National contractor Brymor Construction has recently completed a new ‘Exploria’ attraction as part of a major revamp of Pyramids leisure centre in Portsmouth.
Pyramids has been a popular and well-known leisure centre in Portsmouth for generations of families and visitors since its construction three decades ago. Now, a new attraction built by Brymor Construction – Exploria – has opened as part of a major revamp at the landmark complex at Southsea. The large ‘play and bounce’ adventure play centre has breathed new life into the complex, replacing its ageing and loss-making swimming pool.
Pyramids – which opened in 1988 – is run by leisure and event operator BH Live on behalf of Portsmouth City Council. The city council instructed Portsmouth-based Brymor – an £85m-turnover firm with 160 staff – to create Exploria in the Clarence Esplanade area of the centre.
Brymor Chairman, Stephen Morton, said: “Although we serve multiple sectors across the country, it was an absolute pleasure to carry out this work on our doorstep for BH Live and Portsmouth City Council.
“It means that the much-loved Pyramids has been updated from an ageing facility into a modern leisure centre, which can be enjoyed by families for years to come, including many Brymor employees.”
Pyramids was reaching the end of its design life when Portsmouth City Council decided on the revamp. The building opened in 1988 and was originally designed to last 30 years.
It became well known as a live music venue over the years, as well as for its leisure pool, gym and fitness centre. However, its pool was ageing and had become loss-making, with a multi-million-pound investment required for refurbishment to allow it to remain open. The council took the difficult decision to instead repurpose the space for a new facility that would serve local people and visitors.
Work on the project was completed during the pandemic and included the removal and isolation of all swimming pool machinery. Mechanical and electrical services were overhauled to improve reliability, efficiency and sustainability. Existing air-handling units were refurbished, new power systems fitted and solar shading installed on a high-level glazed atrium to prevent solar gain in the summer months.
The project also involved redecoration, upgrading and maintenance with general cleaning, duct cleaning and repairs.
For Exploria, a reception, locker rooms, toilets and cafe were built to deliver a high-quality customer experience for parents, carers and guardians, as well as children.
Specialist subcontractor House of Play was employed to design and install Exploria with play and bounce equipment including climbing frames, interactive play and slides. Most features were manufactured off site and then erected at Pyramids, like a big jigsaw puzzle.
Described as ‘a world of fun and wonder’, Exploria boasts three adventure worlds: Junior Play Zone, Baby and Toddler Zone and Bounce Activity Zone.
They include challenging climbs, slippery slides, ball pits, rope bridges, spider webs, interactive play, bash bags, dive platforms, stunt boxes and foam pits. Other elements include mazes, tunnels, ball cannons, racing slides, battle and balance beams, log rolls, a drive tower, dodge ball and an interactive play wall.
Exploria’s Junior Play and Bounce Zones are primarily aimed at five to 12 year olds, while the Baby and Toddler Zone includes downsized fun for younger visitors and their parents/carers.
There are also party rooms themed as an Egyptian tomb, Mayan ruins, a volcano and a waterworld.
Exploria was created to be 100% compliant with disability accessibility guidance, including toilets, rest/seating areas and the cafe. There is level access in and out of the building, with no steps or ramps. One additional feature is an interactive sensory room, which supports exclusive, scheduled sessions for children with autism and other learning difficulties.
Challenges during the construction included allowing continued access to Pyramids’ gym and fitness facilities, which remained open to the public. Brymor erected screens to a bridge that linked to the building during the course of works. Brymor’s team were also faced with design challenges to create a bespoke, new facility in an unorthodox building, yet this also provided the opportunity for a blank canvas to create an exciting and innovative attraction.
Extracting the swimming pool and associated machinery under tight space constraints was also factored into project timescales – taking into account the centre’s location immediately next to the beach and just 25m from the sea.
The lion’s share of work was carried out during the pandemic, with close communication between Brymor, the city council and operators to agree safe and suitable scheduling and ways forward during the nine-month lifespan of the project.
Stephen Morton added: “There were a number of challenges, not least those posed by the pandemic. This had an effect at an operational level but we were also well aware how difficult a time it was for the council and the leisure industry in general.
“A collaborative approach was important and we were keen to see Portsmouth City Council’s vision for the Pyramids made reality with an exciting attraction to help ensure the viability of the centre in the coming years. We are proud to have been a trusted contractor for the council on this project.”
Under the revamp, more people of all ages are expected to use Pyramids to get active and have fun. Families, tourists and visitors have been flocking to enjoy Exploria, especially with an influx of holidaymakers and ‘staycationers’ over the summer. Crucially, it has also provided an all-weather destination for families when the great British summer delivered rain rather than sunshine.
Brymor has a long track record in leisure over many years, including leisure and fitness centres, swimming pools, hotels, theatres and entertainment venues – understanding the sector’s particular challenges and the importance of working closely and collaboratively with clients. This fast-evolving and competitive sector often requires high-quality solutions with innovative designs, specialist equipment and bespoke fittings to create exciting attractions for an enhanced customer experience.
The ‘best-in-class’ project in Portsmouth has given young adventurers the chance to explore their very own pyramid while ensuring a local landmark in Portsmouth has a bright future for many years to come.