New stadium rapidly taking shape as Hibs ensure constructioni kept to schedule

HIBS today revealed work on their new East Stand is "bang on schedule" with the landscape at Easter Road changing on a daily basis.

Construction work has been moving at a frenetic pace with the steelwork for the new stand, which with 6,400 seats will take the ground's capacity up to 20,250, springing from the foundations.

And not far behind has been the concrete decking while, at pitch level, work is taking place with the playing surface being widened by four metres, to full international dimensions of 105 metres by 68m.

While Hibs have been reluctant to name a target date for completion of the one-tier structure which will match the height of the three existing stands, when they announced their decision to go-ahead with the final phase of the redevelopment of Easter Road, it was stated they expected the work to be finished early next season. It is understood Hibs have asked the SPL that at least their first home match of next season be played away from home but a similar request as the West Stand neared completion resulted in a visit from Kilmarnock on the opening day.

Today club director and secretary Garry O'Hagan said: "The new stand is coming out of the ground pretty quickly now, in fact so quickly staff are looking out of the window every couple of hours to discover it's moved on again.

"It's great for everyone to see things starting to take shape, we are bang on schedule. The weather has, in general, been great which helped greatly with the demolition of the old east terracing and the subsequent 'muck-shifting'.

"The contractors are working to a plan but hopefully the sun will continue to shine on us over the summer."

Much meticulous planning went into drawing up a calendar for the project, demolition work beginning immediately after Hibs' home SPL match with St Johnstone on 27 February before piling and laying the concrete foundations of the multi-million pound project took place.

While there was little visible sign of progress being made during that phase of the operation, the change since has come at a rapid pace.

Within 24 hours of the first steelwork being delivered, two bays of the new structure were in place while the first of the concrete decking was put in place immediately on arrival two days later.

The skyline tells its own story as the new stand takes shape but out of sight just as much work is taking place to improve the pitch, much-maligned during the course of the season, not least by Hibs striker Derek Riordan

Contractors moved in the day following Hibs' East of Scotland Shield victory over Hearts with the surface being ripped up in the space of hours.

O'Hagan identified a "black layer" of soil as having been the cause of the difficulties, the earth under the turf having compacted over the years with a detrimental effect on the surface.

He said: "The new pitch will be widened, irrigation heads repositioned and the drainage and under-soil heating systems extended.

"A new root zone will be brought in to establish the new pitch level and once that is done the pitch will be seeded."

The process of establishing the surface, the famous Easter Road slope having disappeared in 2000, a move which in itself saw 21,000 tonnes of soil and rock removed, will continue over the summer before 560 kilos of grass seed is spread, and, by the start of next season, Hibs will have a pitch which will be fully UEFA and FIFA compliant.

Hibs have also taken advantage of the latest upgrading of Easter Road to widen the "run-off" area in front of the West Stand, a move which has seen the first row of seats removed while the goalposts will creep two metres to the east.

The extension of the under-soil heating will also mean the addition of a further 2000m of piping to go with the 30,000m which already lie beneath the pitch.

The redevelopment of Easter Road has, of course, been an ongoing process for some 15 years with the North (now the Famous Five) and South Stands being built in 1995 while the new West Stand opened in 2001.

While supporters will be impressed with the speed at which the new stand is taking shape, it has, of course, been a long process to get this far with Hibs receiving planning permission away back in 1999, the consent being up-dated in 2005. A lengthy consultation period with supporters took place, chairman Rod Petrie and his fellow directors well aware that, despite its antiquated facilities, the East Terrace was held dear by many fans, with the area recognised as one inhabited by the more raucous element of Hibs support.

Although plans for a single tier rather than a "mirror image" of the West Stand, were announced, the project was put on hold, the fear being that to proceed would leave the club saddled with debt due to the recession and a sharp increase in the cost of raw building materials.

The board, however, didn't abandon their plans entirely and are understood to have taken advantage of the contraction within the building industry to strike the deal which finally allowed the construction work to commence.

Since then Hibs have announced the new stand will accommodate a "singing section," in recognition the old East Terrace was favoured by the more vociferous element of their support, the vast majority of whom were concerned that the special atmosphere created by that area may disappear.

As such Hibs have allocated 1,000 seats in the top sections of the last three blocks nearest the South Stand, which will revert to housing away fans once the building work is complete.

Fife Hyland, the club's commercial and communications director said: "A singing section was a very popular suggestion made by supporters at the feedback sessions and the club want to ensure as much of the atmosphere of the old East Terrace is retained.

"We've allocated 1000 seats, but, if it proves really popular, we can extend it."