A towering city centre eyesore is to be demolished brick by  brick as work gets under way at  last on Chester’s long-awaited  new theatre.

‘Surgical deconstruction’ of Commerce House in Hunter Street will  begin in October, to make way for  the £37m theatre.

Manchester-based specialists Vale  Park Demolition Services, will move  on site to begin work on the £237,000  contract to painstakingly remove  the universally loathed eight floor  office block from Chester’s skyline.

Built in the 1960s, the third tallest  building in the city centre – behind  the Cathedral and Town Hall – will  become the site of the theatre’s  800-seat auditorium, orchestra pit  and backstage facilities.

Vale Park contracts manager Tom  Perks said: “This will not be demolition in the strictest sense of the  word. It will be surgical de-construction, floor by floor, piece by piece,  brick by brick.”

 

Company structural engineers  have already inspected the 100ft high  building to check the construction  techniques used in the sixties to  ensure there are no hidden problems.

“We are well aware of all the considerations posed by such a restricted site. Commerce House stands   adjacent to King Street properties,  local authority offices and the main  city centre bus station,” said Mr  Perks.

“The sensitive location of the site  has been the main consideration  throughout the process of planning  our de-construction of the building.

“The whole of Commerce House  will be scaffolded and screened and  all residents will see is the building  reduced in size floor by floor until  there is literally nothing left.”

Graham Lister, theatre project director, and Tom Perks met King  Street residents on Wednesday to  discuss the 18-week contract which  will involve around 250-300 wagon  loads of rubble removed from the  site.

Burning on site will not be allowed; continual damping down will  minimise dust generation; areas  around Commerce House, including  the public highway will be swept  regularly and skips and removal  vehicles will be covered when leaving the site.

The contract will also endeavour to  ensure the absolute minimum disruption to Chester’s bus services,  traffic flow and resident’s parking.

The first phase, apart from the  removal of residual fittings, will be  the removal of asbestos by specialist  sub contractors under strict Health  and Safety Executive guidelines.

Cllr Stuart Parker, executive member for culture, said: “The end of  Commerce House will herald the  beginning of a new exciting era for  Chester.

“A tremendous amount of work  has gone on behind the scenes but  this very disciplined operation will  be the first real signs for the Chester  public that work on their new  theatre has begun.

“Whatever happens we will ensure  that residents are kept informed at  all stages and everything that can be  done, is done to mitigate the effects  on their lives and the environment.”

Chester Performs project manager  Andrew Bentley said: “The theatre  is getting under way just as Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre welcomes its 15,000th customer – more  than 50% up on last year.

“It all goes to show that the appetite for this beautiful new theatre  is as strong as ever. It’s absolutely  brilliant to see the first tangible  signs of the new building.”

Labour Cllr Samantha Dixon added: “The demolition of Commerce  House is a long-awaited but welcome  signal of intent from the council.

“I expect residents directly affected, as  well as those in the wider community, to be  involved in every step of this journey. From  this point forward, it is essential that local  people are at the forefront of the project  team's plans.”

Commerce House stands in Chester’s  central conservation area and required  demolition consent form the Department  for Communities and Local Government.

Its situation within the site of the city’s  Roman Fortress means that archaeological  trial digs will be carried out to explore the  possibility of unearthing remains of importance warranting preservation within  the foundations of the new building.