Birmingham City are working tirelessly to carry out stadium repairs in the hope of reopening sections of St Andrew’s by the start of next season.
The club have been dealing with problems since December 2020 when the Kop and Tilton Road stands were closed on safety grounds.
An annual survey flagged up corrosion on the steelwork that props up the two stands and attempts have since been made to put it right.
However, the true extent of the problems have only just been revealed, and after keeping supporters in the dark for months, the club have now promised to explain some of the steps they will be taking in the times ahead.
There is still no exact timeframe on when the work will be complete, largely because of the complex issues they are faced with.
However, the club are in the process of negotiating a time frame with the contractor as two options – repairing the affected steel beams or replacing them – are currently under discussion.
In a detailed presentation from Michael Moran, Birmingham City’s third-party project manager, it became clear how tough it has been to overcome some of the difficulties.
Moran first explained how industry pressures, including the availability of materials and a highly-skilled workforce, had slowed down the process.
Hundreds of bolts also needed solidifying with structural grout — at a time where they were hard to come by and the extent of the corrosion in some sections, particularly the lower tiers, was much larger than first expected.
Workers first found standing water under one stand and had to identify the source.
They then had to clear rubble, including heavy lumps of concrete, just to allow access into areas, but that required workers to crawl through tunnels just two feet wide.
Asbestos-monitoring teams also stopped work for periods as they checked suspected materials which just added to the problems.
“The list of issues has grown,” Moran said.
“A lot of what we have dealt with are legacy issues. Our brief was to reinstate the stadium to its original design and a lot of the problems we have stem from a lack of access.
“The stands were built over the old terraces which were broken up and at a time when regulations for maintenance were not as good.
“The upper tier areas required trained operatives who effectively abseil into position — these are highly skilled people, some of whom operate on oil rigs — and it’s a niche market which suffers from high demand. We wanted to flood it with operatives but there are only so many you can get your hands on.”
Many supporters have been demanding answers and questioning why the work is taking so long.
The club insist the length of time is not dictated by money with finance officials explaining how the work has already cost five times the amount expected and how they’re committed to providing the resource to fix it.
Moran added: “Teams of workers are doing 11-hour shifts, seven days a week, with as many as 15 operatives, heavily incentivised and on double pay.”
That there’s still no firm deadline is a concern and sign of the complexities involved. A decision on the best way forward is expected to be made in the next few weeks, though.
Despite starting the season with both stands closed and supporters having to enter a ballot to attend games, Birmingham were able to reopen the Upper Tilton Stand by September 2021.
(Photo: Andrew Kearns – CameraSport via Getty Images)