Work begins on £26m replacement for Guildford’s Civic Hall

Work has finally got underway in Guildford to create a £26 million replacement for the Civic Hall, following years of uncertainty.

The Civic closed in January 2004 and several different plans have since been put forward to replace the theatre, including an ambitious joint project with the University of Surrey on its Stag Hill campus. However, Guildford Borough Council has now reverted to its original proposals of keeping the Civic on its current site near the city centre.

Demolition work on the old Civic, which was built in 1962, has begun and is expected to be finished by the end of the month. Building will then start on its replacement with completion due for autumn 2011. The new arts and entertainment venue will feature a main auditorium with room for 1,000 seats or 1,700 standing, as well as a 150-seat studio theatre, conference and function rooms and bars and cafes.

Nigel Manning, lead member for procurement, projects and performance for the council, said: “It is great to see the development of the new entertainment venue move forward with the start of demolition work. The new building will provide an exciting main auditorium, versatile studio space, function and seminar rooms. These will help to attract a wide range of high quality entertainment for Guildford residents and visitors to enjoy.”

The theatre will host a mixed programme of rock concerts, classical music and theatre – a similar line-up of events to the old Civic. It is being designed by architects Austin Smith Lord and built by construction firm Willmott Dixon, which has also recently worked on the new-build theatre in Aylesbury.

Project director Norman King explained that the main auditorium would feature retractable seating and an orchestra pit with a “retractable lifting platform” so that the space could host both rock and orchestral concerts. In an attempt to keep the building’s carbon dioxide footprint low, it will also be fitted by its own biomass boiler which will run off wood chips to be sourced locally.

The full costs of the scheme will be met by Guildford Borough Council. Further funding of £10 million was agreed at a meeting of full council in May, which enabled the development to commence on the existing Civic Hall site. The final cost is currently estimated at £26m.

When complete, the new venue will be run by an external operator. A tendering process to decide who this will be will be announced prior to the completion of the theatre.

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