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A whole new ball game

Manchester's new Commonwealth Games Stadium has a novel two stage solution to the problem of providing athletics and football in the same arena. David Hayward reports.

Graham Lumberg's main challenge in summer 2002 could well be persuading his site team to go home. By July next year the Laing construction team will have completed Manchester City Council's impressive 38,000 capacity Commonwealth Games Stadium and dozens of athletics officials will take over their site huts for the fortnight's sporting extravaganza.

'It would be great to stay and watch the Games, but there must be no evidence on site of anything or anyone labelled construction, ' explains project director Lumberg. 'But the day after the Games finish, we will all be back in our offices to build a completely different stadium.'

A just completed 10,000 seat grandstand will be dismantled and replaced. The entire central arena will be dug up and, by early 2003, a new venue will have been created - this time a 48,000 capacity soccer stadium to be leased to Manchester City Football Club.

This novel two in one option is Manchester's solution to that common stadium problem - how to fit athletics and football into the same arena so all the spectators can see all the action without needing binoculars. 'We are really building a permanent football stadium that, on the way, is temporarily adapted for a fortnight of athletics, ' says Lumberg.

Three permanent, up to two tier high, concrete stands are already nearing structural completion around the 240m diameter stadium. The fourth stand, closing the circle sited on a large, once derelict, tract of land 2km east of central Manchester, has yet to be started. This will initially be a temporary tubular steel structure with timber decking supporting 10,000 seats.

Around the perimeter of the central area will be a 400m long, eight lane, Olympic standard running track. And over the top will be a cantilevered style aluminium clad roof with its leading edge section translucent to increase light.

That this £8M covering is structurally one of the most innovative fixed stadium roofs yet designed will go unappreciated by crowds enjoying the Commonwealth Games. But the more observant might notice that there is only an open frame, devoid of cladding, over the temporary stand.

The reason for all this unfinished construction is nothing to do with tight building schedules and a lot to do with spectator sight lines and Olympic running tracks. An athletics track is essential for the Commonwealth Games but does not make the most cost effective sporting facility afterwards.

The track's oval shape demands a temporary 'pushed out' stand at one end, with its permanent replacement built 30m closer in once the Games have finished. The lack of roof covering allows the stand's occupants - sitting further away than the permanent roof design caters for - to see the athletics by looking through the open frame.

However, a football stadium needs more seats and a smaller arena. Limiting capacity to 38,000 should create a more intimate and exciting atmosphere during the Games, when Premier League sized crowds are not expected.

So, suggested consultant Arup, why not - while removing the track - excavate the entire area 5m deeper. Put the pitch in the middle and create a new lower seating tier on the battered earth slopes around it. Blinding concrete laid over the slopes is all the foundation needed to support these lower precast seating units, which will boost stadium capacity to 48,000.

'We believe this design approach is at least a UK first, ' says Arup's project manager Martin Austin. ' Everyone will be within 100m of the pitch centre.'

But praise must wait, as the site team concentrates on its tight two year lead up to the Games. The stadium structure must be complete by Christmas, allowing time for lengthy commissioning, and Laing arrived rather late on the scene to start its £90M design and build contract.

Ousting original preferred bidder Amec when the client demanded a rebid, Laing was novated a 70% complete Arup design. Construction is far from straightforward. 'Creating an insitu concrete frame, and then lifting in over 3,800 precast seating units, means crane hook time is a crucial programming factor, ' says Laing engineering manager Neil Kitchener.

The site's unusually early 5am construction start for two of the half dozen tower crane crews is an experiment aimed at hook sharing. From then until 9am the precast gang has priority.

'So far it has proved very successful as, in reality, having precast guys around means there is little voluntary sharing and they tend to hog the hook, ' jokes a clearly experienced Lumberg.

But last week hook time became even more important as the first of over 70 girders was raised onto its temporary stillage in preparation for the next construction stage - erecting the novel yet complex roof structure.

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