© 2017 The Harpenden Society
Plans for Harpenden’s new Arts and Leisure complex in Rothamsted Park, outlined in our Winter 2016 Newsletter, were fleshed out in considerably greater detail at an exhibition in the town’s Park Hall in mid-August. The allocated budget has been upped by £800,000 to £18.8 million and the scheme was said by St Albans District Council officials at the July event to be going ahead on schedule. The new multi-function sports centre is due for completion in late 2019, with the theatre and arts hub following 12 months later.
Those heading the project say many of the comments and suggestions put forward by residents, following the initial unveiling of the scheme last year, have been heeded in drawing up the more detailed proposals on show at the August exhibition.
For example, the entrance to the new theatre and arts hub, which is being housed within the shell of the present sports centre, will comprise a wheelchair-accessible approach via a wide sweeping ramp on the west side of the building leading up to a spacious foyer at first floor level. (below) The foyer and its adjacent café/bar will afford uninterrupted views across the park.
Considerable attention has been paid in the updated proposals to the area of the park which currently separates, by a hundred yards or so, the swimming pool from the sports centre. Described in the plans as either an ‘activity square’ or a ‘focal space’, it is planned as an attractively landscaped open space, incorporating two of the park’s existing oak trees.
Because of the ground level difference between the new complex’s two main buildings, the area is bordered on the new sports centre side by a large area of terracing edged with stepped grass banks which sweep round the east side of the (essentially unchanged) swimming pool building. On the south – lower – side it is bordered by a long ‘sinuously curving’ timber bench.
A 511-seat banked auditorium will occupy the main part of the new theatre and arts ‘hub’ building. The proposals include ‘Bleacher’ seating for the theatre; it can be mechanically compacted into a relatively small space when not in use, thereby maximising the level floor area available for, say, dancing.
Discussions with Harpenden Local History Society are ongoing with respect to the provision of a museum facility on the ground floor of the arts hub building, below the aforementioned first-floor foyer and adjacent café/bar. The plans show a 480sq ft museum archive room, next to a larger 630sq ft ‘meeting room’ in which regular HLHS exhibitions can be staged, but which would be available for a variety of arts/cultural functions.
Controversy looks likely to surround the proposal to wholly or partially remove the long 7- or 8ft-high beech hedge which presently borders the green space around the swimming pool. That is necessary, say the planners, to make room for the all-new 6800sq ft sports hall and its adjacent smaller activity ‘studios’ being grafted on to the south-west end of the swimming pool building, largely retained but extended to accommodate a larger 1830sq ft learner pool.
Importantly, for many users of the new sports and leisure complex, a new 110-space car park is planned on an area of ground on the west side of the new sports centre, which is currently used, irregularly, by Harpenden Town Football Club. It is described as a ‘green’ car park, being paved in pre-cast Grasscrete cellular concrete slabs which allow grass to grow through its interstices, giving the appearance, from a distance, of greensward. Another benefit is that it is self draining.
It has yet to be decided whether use of the new green car park should be restricted to users of the sports and leisure centre and, if so, how that would be monitored/enforced.