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Builders blast through solid rock to make way for Lathbury sports complex

Over 60,000 cubic metres of rock – the equivalent of 24 Olympic swimming pools – has been excavated from the Lathbury Barracks site as part of contruction work on new sporting facilities.

The scheme was described yesterday by Steven Linares, the Minister for Sport, as “the biggest and most complex” of the various sports infrastructure projects currently under way ahead of the 2019 Natwest International Island Games.

The development, which will house athletics, football and swimming, along with two floors of car parking spaces and commercial storage facilities, is being constructed on what was described as a “rock solid base”.

The “enormity of the project” was highlighted by the Minister for Sport, Steven Linares, during a tour of the construction site yesterday.

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Mr Linares explained that up to seven metres of rock had been blasted out in what used to be the main parade ground area between the Buffadero Training camp and the Retrenchment Block.

The rock itself is being transferred to the area of Coaling Island where it is being “stockpiled” for later use.

“It looks like jetty being built at Coaling Island but in fact it’s a stockpile of rock,” Mr Linares said.

“Later it will be used for the reclamation project planned for Coaling Island itself.”

This would “reduce the number of movements” of rock, with “hundreds of truckloads” of rock transported from the Lathbury site to Coaling Island.

“Rightly so, there have been complaints by many people of the number of lorries passing through the area, and it’s true, hundred’s do,” he said, as he showed journalists around the site.

“It’s the biggest of all the projects and engineering-wise it’s the most complex.”

Developers also highlighted that the presence of Devil’s Bellow tunnel and small roads leading out of the site meant that small trucks had to be used, therefore increasing the frequency of usage.

Charles Savignon, project manager for the sports complex, also explained that the process of blasting the rock had itself presented one of the “biggest challenges”.

To dig down into the parade ground area, specialists used a new technique involving gas canisters embedded into the rock and expansion to blast through it.

This was the “first time such a technique had been used” and there were challenges due to the differences in the geological aspects of the terrain.

“Even though it all looks to be solid rock there are fissures which affect the way the gas expands” Mr Savignon said, as he explained that even the specialist team had themselves “been learning with the project”.

Problems were also encountered in relation to service areas laid out in the past and heritage sites such as gun emplacements.

These, alongside some “military tunnels which even the MOD were not always aware of”, had led to the project going slower than expected.

Other challenges included the need to re-route some of the services.

However, the site project manager highlighted some of the positives.

“Not many people know but we brought over some of the old gunners who manned the guns located in the area,” he said.

“So, we had some 80-year olds visiting and shown the guns. That was quite emotional, and that is what it is about as this is a community project.”

Working alongside the Gibraltar Museum and Gibraltar Heritage Trust, the project has seen all heritage aspects recorded before construction proceeded.

The sports complex is due to be completed by April 2019.

Although at present the site only includes the large hole blasted from solid rock along with a two-storey structure where the athletics and football will be located, with no structure yet existing for the swimming pool, the project manager was positive “it will be completed in time.”

Mr Linares pointed out that “although we’re nexpecting the project to be completed in time for the Island Games, there is already a back-up plan.”

The use of GASA and Nuffield Pool were among two of the options left open as a contingency plan.

Already the lower car park area which is expected to house 960 vehicles has “been purchased by Bassadone for the use their white cars,” Mr Linares confirmed.

The government will also be making available storage facilities in the upper deck of the underground car park for commercial use, adding to the economic viability of the project.

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