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Wigan Life Centre: northern verve

The Wigan Life Centre is part of a multi-million pound council regeneration scheme designed to breathe new life into the town. Martin Cooper reports.

In these uncertain times any variance from the norm is likely to cause a collective shudder from communities across the UK. But Wigan Council has no such fears: it is confidently broadcasting to its 81,000 residents that ‘Wigan is changing’.

This phlegm is backed up by a council scheme, known as the Unitary Development Plan, which is currently in full swing. Councillors want to promote the town centre as the preferred location for retail, leisure and office developments, while simultaneously halting the trend towards out-of-town locations.

The most recently completed stage in this development was the £80M Grand Arcade, which provides more than 37,000m2 of retail floorspace and a new Debenhams department store right in the middle of Wigan.

Next phase

The next stage in the plan is the construction of the Wigan Life Centre, a project described as a one-stop-shop for council and partner services and a Healthy Living Zone, which includes a health suite and a new swimming pool.

Spread across two sites - north and south, which are separated by council offices - the project has brought much-needed employment into the town. Written into the contract with main contractor Morgan Sindall is a commitment that local people will be employed whenever possible; two-thirds of those on site are from the Wigan area and most of the subcontractors are local.

Two-thirds of those on site are from the Wigan area and the majority of the subcontractors are local

Structural steelwork is playing a major role on this project - as it did on the Grand Arcade. It is the south site where the majority of the project’s steelwork will be installed to form the Healthy Living Zone. Included in this building are a 25m long swimming pool; a 13m learners pool, a gymnasium; two aerobics studios, and steam and sauna facilities.

Built on the site of the town’s old swimming pool, the new structure makes use of the old basement level, which was retained after demolition. The building has four levels, including the basement, with both swimming pools located on the suspended first floor level.

Major challenge

One of the project’s most challenging aspects is along the eastern facade where a 37m-long by 7m deep king truss has been erected to help create the area for the main pool.

Weighing 53t, the truss will support two floors and the roof above the centre’s swimming pool. Steelwork contractor Elland Steel brought the truss to site in six sections, assembled it on the ground and then lifted into place during a 10-hour operation.

Elland Steel’s contracts manager Adrian Smith, says: “We needed a 1,000t capacity mobile crane to lift the truss. The actual lifting of the truss to full height only took about 10 minutes, but it had to be held in position by the crane while the infilling steelwork was attached and this took all day.”

Spanning from the top boom of the truss to the western facade of the structure is a series of 28m long trusses, which form the pool’s roof. Constructed from 150mm x 150mm hollow sections, these trusses are brought to site in two equal halves, before being assembled and then lifted into place as complete units.

Lack of space

Space is at a premium; when the king truss was erected there was sufficient room to assemble it on site before the lifting procedure. By the time the smaller roof trusses were erected, the main structure had also been erected eating up all available lay down areas, so these trusses were assembled on the completed fourth floor level slab, before being lifted into place.

The roof trusses are multi-purpose as they also support two cantilevers on level two. These protruding floors, which overlook either side of the main pool, are hung from the trusses above.

“We’ve installed padstones all the way around the retained facade to accept the new steelwork”

Brian Barritt, Morgan Sindall


“As the roof trusses are some of the final steel elements to be erected, we’ve had to install temporary steel to support the cantilevers,” says Smith.

Fifty metres up the road on the north site, around 500t of structural steelwork will be erected by Elland Steel. This part of the project will eventually house the council’s one stop shop for information and services; health and community matters, citizens advice and tourist information. On the ground floor the structure will also incorporate a library and a central glazed atrium.

In order to incorporate the sloping site into the design, this four-storey steel framed structure has a ground floor front entrance on what is the third floor level at the back of the building.

“A large cut and fill operation will be required once the structure is complete,” explains Morgan Sindall senior contracts manager Brian Barritt. “This maintains the street levels at the front of the building with the rest of the town centre.”

Three sides of the new structure will feature a retained facade from the former council library building. These walls have been underpinned and propped prior to the erection of the new steel framed innards. “We’ve installed padstones all the way around the retained facade to accept the new steelwork,” adds Barritt. “As the work has progressed we’ve also had to conduct weekly checks on the facade, just to make sure it has remained in position.”

The Wigan Life Centre is scheduled to complete by late 2011.


Good neighbour policy

Busy construction sites in bustling town centres can quite often be the source of major headaches for contractors and an inconvenience for shoppers and visitors.

Avoiding this is of upmost importance to Morgan Sindall and to its senior contracts manager Brian Barritt. “We want the local population to have a positive perception of the site. There’s no congestion, no litter or obstructions around the site and as little noise as possible. People see the projects, but are able to carry on with their day-to-day business,” he says.

To achieve this, deliveries of materials to site are all scheduled around a just-in-time basis as there is little room for storage on site or even around the site.

This has not had any negative impact on the job or the steel programme. “The only exception to this rule was when we installed the large 37m-long truss,” says Elland Steel contracts manager Adrian Smith.

“All steelwork was delivered and assembled on site, but we had to get, and received, permission from the local authority to assemble the 1,000t crane on an adjacent street the day before the lift and then de-rig it the day after,” he adds.

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