More cash needed to finish Harpenden’s new leisure and cultural centres

Construction work is underway on the new Harpenden leisure and cultural centres.

Construction work is underway on the new Harpenden leisure and cultural centres. - Credit: Archant

More cash will need to be borrowed to complete Harpenden’s flagship new leisure and cultural centres, district councillors have warned.

The extra costs were incurred following issues with the roof and delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The overall construction bill for the Rothamsted Park project will now rise from the £18.4 million estimated early this year, but the exact figure has yet to be determined.

SADC has already borrowed £13.5 million for the project with additional finance from other sources including the redevelopment of Harpenden Public Halls.

The Cabinet has now recommended more money should be borrowed to ensure the new centres can be completed.

Cllr Robert Donald, portfolio holder for commercial, development and wellbeing, said: “I inherited this redevelopment project when building construction was already well advanced on site. We really have no choice but to ask full council to allow for the extra borrowing to see this vital project through to the end.

“The alternative of stopping work on building the cultural centre would leave a half-finished building, expose the council to more not less contractual costs and result in Harpenden residents not being able to use a great new facility.

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“New Government guidance was issued after the contract was signed which meant the roof had to be substantially rebuilt to meet higher structural standards. We have a public duty to meet these new requirements and it is the sort of difficulty that all large refurbishment projects involving existing buildings like these can run into.

“What has, of course, also been completely unexpected is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic which resulted in a need for social distancing on the construction sites.

“The resultant delays have inevitably led to the construction budget rising and we are going to have to bear some of the costs of that.”

As part of the project, the existing swimming pool building is being turned into the new leisure centre.

It will include an improved gym, new café, sports hall, sauna, steam room, learner pool and refurbished main pool.

The nearby sports centre is being converted into a cultural centre, replacing the ageing Public Halls in Southdown Road.

It will include a 511-seat theatre, two function rooms, an exhibition space, bars on two floors and a café overlooking the park.

The leisure centre is due to open later this year and the cultural centre is set to open in mid-2021. A residential and commercial development will be built on the present Public Halls site when the new cultural centre is open.

During building work, it was discovered that the sport centre’s roof was not strong enough for extra plant and more beams would have to be installed.

Social distancing at the construction site is resulting in around one week’s delay for each month of the contract.

Conservative group leader Cllr Mary Maynard said: “Yet again this administration demonstrates its inability to manage straightforward construction projects. The council has nine large construction projects. All are running behind schedule and only one is on budget. This is not unforeseen problems on one project, it is a pattern of incompetence.’

I”n April 2019, Conservatives left an excellent project team. Apparently, now that the costs are getting away from them, it is the staff’s ‘fault’ and they need to re-negotiate with suppliers.

“Anyone with construction project experience knows problems are inevitable and negotiations are challenging. It is up to whoever is in charge to keep a project on time and to budget.

“The Liberal Democrats are in charge and are failing. They ‘lost’ the key managers in the council project team and through their inability to take decisions, problem solve and effectively manage the external construction company, look like they are losing control of the project.”

The news comes after it was revealed the cost of the new City Centre Opportunity Site South in St Albans had increased from £60m to £65.8m