Windsor Park setback 'until end of 2016'
A rebuilt Kop stand at Windsor Park may not be ready for 18 months, a construction industry expert has told the Belfast Telegraph.
While understandably there is much focus on whether Northern Ireland will play Romania at Windsor in a Euro 2016 qualifier on June 13, with Ulster Rugby telling the IFA they need to know by Monday if the Kingspan stadium is required for that match, there is growing concern for the long term impact of the structural damage in the Kop stand.
A preliminary structural report from engineers has advised that the stand should be demolished.
That begs the question how long it will take to replace it, setting back the Windsor redevelopment due to have been completed later this year.
Northern Ireland supporters take great pride in creating a fantastic atmosphere from the Kop, as was the case last month when they roared the team on to a vital 2-1 victory over Finland in Group F, with Kyle Lafferty scoring both Northern Ireland’s goals at the Kop end.
Two days later the damage in the Kop stand became apparent.
Kevin McShane, chairman of the Construction Industry Group of Northern Ireland (CIG NI), believes that a replacement stand may not be finished until the final months of next year.
Asked when he felt it would be ready, Mr McShane said: “I would say 18 months from now. I would say that would be realistic.”
On the process of what will happen next, should, as expected, the Kop Stand come down, and when it will end, Mr McShane added: "You are going to have the wranglings over the ground investigations as to what is happening.
"You are going to want to make sure that the ground has stopped moving before you build anything else on it, which means spending time doing investigatory works.
"You are then going to have to come up with a new design as to what you are going to build, you are going to get a price for that new design, you are going to appoint a contractor and then they will have to pre-order the tools which will take months and then you have the construction period. It could be close to the end of 2016."
CIG NI, which Mr McShane represents, is the collective voice of organisations representing those working within the wider Northern Ireland Construction Industry.
He says a complex period for all parties concerned with the Kop Stand at Windsor Park awaits.
"It depends on (a) what are you building, and (b) who is going to build it and how long it is going to take to procure somebody because being the competitive world we are in they aren't just going to go to one person and say give me a price for a new stand.
"That will take months.
"Another key question is how do you take it down.
"You can't really go in with a wrecking ball because bits of stuff could go everywhere, so it has to be taken down in a controlled manner.
"Part of the difficulty is that some of the steel members have become distorted so you are going to have to take the roof off and individually take every member down piece by piece."
The IFA, of course, had hoped to have the modernised 18,000 all seater Windsor Park, with new South and Railway Stands, finished by October this year. The problems with the Kop have changed everything.
While the IFA have confirmed they have received one preliminary report, it is understood they could end up with four independent structural reports in total.
Asked who he thought would end up paying for the new Kop Stand, which will cost between £8million and £10million, Mr McShane said: "That's the million dollar question and whoever can answer that will be a very important person."
As for playing the Romania game at Windsor, with temporary seats in place, which is what the IFA want, the construction expert said: "You obviously have 6,000 seats in the existing North Stand. You could put together 4,000 temporary seats pretty quickly in the new stand (Railway) under construction and put temporary works in to make it safe.
"You could get to a situation where you could get 10,000 seats in the stadium for the June match with Romania, but that would all be on a temporary basis."
While there has been no formal approach from the IFA to Ulster Rugby for the use of the Kingspan Stadium on June 13, private talks have taken place and Ulster Rugby have told the IFA they need to know by Monday if their home venue will be required, given how long it will take them to prepare for such a game.
Also on Monday, IFA President Jim Shaw, Chief Executive Patrick Nelson and Leslie Caul, chairman of the IFA board, will brief DCAL about the situation. Ahead of that, Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill met the IFA yesterday to discuss the latest developments.