A distinctive shape on the Ballymena skyline it may be but is the ecos centre’s energy saving solar panelled roof worth replacing at a cost of £300,000?
That’s what councillors will have to decide next month at their Governance & Audit Committee meeting.
In advance of that forum, councillors were given an update on the state of the roof construction of ecos World Gallery when they met in The Braid, last week.
Council Officer Clive Kyle said the high level roof which supports the solar panel and photovoltaic arrays needs to be replaced having deteriorated through general wear and tear over the 14 years since construction.
He added that it’s current condition “is to be expected” due to its unique design and and the fact that it supports solar arrays which have multiple fixing points through the roof covering.
Councillors also heard that the replacement of that covering would be a major project requiring specialist contractors and specialist equipment hire.
Mr Kyle said that the design and layout of the building means that the higher sloping section of roof is very inaccessible and will require a tower crane in order to remove the solar arrays to allow replacement of the weatherproof covering.
He also pointed out that a business case considered the options - ‘do nothing’ or ‘repair areas of the leaking roof’.
Councillors were told that repair and refurbishment would enable the building to be fully utilised again and provide an income for Council and that budget costs of £300,000 had been allocated for such works.
Referring to the option taking no action, it was pointed out to the committee that major leaks from the roof covering are currently affecting the accommodation, “rendering it unusable and also creating major Health & Safety risk from penetration of electrical fittings”.
While a firm decision on the way forward was not sought from members last week, a number of councillors voiced concerns over the cost of repair including Declan O’Loan and James McClean
Cllr O’Loan said: “I think we need to record our serious dissatisfaction that we have to replace this roof after a short 14 years.
“The report says £300,000 - that’s incredible expenditure.”
Mr Kyle pointed out that the problem and cost is due to the radical design of the ecos roof and exacerbated by the complex mechanical and electrical connections going through the roof membrane.
He also reported that detailed costs would be provided when the project is tendered and that, in the meantime, it was proposed to get together a project team of experts in the field to investigate the repairs.
In response to concerns expressed by Deputy Mayor, Cllr McClean, Mr Kyle confirmed that should a repair scheme go ahead, one of the options being considered involved erecting the solar panels at ground rather than roof top level.
“Obviously, we don’t want to replace something that is going to deteriorate similarly again,” he said.