Turning Buxton’s historic Crescent into a five-star hotel and spa is not just a £50m restoration marvel - it is also a ‘true feat of engineering’.
Work started on the Grade I-listed building back in early 2016, and the long-awaited redevelopment is said to be still on track to open in 2019.
But for the construction team it has presented many challenges along the way, including one involving the project’s biggest steel installations which is now complete.
Dave Spacey, development manager with the Trevor Osborne Property Group, said: “So much work has gone into getting the development structurally sound.
“There has been just as many wheelbarrows full of concrete and measuring up for big supporting frames as there has been historic research and restoring original features - it is a true feat of civil engineering.”
The floor of the Assembly Room, a former 18th century ballroom once home to the town’s library, has needed to be reinforced.
Dave said: “We have used huge steel beams to take the weight of the floor.
“It is the biggest steel installation of its kind on the project and it’s really important because we need to know it is going to keep people safe. The library moved out because the floor wasn’t strong enough, so we are fixing it.
“We are trying to keep as many original features as possible so this means doing the repair work under the floor, then installing a false ceiling so the work can’t be seen from the rooms below.
“It is a shame that most of the big projects that have taken place over the past two years are similar to these beams. The work and attention to detail shown by all the contractors is wonderful, however they are behind-the-scenes projects that come opening day will have all been nicely covered up, plastered over and painted, and so will never be seen.
“But without this work we cannot progress to the next level of development, so everyone relies on each other as we push towards the completion of the hotel.”
For those who remember the building in its former guise, things will look much different when it re-opens next year. A new restaurant, spa cafe and rooftop pool are all in the process of being constructed.
“This is something a bit special,” explained Dave.
“We are not only making an indoor pool, but there will be an adjoining outdoor pool where people can duck under the divide and swim around outside in a pool open to the elements, then come back in for a nice warm and enjoy the rest of the spa treatment experience.”
While the weather so far has been relatively kind to the project, Dave admits a big snowfall could set things back weeks “as we will need to wait for everything to properly dry”.
Over 100 workers are usually on site daily, working on all aspects of the project.
The ladies and gents pools in the new spa area have required particular attention and renovation.
Four months has been spent rebuilding the ladies pool using reinforced concrete, and a five-week water test has so far revealed no leaks.
Once drained, it will have to be re-tiled.
“We have been really lucky,” said Dave. “We have managed to find an exact replica of the original tiles which we will be using to line the pool.
“It is these little details that take our work to the next level. There is a great team working to source matches and restore originals where possible, because we don’t want to forget the history and heritage of The Crescent.”
Original steel beams are safety checked and, once deemed reusable, are sandblasted clean and painted.
Restoration work on the gents pool has proved less taxing, taking just two months.
The Old Hall Hotel, reputed to be the oldest in England, will also play its part in the wider Crescent redevelopment, with areas utilised for the spa treatment facility and a couple of smaller single occupancy rooms.
Dave said: “In an ideal world we would shut the Old Hall down for a month and just crack on with all the work we need to do, but that would be unfair to the hotel guests and staff, so we are both working around each other to accommodate each other’s needs, and so far it seems to be working.”
A new structure being built between the two hotels will offer access to the spa, and great care is being taken to ensure the stonework is in keeping with its immediate surroundings.
“The Old Hall uses smaller pieces of stone on the external walls, but on The Crescent the stone is much bigger, so it is all about finding a balance between the two which does not look out of place,” Dave explained.
“There’s a lot of specialist skills involved in this project, but we are very fortunate to be working with local tradesman who have knowledge in stonemasonry and ironmongery.”
Some of the more quirkier features in The Crescent, such as the 1960s-style mural wallpaper, will not be making the transition into the new luxury hotel, which when complete will provide 80 en-suite rooms. The development remains on track to be completed on schedule.
Dave said: “We are hoping that this autumn we can handover the new East Pavilion and lodges one to seven for fixtures and fittings, including installing the bathrooms.”
All the space is being utilised. The top floor, which previously housed staff quarters, has been opened up to offer bespoke rooms in the eaves. These restricted head height rooms will have the added bonus of a sitting area.
Dave continued: “There are so many original, interesting and beautiful pieces throughout the hotel which we want to acknowledge.
“We took down all the doors before we started work and they are currently in storage in the Assembly Room, with the intention of reusing them where possible.”
Some rooms featured two access points - something no longer required. So here new fire retardant replica doors and fire-proof cladding are being installed, before being boarded over from the room side. This retains the appearance of the extra doors on the corridor side and its historical accuracy.
Dave said: “Fire safety has always been taken seriously on site and we have always been working to a high standard, but since the tragic events at Grenfell Tower last year it has focused everyone’s efforts and no stone will be left unturned in making sure people are safe when they stay here.”
He added: “Every day presents a new challenge for our team, for example some of the beams may have dry rot which needs treating, or there could be a much bigger problem which needs addressing urgently.
“Now there really is light at the end of the tunnel. We can see what we are doing is making a difference, and the hotel starting to take shape.”