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.