Meet the men behind the Páirc Uí Chaoimh re-opening project

Hundreds of people spent thousands of hours developing and constructing the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Here, four of them recount the journey.

THE DESIGN

Bryan Roe – Senior Architect and Director Scott Tallon Walker Architects

Cork GAAhad put together a brief that was given to us through Malachy Walsh, the project managers on Páirc Uí Chaoimh. They requested a proposal from us and, from them, we received a written brief.

The design is our design – there was no preliminary design other than a draft section and a draft section is significantly different to the building now.

It wasn’t a design competition at the interview stage. It was to show capability: how we would approach the Páirc Uí Chaoimh project and the availability of qualified people from our firm to carry out this work.

After we were appointed we looked at various design options. As far as I recall we conceived five. Each design was addressing a different issue.

Then we made a presentation to Cork GAA about six or eight weeks after we were appointed, and then got sign off from them on how we would develop the design.

Our firm designed the Aviva Stadium. When we looked at Páirc Uí Chaoimh what we didn’t have was a railway line going through the middle of the site! Although, historically, there was a railway going through the Páirc Uí Chaoimh site.

The agreement was to redevelop the existing Páirc Uí Chaoimh, it wasn’t to start from scratch again.

At that point Cork County Board had an agreement from Cork City Council with regard to the land the Board would be using. There was a requirement for an artificial practice pitch, and its location had been agreed from a “land use” point of view. A lot of due diligence was carried out before we got the planning application.

In our initial discussion with Cork GAA we did step back and ask, ‘if you were starting again, you might look at a few other things’, but that wasn’t an option available to us under our brief.

If we’d a vision it was to make Páirc Uí Chaoimh as good as it could be within the confines of what we were asked to do. Obviously the Aviva was a different animal; it was an international stadium that would be beamed across the world by the media.

The budget for the new Lansdowne Road was bigger whereas the project in Cork was to address a lot of the shortcomings of the existing stadium, which was built in 1976.

As a result of changes in health and safety legislation and operational requirements, the capacity of the old stadium had been reduced. The tunnel under the stands was very tight and needed to be addressed.

The brief was to design a new South Stand, which would include all the additional accommodation that was required: media facilities, more corporate facilities and facilities for the Centre of Excellence and the players.

All of that had to go in a single entity. These facilities would be used on match day as well as for training, conferences, meetings and concerts. The facilities going in had to have a flexibility to suit that.

And the terraces and the North Stand needed to have certain works carried out to bring them back up to the standard that they needed to be to comply with current regulation. So they were all extended by two or three metres near the top to provide extra capacity. The tunnels are gone.

The two major stadia that we’ve designed are Aviva and Páirc Uí Chaoimh. We’ve worked on some Premiership stadia and we’ve worked in the Middle East. The pinnacle ones will be these two – the Aviva and Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

The Páirc is turning out really well; Sisks have done a fantastic job within quite a tight timeline. Hopefully everybody will be happy.

As an architect you’re obviously showing your wares because everybody sees what it is. But, the other side is whether it actually works.

When things work people don’t tend to notice the building, they just notice what it’s there for which is the match. The stadium becomes the backdrop, it becomes the enabler.

The atmosphere is a big issue. The more enclosed the louder the atmosphere will be because you contain everybody’s voice. If you go to Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, they have a facility where the roof can close and noise increases significantly. The more (noise) leakage you have – open corners etc. – less noise is contained.

Páirc Uí Chaoimh is an open bowl. The three sides are as they were. The North Stand has a roof which will help but there is still has a certain amount of leakage. To get the volume everyone will have to shout that bit louder!

Of course there are things that could be done better. Everything is as a result of the circumstances that existed at the time the decision was made to redevelop the stadium. At the time, when we were awarded the remit to design a new stadium, money was tight.

Based on everything we had at our disposal the stadium is looking very well. Hopefully that will prove to be true when the people who matter - the people who come to visit it, to work in it, watch matches in it, train in it etc. - if they’re happy then our design has worked.

As far as Cork connections go, I have a few. My wife was born in Cork, my mother is from west Cork and my dog was born in Cork! Rugby was more dominant in the family than GAA. My uncle – Robin Roe - played for Ireland and the Lions.

Interview by Edward Newman

THE DRESSING ROOMS

James Hughes, owner, B&K Services Ltd, Blarney

I was primarily involved in the bespoke design, supply and fit out of the dressing rooms as well as the fit out of all kitchen areas in the stadium.

B&K Services is a family-run business on Station Road in Blarney. Generally speaking, our day-to-day business is the bespoke design, supply and fitting of kitchens, bedrooms, home furniture and office furniture, so this type of project was similar to our other commercial work but on a bigger scale.

Having the opportunity to be involved in such a prestigious project as the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh was fantastic for me on a personal level considering the amount of times that I have played in the old stadium with my club Blarney and Cork.

Actually fitting out a dressing room is new work to me, people were saying, ‘this is great, you’ll get more work like this now,’ but there aren’t too many big stadiums being built around the place!

My involvement in the project started when Michael Barrett of Michael Barrett Partnership, the quantity surveyor, contacted me to submit a design for the dressing rooms.

Their benchmark was the quality and standard of dressing rooms fitted in stadiums like the Aviva Stadium and Thomond Park. Following some research, I came up with a few ideas and submitted them for review.

Once we agreed on a design I then created a full-size model of three dressing room berths together, so that the county board could

physically visualize the dressing room set-up. I’m really happy with the final outcome of the work. Hopefully this project will be a springboard for other similar work in the future. The whole stadium is built to the highest modern standards.

The dressing rooms in the old stadium were always fairly tight but in the initial design phase of the redevelopment, the space allocated for dressing rooms this time round was more than sufficient.

There are four dressing rooms, each with 35 spaces allowing them to cater for other sports. For example, if Ireland are lucky enough to secure the 2023 Rugby World Cup, I’ve no doubt that Páirc Uí Chaoimh can cater for such an event.

My element of the project took eight weeks from design to completion. We did have to wait for other trades to complete their work before we could start.

We finished the installation four weeks ago. The county board were very happy with the quality of workmanship and the finish — it’s always great to get positive feedback on your work!

Due to the tight time constraints on the project and the number of contractors onsite at any one time, we were fortunate enough to be able to complete most of the assembly work off-site. Once assembled we would deliver to site and fit. This worked for everyone as it minimised the amount of time we needed to be on a site that was already quite busy.

As things happen, I was involved in the first game in the new stadium, the Premier Intermediate hurling championship against Valley Rovers on Wednesday evening.

I used to play with Blarney though I’m retired now and am involved in coaching the intermediates nowadays. My role as backs coach is very enjoyable and it was nice to be a part of it all.

People have said to me that I swung it so that our game would be the first one but maybe they thought if anything went wrong in the dressing room I’d be in a good position to fix it.

In all seriousness though, it was a real honour for both ourselves and Valley Rovers to be the first two teams to play in the new stadium. And it gave all my team-mates a chance to cast a close critical eye over all of the work!

Interview by Denis Hurley

THE PITCH

Stephen Forrest, owner, Turftech

I became a golf greenkeeper in 1994 and started out my own company in 2004, contracting to golf clubs and it morphed into pitches then. We work with Munster Rugby and the Cork County Board now and I have three full-time employees.

Whether it is a golf course or a rugby or GAA pitch, the basic principles are the same, as long as you understand what game is being played, with a bit of good, solid knowledge you’ll be able to adapt.

If you compare treating a rugby pitch with treating a GAA pitch, you’re doing the very same things but in a slightly different manner to meet a totally different set of criteria. The traction and tolerance expected from a rugby pitch is far greater than that of a GAA pitch. Every sport has its problems, there’s no one sport ideal in terms of the maintenance of a natural grass pitch.

The pitch in Páirc Uí Chaoimh is brand new, starting from scratch. We sat down with the county board and discussed what they felt were going to be usage levels as well as whether it would be a multi-use facility and what they felt those other usages would be. We then designed the pitch around those criteria.

In a stadium environment, there’s really only one grass, dwarf perennial ryegrass. There are thousands of varieties, but as a rule, it’s nearly always used. Croke Park, Thomond Park, the Aviva, every professional stadium in the UK, they all use that and it was felt to be the best choice for Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

We set the seeds on the Friday of the October weekend. We spent about 25 or 30 hours a week there at the start. Because of the time of year, it didn’t need as much attention in relation to physically doing work, but we did need to be on it on a daily basis, making sure that everything was okay, that it was all on schedule and that it was continuing the way that we wanted it to.

While this was going on, we were dealing with Páirc Uí Rinn too. We sat down with the county board at the end of last year and discussed making a big effort on presenting Páirc Uí Rinn to a high standard for the national leagues and we achieved that.

At that time of year, there aren’t a whole lot of club games, so we did have that opportunity to mind the pitch a little bit more. Once club games start, it’s in very heavy use – up until May 23, there were 86 matches played there. It’s an old-fashioned natural pitch and there are no watering facilities but it’s still able to produce the goods.

From March onwards, we started to pick up the pace with the Páirc Uí Chaoimh development and drive on with what’s known as the growing period, in which you’re preparing a pitch for its first use.

“In the old Páirc Uí Chaoimh, there was just the one covered stand but obviously there’s a different set-up in the new stadium. The old uncovered stand, which is now referred to as the North Stand, has a roof and this was something which had to be taken into consideration going all the way back to the initial discussions with the county board at the beginning of the process.

“We’re lucky that the North Stand roof doesn’t have an impact until late in the evening for a short period of the time. The roof on the South Stand is obviously considerably bigger than it used to be and that will have an impact during the winter months. The use of the grow-lighting rigs will be needed to combat that in the winter.

“The training pitch uses a 4G system and we didn’t install that, that was part of the Sisk building contract and a Cork company by the name of Kelly Brothers installed that and they did a fantastic job.

“It’s a top-of-the-line 4G GAA pitch, meeting the specifications laid out by the GAA, which are of a very high standard.”

Interview by Denis Hurley

THE OVERVIEW

Tom O’Brien, resident engineer

I was handed the keys of the old Páirc Uí Chaoimh by the county board on March 20 2015, which was the first day that the works started on site. I’ll be handing the keys of the new stadium back to the county board this week, so I’ll have been on site nearly two and a half years.

I’m resident engineer for Malachy Walsh and Partners, the design consultants and project managers on the project. My role was to bring the design of the new stadium from the design office to the construction site and to monitor the works and make sure the works were carried out as per design, specifications and regulations.

The main contract then started, with Sisk’s, on December 7 2015. They took over the Project Supervisor Construction Stage (PSCS) role and that continues to the handover for the All-Ireland hurling qualifiers.

My role as the resident engineer included pre-pour and post pour checks which included checking the correct reinforcement had been placed in the concrete pour, spacing of re-bar, cleanliness of the shutters and levels of the pours.

Hickey Formwork from Araglin carried out all the insitu concrete. There were approximately 22,000 cubic metres of concrete poured on the project. The groundwork contractor was Tony Kirwan — installing all the foul, storm pipework, electrical ducting and so on.

The new South Stand which was the old covered stand is a three tier five floor stand.

There are 5,300 seats in the first and third tiers and 2,200 seats on the second tier which is the premium level. The ground floor is players, admin staff and stewards only. There are four dressing rooms, two warm-up rooms, four management rooms, two referees rooms, a state of the art gym, physio rooms, first aid rooms.

Level one and three are general public admissions and level two is premium. There are a number of licensed bars, hot and cold food kiosks, shops on all floors. There are conferencing facilities and meeting rooms on the second level along with the tv studio and event control room.

The North Stand, the old uncovered stand, is an 8,000 seater stand. Again here there are a number of licensed bars, hot and cold food kiosks, shops. The only part of the old stadium that is standing today are 44 con

crete legs of the terrace (22 each end). The vomitoriums on the terraces are now half way up the terrace as opposed to the old stadium where they were at the bottom of the terrace. There are seven stairs to access the mezzanine floors that lead you out on to ten vomitoriums for access to the terraces.

Donal Kelly of Ballydesmond built the 4G pitch on the southern side of the South Stand, while Steven O’Brien and Steven Calnan supplied all the gear for the toilets — soap dispensers, paper towel dispensers and so on. Declan Hurley did the structural steelwork for the terraces. As far as we could we employed local businesses.

The hours were eight in the morning to seven in the evening, lads would start arriving on site at half seven, twenty to eight, to start then at eight.

There have been times during the project when we’ve had to go beyond those hours — getting ready for a pour, if it was weather-dependent on the following day then we’d have to work on. The maximum personnel we have had on site in a single day was 555.

The residents’ committee in the area have been very helpful to us, the committee chairman, Paddy Mulley in particular.

There’s been a lot of construction traffic, obviously — there’s been quarter of a million tons of spoil taken from the site.

That’s just spoil, remember - add in construction traffic, concrete trucks, construction plant, machinery hire, pedestrians, workers, and there have been over one million cases of vehicles accessing and leaving the site.

We’ve had a good working relationship with the neighbours, though, we‘ve had very few complaints, and we’ll be handing the building back to the county board then hopefully that good relationship will continue into the future. After two and a half years we’re handing back a good product for the people of Cork, one that hopefully they’ll be proud of.

I’m very proud of the finish to the stadium. We’ve poured a lot of concrete in situ, and the finish of that concrete is excellent.

A lot of the precast concrete came from Banagher, and you’d always have a better finish on precast, but in the new Páirc you can’t distinguish between the two.

The main contact started on December 7 2015, and that was a bad winter. It started raining in the second week of November and continued to St Patrick’s Day 2016.

We were digging the foundations, and the dig level for the foundation of the south stand lifts was four metres underground, but from then on, for the last 15-16 months we can’t complain about the weather, it’s been very good.

When we lifted the roof of the South Stand, that was done in two sections.

There are 20 trusses in the roof which were made up in pairs on the ground outside the South Stand, each pair of trusses weighing 64 tons. We had two separate lifts – 10 trusses before Christmas 2016 and 10 trusses February 2017.

Out of those 10 lifts, we only had one day we couldn’t do the lift because of wind. Apart from the wet weather at the start and that day of wind, the weather’s been very good.

Missing the initial date... we have a programme we work to and it was a tight one. It was unfortunate that day came, just two weeks, three weeks too soon.

If the weather had been good to us early on we’d probably have made it, but at the end of the day it’s patrons’ safety is paramount.

But when people come into the stadium I think they’ll get the wow factor. They’ll see the enormity of the job, and the fact that one or two weeks won’t make that much of a difference.

It’s been a job you’d learn a lot from in terms of engineering, it was excellent in terms of experience — you have major steelwork engineering, a 40-metre cantilever on the south stand roof, which itself is 50 metres long.

Seeing that work alone... that’s anchored from the back and supported on the SF columns, big concrete work, big lift shafts, serious concrete pours, serious floor pours.

And there’s a good satisfaction in dealing with the people in the area. We’ve taken down the hoarding and people can see the pitch and the ground floor of the south stand — people are stopping workers and saying ‘congrats, it’s a super job’.

I’m from Ballydehob in west Cork — my dad has The Irish Whip pub there, home to Danno Mahoney, the ex world wrestling champion — and I’ve been involved with Gabriel Rangers all my life. We’d have gone to Páirc Uí Chaoimh for years following Cork, we’d know it well.

Going into it all along, of course it was run-down and well overdue the revamp. That’s why I’ve referred to the finish, which is so high-quality.

The North Stand has a big concourse underneath, for instance, compared to the old tunnel where you’d have thousands of people in together after a game.

Now you have four big exit gates and you’ll be able to get the crowd — 45,000 patrons — out in six and a half minutes.

Being a GAA man and working on the project — it’s been a dream job, really.

Interview by Michael Moynihan


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