Orkney's new hospital takes shape

Building work on Orkney's new hospital on the outskirts of Kirkwall is continuing at pace. Richard Clubley has been along to the site to see the progress for himself.

There are many architectural similarities between Durham and St Magnus cathedrals. Accepted wisdom is that the Durham church was completed only a year or two before work started in Kirkwall.

Masons, thrown out of work by the ending of the Durham project, made their way north and set about building St Magnus. Masons have always been itinerant craftsmen. ‘Give us a bag of chisels and we can go anywhere,' said Colin Watson, shortly before he retired recently as mason at St Magnus.

I wonder what accommodation Earl Rognvald provided for his new workers as they arrived. Some will have been young men, ready to spend their entire careers building in Orkney, some may have been close to retirement. Nevertheless, they were highly valued, skilled men and would have needed some home comforts, especially through the Orkney winters.

Chris Noble is senior manager at the new hospital site in Kirkwall. 'The company has provided me with a house nearby, I have my dog for company and we walk on Scapa Beach every day,’ he said.

I like to think the St Magnus masons will have been equally well looked after.

An aerial view of what Orkney's new hospital will look like once it's completed

Chris kindly agreed to show me round the site and explain where they had got to in the various areas. He is just 41 and has risen through the ranks of the building trade to this massively responsible and challenging job. He works six days a week, twelve hours a day for three weeks, before getting a week off to visit south.‘I had to give some thought to the implications of being away from home for these periods but what an opportunity,’ he told me.‘There are plenty of big building projects but how many people can say they built a hospital in Orkney?’ he said.

The site off New Scapa Road is a hive of activity at the moment

Safety is paramount. Before setting foot beyond the barriers I was kitted out with hi-vis jacket, hard hat and neoprene gloves (in case I fell). We could only walk along demarcated footpaths. From the top of the road, where it bends near the Highland Park distillery, the site is laid out like a child’s play area with giant Tonka Toys and tiny figures.

The huge steel frame is currently being constructed

The first steel structure to go up will house the operating theatres on the top floor. By the time you read this even more will have been added. The blue cranes belong to Orkney based Heddle Construction and there are many other local contractors and suppliers working there too. The project is on time at present but the capricious Orkney weather can intervene at any moment. If there are high winds the cranes must stop, so winter will be a telling time, hopefully all the steel will be up by then. Chris’s main job is to keep the project on track and this is all about forward planning. The day before my visit the first, pre-cast concrete stairways had gone into the steel shell. ‘It was a relief when they fitted,’ admitted Chris, ‘now we can get to the first level to put the floor in. If the floor isn’t in when the windows arrive then we fall behind. Everything is ordered to happen on a certain date and the challenge is to keep up.’

The new hospital building rising above the path down Foreland Road in Kirkwall

The process is just the same at my new house in Orphir, only the scale and the time allowed is different. Bob, my builder, still had to have the windows ready as the walls went up. The front of the hospital site (near the new, Scapa roundabout) will be the carpark. Facing the Crantit trail area is a giant pond to take surface runoff water. At the other side, the next bit of steel erection, will be the ‘energy centre’ for the hospital – housing the heating plant, machinery, oxygen supplies etc. This will keep the clinical and ward areas uncluttered.

Everything has been thought of. All is on course for spring 2019. Orcadians will be absolutely thrilled with what they see when the screens come down and the ribbon is cut. If you don’t believe me then take a walk past the front and look at the artist’s impression on the big sign.

Click on the images above to see artist's impressions of what the completed building will look like.

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