b>Construction cost</b>


  • Estimated total is £5 759 000 for 7860 m2 building
  • Refurbishment at £733/m2 – 56% of comparable new-build cost

<b>Contract</b>


  • Traditional competitive tender. JCT80 with sectional completion and contractor's design portion

<b>Client's brief</b>
The 1970s sports centre needed remodelling to boost visitor numbers and to enable it to compete with new facilities in the borough. Although it featured a 50 m long, nine-lane outdoor pool, the centre had an off-putting cellular plan of changing rooms and ancillary accommodation, and a rabbit-warren of corridors. The structure and fabric were in good repair, but the building lacked up-to-date facilities, such as an aerobics room.
In December 1995, building owner Dacorum Borough Council commissioned the project team to prepare a refurbishment plan with four key objectives:

  • To improve the image of the building, particularly its entrance
  • To reduce the number of corridors
  • To allow more natural light into the building
  • To accommodate spectators in activity areas.

The Sports Council Lottery Fund provided 65% of the project costs, with 35% coming from the local authority.

<b>Architectural design</b>
Because of the size of the building (nearly 8000 m2) and the limited budget, the external appearance of the building had to stay unchanged, except for a new pool extension and main entrance.


  •  An expressive aerofoil wing-shaped roof was developed to maximise the impact of the new insertions and produce a cohesive architectural language for the new additions.
  •  Increased areas of curtain walling and translucent Kalwall in the new extensions and a rooflight over a new main circulation staircase allowed more natural light into the building. The foyer interior is ordered by a series of coloured rendered walls, which step back in plan and are expressed externally by the purple blank wall to the dramatic two-storey glazed entrance lobby. Internally, the foyer has been substantially remodelled to allow views through the building to the pool hall, changing facilities and sports hall, and to create an impression of space and light.
  •  A crèche is provided off the entrance foyer with access to a secure outdoor play area in the lee of mature trees.
  •  A new café allows users to sit at the poolside.
  •  Existing changing rooms have been remodelled to create a changing village by removing sections of loadbearing walls. This provides a more light, airy and comfortable environment in which families could change together. Four additional group changing rooms and poolside showers have been provided.
  •  Water areas were remodelled to achieve an optimum balance between formal and informal swimming and to provide flexibility of use. A concrete-tiled bulkhead was introduced in the existing 33.3 m pool to create a 25 m six-lane pool. A new 16.6 × 8 m deck-level teaching pool is fitted with a floating floor, which can create depths from zero to 2 m, and provides a wide range of bathing conditions.
  •  An outdoor pool was always seen as an important element of the scheme, but the old 50 m nine-lane pool was too expensive to run for more than three months of the year. Instead, the original pool basin has been reduced in size and remodelled to provide a 25 m six-lane pool and a teaching pool, which will be open for up to eight months a year. The new outdoor pool slopes from side to side, rather than along its length. This creates a shallow water depth of 0.8 m adjacent to the paddling pool and grassed seating area and a constant depth swimming lane of 1.4 m adjacent to the pool hall. Access to the pool is via a swim-out channel. There is an outdoor spa pool, which is open all the year round.
  •  A greatly enlarged health and fitness area has been created on the first floor overlooking the pool hall and circulation stair. There is a small changing area with showers, sauna, steam room, physiotherapy room, fitness-testing and GP referrals.
  • <b>Procurement</b>
  • A traditional procurement route was adopted as the project team was given ample time to design the building alterations in detail before the contract was let. The works were competitively tendered using a full bill of quantities, with the contract being administered under JCT80 with sectional completion and contractor's design portion supplement. Contractor's design work included specialist installations such as water treatment and movable floor.
  • <b>Cost commentary</b>
  • Comparing the cost of the Hemel Hempstead refurbishment project with the cost of providing a new-build facility of reasonable quality at an estimated cost of £1300/m2 (£10 218 000 in total), the refurbishment cost of £733/m2 (56% of new-build cost) was considered good value for money. It was also thought that a new-build facility could not offer the variety of water options, achievable at a reasonable cost within the refurbished works, that provided seven different water areas, including a new teaching pool.
  • The majority of the construction cost was spent on the wet side of the building: £5 108 500 compared with £650 500 for the dry side.
  • <b>Construction on site</b>
  • In order to limit closure and provide continuous sports provision, construction was phased.
  • Temporary changing facilities with showers and toilets were provided during the eight months of dry-side refurbishment. These spaces were then used to house fitness equipment during the 12-month remodelling of wet-side areas. Careful planning and programming of the services installation was needed to ensure that the dry side could continue running while work continued on the complex services installation for the wet side.
  • Enabling works, including asbestos removal from ceilings and ductwork, demolition of non-loadbearing walls and stripping-out of fittings and services were undertaken before the main contract was let. As well as removing hazardous materials from the main works programme, the enabling works allowed the remaining structure to be accurately surveyed.
  • <b>Specification</b>
  • <b>Substructure</b>
  • Main entrance: Concrete raft and screed New teaching pool: 250 mm thick water-retaining concrete slabs and walls.
  • <b>Structure</b>
  • Existing primary structure unaltered wherever possible to maintain the existing structural load paths and provide an economic solution. Extensions have exposed painted steelwork.
  • <b>External walls</b>
  • Main entrance, teaching pool gable wall and re-glazing of existing pool hall: pressure-equalised aluminium-framed FW50 SG curtain walling by Schüco with green-tinted double glazing and integral doors. Main entrance: Schüco Royal S65 automatic sliding doors. Rockwool high-performance partial-fill cavity slab, concrete blockwork and STO coloured render. Silver flat metal composite panels by EDM Spanwall. Teaching pool: silicone-jointed double-glazed units and Kalwall panels by Stoakes Systems. Plant room and fire escape staircase: Plannja P45F plastisol-coated.
  • <b>Roof</b>
  • Main entrance and teaching pool: Sarnafil single-layer roof covering adhered to polyurethane aluminium foil-faced insulation board, fully bonded to polyester-reinforced felt on 8 mm thick plywood deck on profiled metal sheet supported on galvanised and painted steel purlins on V-shaped steel tapered rafters.
  • <b>Windows</b>
  • Schüco Royal S50 windows with tilt-and-turn opening lights for ventilation.
  • <b>Internal doors and screens</b>
  • Plastic laminate-faced flush doorsets to public circulation areas. MDF-faced painted-finish doorsets to stores and plantrooms. American white oak-veneered flush doorsets to fitness suite. Unilock glass partition screens with integral blinds. Glazed fire-resisting screens by Fendor-Hansen.
  • <b>Internal finishes</b>
  • Coloured feature walls in STO render. Elsewhere, thistle hard wall plaster with portatone paint finish by MacPhersons Paints.
  • Changing areas have 100 × 100 mm ceramic tiles to walls with 100 × 100 mm and 250 × 122 mm studded tiles to floor and pool surrounds. 25 × 25 mm mosaics to upstands and curved walls by Domus. 300 × 300 mm Chromtech tiles to entrance foyer and café.
  • Carpet to offices, corridor, fitness suite and nursery by Steeles Carpets. Entrance foyer carpet by Milliken Contracts. Gransprung floor to sports hall by Granwood Flooring with painted MDF wall panels. Junkers clip system timber floor to aerobics studio in flamey beech.
  • <b>Ceilings</b>
  • Entrance foyer: perforated aluminium tiles with acoustic textile bonded to the concealed surface by Dampa UK. Teaching pool and main pool hall: large perforated aluminium panels with acoustic insulation by SAS.

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