Over the past three years, HBG’s North-east office has used continuous improvement processes to hand over nine cinema shells in an increasingly short time. This benchmark compares three of these schemes.

In 1997, the contractor completed the shell-and-core construction of a nine-screen Virgin multiplex cinema at Boldon, near Sunderland, in 38 weeks on site. A year later, the team completed a nine-screen UCI complex at Silverlink, North Shields, in 34 weeks. By the end of 1999, the contractor took 30 weeks to complete the nine-screen Virgin multiplex cinema at Kingswood, Hull.

By the time the team started on the Hull scheme, it had worked on nine cinema projects. In addition to cutting time on site, the fact that the subcontractors had built relationships was starting to reduce the lead-in before construction started on site.

Part of the reason for this reduction was the project team’s familiarity with many of the construction details, but it was mostly that HBG had formed a partnership with Barrett Steel Buildings, which meant that a detailed steelwork design was being produced early in the project. The steelwork subcontractor was prepared to do detailed design work to price the scheme, safe in the knowledge that if HBG got the job, it would as well.

The Boldon scheme, HBG North-East office’s first cinema project, was treated as a one-off. Here, traditional procurement methods were used for each package. For example, the steelwork, glazing and cladding packages were sent to a number of subcontractors to price. “With this type of procurement,” says HBG project co-ordinator Steve Wheller, “the design has to be sufficiently advanced to send out for tenders.”

But at Boldon, the operator was unable to provide detailed information for some areas of the cinema early in the construction programme. The partition layout for the toilet and vending areas, which would be housed in the space beneath the precast concrete terracing for the auditoria seats, was one such area.

Deep steel beams, supported from widely spaced columns, support the terracing. However, tight headroom in this area meant the beams had to coincide with the dividing walls. But with the wall layout unconfirmed, the steelwork design was in limbo. With an 11-week lead time for detailing and manufacture, this had a knock-on effect on the steelwork erection, which did not start until eight weeks into the site programme.

The projector opening in the wall at the back of the auditoria caused more problems. “The client kept changing its mind about the type of projection equipment it would install,” says Wheller, “so the position and size of the hole were fluid.” On the Boldon project, it was “uncertain” where the hole would end up, and there was always the possibility that it would clash with a structural column. HBG realised that by adapting the design, operator design information could be taken off the critical path. By the time the contractor had started work on the North Shields scheme a year later, the partnering arrangement with steelwork contractor Barrett Steel Buildings was starting to reduce construction time. The team recognised the operator’s need for flexibility in the shell construction, so with the steelwork contractor on board from day one, the design of the steel frame was adapted to provide that flexibility.

The team tackled the problem of the supports for the cinema seating. Instead of deep beams, the steelwork design featured shallow beams on closely spaced columns. With the new beam design, head height was not a problem, so the rooms could be laid out later in the project, independent of the steelwork.

The steelwork design for the projector opening was also adapted. Instead of a design with steel columns set in the wall, the contractor used a large steel truss to span the length of the wall, creating a clear gap that could be filled once the opening’s location was known.

“By managing the design information, and especially the cinema operator’s constantly changing requirements, we were able to build in flexibility to take the operator’s information off the critical path,” says Richard Fielder, HBG’s construction director for the North-east.

Partnering arrangements with the key subcontractors over a series of cinema projects allowed the team to standardise the way key components fitted together. Two areas in particular were identified: the junction of the foot of the precast concrete seating and the ground-floor slab; and the steelwork/ concrete/blockwork/plasterboard interface on the auditoria walls.

What next for HBG?

“Cinema design is like a moving target,” says HBG project co-ordinator Steve Wheller. “The market has moved on from where it was two years ago. Now most developments are in town centres.” For HBG, this brings a new set of design problems, but, as Wheller is keen to point out, the team is in place and the relationships with subcontractors have been established. “We are not starting from scratch on each project,” says Wheller. HBG is now looking to adapt the skills of the cinema team by applying its knowledge to shopping-centre projects and other leisure schemes.

The Benchmark