Sports and leisure centres schemes are being dusted off as the prospect of National Lottery money is regenerating interest in this sector. In the 13th of this continuing series of cost models, QS Davis Langdon & Everest examine multi-use wet/dry leisure centres.


The latest statistics from the DoE indicate a strengthening of the leisure sector. This follows a spending decline of 25%-30% at the start of the current recession that was exacerbated by the £180m reduction in grants to local authorities in the intervening years.

Recent schemes for which DL&E has been appointed illustrate this trend, with extensions to existing facilities and the re-emergence of traditional pools being build alongside 1980s leisure pools. The running of leisure centres, especially those with wet facilities, continues to impose high operating costs on local authorities and leisure managers.

However, the advent of CCT (Compulsory Competitive Tendering) has resulted in the transfer of a number of council-run schemes to management leisure companies. Their involvement reduces political interference, leaving the management free to operate realistic charges, even if a subsidy from the local authority is still required to ensure that facilities are maintained.

However, difficulties have been encountered with CCT. One in 12 private contractors have been sacked by local authorities, and staggering 40% of firms managing leisure facilities have gone into receivership.

Design considerations

Whether the centre will be used for leisure or national competitions has a major influence in the design, standards, facilities and cost. More spectator seating and better facilities will be required if the centre is intended as a national sports venue.

Identify facilities for wet and dry areas together with other revenue-producing opportunities, such as use by clubs and secondary catering.

Establish building use, opening hours, staffing levels, likely clientele numbers, plus projected operating and running costs. Permanent supervision and service operating costs of wet facilities are major expenses.

Select hard-wearing, low-maintenance surface materials, especially adjoining wet facilities.

Net floor areas should be determined by the Sports Council’s planning, area and height recommendations for mixed sports facilities Operators want glazed areas that show passers-by what is going on inside, to attract custom. But if the centre is to be used for competitions then glare and solar gain need to be avoided.

Additional features such as creches and children’s play areas can produce revenue as well as increasing family attendance.

Consideration should be given to using a combined heat and power system for electricity generation. The best option is to buy a CHP unit but, if finance is a problem, some companies will supply units free of charge or enter into a lease agreement. They then charge for power consumption at slightly lower than market rates.

Design criteria

Better than minimum U-values are required to avoid excessive energy loss, condensation and so on, for walls and roofs to dry sports halls, while in wet areas, U-values as high as 0.30 W/m² °C are recommended.

The use of too much glass should be avoided. Sunlight should not penetrate dry sports halls, and the wall glazing to wet areas should be designed to avoid glare.

When a decision is made to use glass, it should be at least double skin. Up to 10% of roof glazing, which produces a more even type of light, may be acceptable, provided it avoids glare and solar gain. Large areas of wall glazing are generally not recommended.

Leisure pools sometimes include high volume central roofs which are often pitched for water slides etc. An adjoining tower, offering steeper slides, can provide a more economic alternative that reduces running costs.

Ozone water treatment is usual for leisure pools with considerable water turbulence, whereas chlorine gas, which is 25% cheaper, may be considered for traditional pools with less water disturbance.

Roofs and structural frames to swimming pools are particularly susceptible to corrosion and fast deterioration. Therefore high quality protective coatings are essential. Advice on corrosion can be obtained from the British Steel’s Corrosion and Coated Products Advisory Service. For the latest advice on steel, refer to the Stainless Steel in Swimming Pool Buildings guide from the Nickel Development Institute (1995).

In sports halls, low level ventilation openings can cause draughts. For safety, all fittings such as door furniture, door frames, and fire alarms must be set flush.

Where blockwork or screeds are left undecorated, sealants should be used to prevent dust movement and so on.

Funding and viability

In the past, most community leisure and sports facilities were funded by local councils out of their capital allocation, with a further amount, up to £27m per year available in direct grants from the Sports Council. However, with the advent of new funding from the National Lottery, some fear that these grants may finish shortly.

The capital injection expected from the lottery in 1995 is about £150m. Some 674 applications for funds have already been made since the scheme was launched on 4 January 1994 after 6,000 plus lottery packs were distributed and more than 23,000 enquiries received. The lottery section of the Sports Council is forecasting 10,000 applications in 1995, of which only one in five are likely to receive awards.

Most applications are from small schools or voluntary groups which are a favoured sector. Larger schemes involving grants of more than £5m will be looked at twice yearly, at the end of May and November. The intention is to provide funds for capital expenditure for sports, not spectator, facilities. For a scheme to qualify for an award, the Sports Council - which is soon to be split into separate councils for England, Wales and Scotland - will have to be assured that:

  • it produces the widest community and sporting benefit
  • it is financially viable
  • it is technically viable and through the use of good specification, provides value for money
  • risks are reduced to a minimum and managing companies can sustain facilities during operation.

Only well thought out and properly prepared applications will be considered for lottery funding. The Sports Council can award up to 65% of the overall capital cost, provided that the remaining 35% is met by applicants from equity or other private sources, but the average award to date is in the range of 45% and 50%.

Funds are not supposed to contribute towards running costs at present, although, in future endowment funds might be acceptable to maintain the fabric of approved schemes. The funding and viability of leisure centres vary considerably according to the amount of equity available, loans to be raised, population catchment area, anticipated usage and maximum affordable pricing regime for each facility.

The most recent examples of operating costs from actual schemes are to be found in Small Public Indoor Pools - Monitoring and Evaluation Reseach Report and Small Public Indoor Pools - Environment Services Monitoring Report both published by the Sports Council in 1994.


Major schemes tend to be procured using traditional methods, whereas smaller schemes are increasingly being offered as turnkey projects with the leisure operator buying a package from a leisure contractor. However, a thorough evaluation must be undertaken of the facilities and standards offered in such packages. They must meet the usage criteria and avoid long-term cost in-use and maintenance problems. A good example of a well thought out package scheme is illustrated in The Small Pool Package set of documents recently launched by the Sports Council.

Cost model

The following indicative cost model is based on leisure pool and sports hall facilities extracted from a 7500 m2, two-storey, multipurpose leisure centre. The scheme is located on a hypothetical site in the south-east of England. Price levels equate to April 1995 and assume a traditional firm price contract. External works associated with such schemes can range from 7.5% to 25%. Adjustments should be made to prices for schemes with different facilities, in different locations, using different procurement routes, specification standards and affected by alternative market conditions.

Facility areas costs

The following table show indicative costs for each of the major facilities in the cost model. A range of typical costs and areas are provided at the end. The model was based on a large scheme with high standards and particularly economic circulation areas etc, which has the effect of increasing costs. Some materials and services are of better quality than those found in average schemes. An example is the bowls hall, which, as part of a larger facility, is constructed and service to a higher standard than many stand-alone schemes. Costs exclude external works, VAT and professional fees, but some indicative costs for equipment and furniture are included at the end of the table.