The scale of its infrastructure and ambition might prompt one to either make allowances for the Sports Hub's teething problems or make greater demands for it to be the gold standard among sporting venues. But any ambivalence is a luxury that lead agency Sport Singapore and operator SportsHub can ill afford, with $1.33 billion poured into the project and marquee events in the pipeline, like the SEA Games in 150 days' time.
The project teams need sharper focus, than what has been demonstrated so far, in pinpointing potential runaway problems and tackling these to the ground. Scheduling was an issue that had surfaced even during construction. Delays were then attributed to complexities related to the stadium's retractable roof and moveable seating. While giving due credit to the teams for delivering an impressive facility, one might well ask why sufficient allowance was not made earlier for technical issues - given the goal of creating a "fully integrated, state-of-the-art destination", as described on its website. Consequently, the scheduling of maiden events was also affected by the apparent lapses in project management.
The physical affordances of the facility might be taken for granted, given Singapore's reputation for efficiency. Hence, none would think of taking an umbrella to the National Stadium, touted by its designer as the "largest free-spanning dome structure in the world" offering "awe-inspiring event space". Yet, several concert-goers had cause to complain recently about some rain coming through the retractable roof and a partly open section. Such problems need to be put right.
What attracted the most attention, alas, was the stadium's pitch. The expensive, high-tech, hybrid turf showed sandy patches all over when top football team Juventus played on it in a friendly game in August. Lights costing $1.5 million were then acquired to make the grass grow faster. But even that intervention did not seem enough to give the assurance of good enough outcomes. The Hub's management has now decided to lay all-natural grass on the pitch and grow it first in a nursery. This might well prove to be the optimal, if costly, solution. Hopefully, it will put an end to the grass-is- greener-elsewhere criticisms.
As "one of the largest sporting infrastructure public-private partnership (PPP) projects in the world", in the words of the operator, more is at stake as the project is another test case of this new approach to public infrastructure building. The PPP experiment over a 25-year term is too important for a stakeholder to drop the ball at any stage. A clear focus on fixing the problems will be needed to reassure all that this new approach works.
This article was first published on January 5, 2015.
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