by Marcus Mabberley

CONSTRUCTION work at the Aldershot Centre for Health is ahead of schedule with work continuing at a smooth pace, says Steve Cooper, the site’s project manager.

Mr Cooper told the News that the 13,500sq m development at Hospital Hill would be the envy of authorities across the country.

“It’s a mammoth project to undertake,” he said. “It’s a pilot scheme as it is the largest centre for health that has ever been constructed in the United Kingdom.

“It’ll be a wonderful thing for the town of Aldershot, the surrounding community and the Army.

“At the moment, I am very proud of what we have achieved so far. It has gone to programme and we are ahead of schedule at the moment by about eight or nine days despite the recent bad weather which has been a bit disruptive.

“I’m absolutely confident that it will be ready for February next year and we will make it work.”

The frame of the four-storey building is now in place, with work currently being carried out on its 225-space car park.

The military and Hampshire Primary Care Trust will share the 770-room health centre.

Alfred McAlpine, the main building contractor behind the scheme, began enabling work in December 2005 when more than 1,300 lorryloads of earth were excavated in order for the building to be sunk into ground and to make way for the main car park.

Mr Cooper said: “The initial part was the muck shift and then we completed the main excavations, which were finalised by March last year.

“We began construction work on the frame in August. Between March and then the contracts for the users were being tied up and specifications for the rooms were being finalised and signed off.”

Each of the rooms, down to the storage cupboards and toilets, has been meticulously planned.

“Every switch, socket and where every chair is going to be placed has been planned for,” Mr Cooper said.

“It’s going to be there and people will be able to learn from it. I understand that a smaller health centre that is being constructed in Malvern in Worcestershire has taken things from the design of this building.” 

Currently the number of workers on site fluctuates between 80 and 100, but that figure will balloon to more than 300 when work on the internal fittings begins.

Mr Cooper said: “Outside of those numbers we have design teams, structural designers, a client team and architects involved in the project.”

One of the main concerns surrounding the design was the environmental impact of the site and the ways that it could be environmentally friendly.

McAlpine has built two ponds to cater for a once-in-100-year storm. The ponds will catch and store all rain and run-off water from the centre.

Mr Cooper said: “The water is retained so it does not go into the local sewers.

“Water is discharged into an initial attenuation pond where the water is held in store. If that fills up then it will flow into the lower storage pond.

“The water will then naturally soak into the ground — it may be full at some point or it may always remain empty, but it’s there for environmental issues.”

“The pond construction is quite impressive and it looks like a classic job — but it’s a pity that it is buried among trees.

“We’ve also retained as many trees as we can. Some trees have been very close to where we have been working but we’ve made sure that we haven’t damaged them.”

Aldershot has been without a major health centre since the Cambridge Military Hospital and its Louise Margaret maternity section closed a decade ago.

Mr Cooper added: “The aim as I understand it now is to bring these sorts of medical facilities into the community rather than having centralised hospitals.

“This is somewhere where people will be able to walk in and access diagnostic facilities, mental health wards, physiotherapy, dental services and GP surgeries all on the same plot.

“When I talk to people about this site they assume that it’s just a few GP surgeries and maybe a few consulting rooms but it’s nothing like that.

“Every site is unique. The topography here makes it separate from anything else that I’ve worked on in the past.”

The project is part of the Considerate Constructors Scheme, a company that assesses developments’ compliance to a code of considerate practice.

In a report from the scheme issued in October it stated that the site was complying at a “very high standard”.

It added: “This is a major project in a sensitive area that is well set up and giving a good impression of the industry to the military personnel and the local community.

“It is committed to causing the very least inconvenience as is possible to the local environment and air traffic services.”