BAM Construction used all its skills and experience to turn a slice of Manchester’s industrial past into a football facility fit for the future.

The polluted 34ha site that Premier League 2013/14 Champions Manchester City wanted turning into the £200M City Football Academy was given major remediation work before being handed in stages to BAM in late 2012.

Pad foundations were then put in place on engineered fill, with stone columns used to strengthen those that would sit beneath the Arena buildings in the north-west corner of the site.

Two buildings to accommodate the multi-million-pound first team players and their successors in the academy were the first to start as they were the most complex structures.

However, almost as soon as the project began in earnest, it faced a major challenge in the shape of the notorious Manchester weather.

“It rained and rained over the winter of 2012/13,” says BAM project manager Lee Bibby. “We had a limit on how much water we could discharge to the sewer system, so we had to dig out huge bunds to store it temporarily on site.”

Deciding which parts of the site, destined to become a world class football facility, to turn into massive lakes was a horrible choice to be faced with.

“We couldn’t use the areas we needed to build structures on, so we had no option but to dig up the pitch areas and use those,” says Lee.

“We really didn’t want to risk ruining the subsoil before we even started creating the pitches but we didn’t have a choice. We had to use these areas.”

So a few months in, areas of the site looked more like a boat lake than somewhere that some of the best footballers in the world were to hone their skills.

Then as the weather improved in the spring, the water was pumped out to the sewers, and a new problem was faced – how to dry out the soil.

“With the environmental commitments we had made, no spoil could be taken off site,” says Lee. “We were excavating for swimming pools and foundations as well as recovering material from the bunds. We had to find space on site to store and dry it all.”

A team was set up solely to deal with transporting and drying out the sub soil around the vast site.

Meanwhile the construction project continued apace, with the concrete frames for the First Team and Academy buildings going up at the heart of the site – the Central Training Facility (CTF).

Between these buildings sits the Covered Pitch, for poor weather training, featuring a 70m clear span steel truss frame covering the pitch.

“This was a major technical challenge,” says Lee. “Each of the trusses had to be erected in three sections using three mobile cranes.”

All other work had to be stopped on this part of the site while the lifts took place, so time was of the essence and tight planning was required.

“It was a major lift operation, so everyone was very focused,” says Lee. “It went well and it looks impressive.”

As the frames went up on the three main buildings, cladding began using insulated panels with a feature bullnose façade. The buildings were watertight by the end of 2013, meaning work on the internal spaces – including the high-specification bedrooms – could begin.

First team players sleep in the bedrooms the night before home games to ensure their environment and routine is controlled as much as possible. As such they needed to meet very specific dimensions, quality standards as well as acoustic and light issues.

“We had lots of design meetings to work out how we could achieve these aims within the structure, which was challenging for a number of reasons, not least because the building has many other functions – some which are very noisy,” says Lee.

“Soundproofing was a massive issue, with players sleeping – sometimes in the afternoon – above gyms and skills rooms and close to outdoor football pitches.

“We built bedroom mock-ups offsite to allow us, the client, subcontractors and even players to come and see how it would work and to give and receive feedback.

“This meant we were fully prepared to start the construction in earnest once the building was weathertight.”

As the main CTF buildings, along with a related energy centre and substation were finished off, work was also ongoing creating 15 full sized outdoor pitches, as well as the half-sized training pitch. This was quite a process in itself.

One of the pitches was made to replicate exactly the playing surface at the club’s Etihad Stadium, to give the players the best possible preparation for home games.

Modern football pitches are a far cry from the mudbaths of the 1970s and 80s. They are made up of a combination of sandy soils with containing both natural and artificial grass. The latter is actually sewn into the ground using specialist plant, resembling giant sewing machines.

“These were in high demand ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro so we had to plan ahead to make sure we could secure two for the massive task we needed them for,” says Lee.

The Arena, in the north-west corner of the site, also includes the Manchester City Football Club headquarters as well as those for its wider international operations for New York City, Melbourne City and Yokahama Marinos.

After two years of sweat and tears, the scheme was handed over in stages through autumn 2014, allowing the players to begin using it to prepare for Premier League and Champions League matches.

“This was a very tough project,” says Lee. “There were programme pressures, technical difficulties and evolving requirements. It had to be at the forefront of what was possible – and what was possible kept changing.

“Our team performed brilliantly, often working very long hours to get finished – weekends did not exist towards the end – but it was so satisfying to see the staff and players’ reaction when starting using it. They were all blown away.”

As a lifelong supporter of the team, the project was extra special for Lee.

“It was great – and the club really made us feel as though we were making a difference. To see what we’ve done on this site in two years – it’s massive.”