New concerns about Mareel brushed off

Shetland Arts has insisted Mareel remains on course to open in late summer or early autumn, amid fresh rumblings that the building project has run into difficulties.

The organisation announced in January that the £12.2 million cinema and music venue’s opening date was being pushed back to around August or September, blaming a prolonged spell of bad weather in the latter part of 2010.

In the weeks since the delay was confirmed, rumours have been circulating that relations between contractors  DITT and design firm Gareth Hoskins Architects have grown increasingly tetchy.

That has prompted SIC councillor Gary Robinson – an outspoken Mareel opponent for many years – to again voice disquiet about what he understood were some “fairly serious” problems at the North Ness site.

“We had our concerns about the whole project at the outset, but we did expect they’d get to the point where it opened first,” he said today. “Much was made about the business plan, but the fact that they’re having diffi­cul­ties at this stage is a major cause for concern.”

DITT director Peter Tait said the company would prefer not to make any comment.

One source with knowledge of the con­struc­tion work admitted there was a “fair amount of grumping” of the sort that com­monly crops up between builders, sub-contrac­tors and architects. But he stressed it was “no more dispute than usual” for projects of this nature.

“It’s a large and complex building,” said the source. “Unforeseen challenges are inevit­able and minor problems are dealt with as they arise. Unfortunately, these minor problems often result in overblown rumours.”

A key difference with previous major building projects in the isles is the fixed price for the £10 million construction contract, meaning missed deadlines could result in additional costs for DITT. Fear of eroding its profit margin means the construction firm will be especially eager to “get the job done on time”, the source suggested.

Shetland Arts director Gwilym Gibbons said it would be “completely inappropriate” for him to comment on relations between vari­ous private contractors. The most important thing, he said, was that the building was now 90 per cent wind and watertight.

Once the remainder of the café and foyer is closed off from the elements, the organisation will be able to commit to a firm opening date and begin booking acts to perform at the venue.

Mr Gibbons said he hoped that mile­stone would be reached within the next month. “We haven’t been notified of any extension of the project other than what we talked about in January,” he said.

Mr Gibbons added: “Shetland Arts is in the business of running arts venues and delivering creative programmes. We rely on our design team and the project management, and with our contractor to deliver the building. Our role kicks in when the key is handed over to us – that’s going to happen eventually, and that’s the exciting thing that we focus on. It’s not going to be that long now.”

Mareel will contain a 700-capacity, 330-seat music auditorium, a 159-seat cinema, a smaller second screen cinema and music recording and rehearsal spaces.


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