A new brand of sports hall is on the market. Although specifically designed to meet the needs of netball, basketball and badminton, a Ball Hall will also provide an environment within which PE and most beginner-level or recreational sport can take place. What's more, they are fairly cheap.
Promoted by England Basketball Enterprises, the commercial arm of basketball's national governing body, and Loxton Leisure Services, a basic one-court hall costs around pound;700,000, rising to pound;850,00 if a fitness suite and ancillary hall are included. For around pound;900,000, a centre with two full-size courts can be built. This compares with pound;1.4 to pound;1.9 million for a traditional-build sports hall, with architects' fees of up to pound;150,000.
Slightly longer than usual, Ball Halls allow plenty of space - almost two metres - around their courts, and sprung wooden floors minimise injury caused by impact on ankles, knees and lower backs.
With a Ball Hall, floors, layout, lighting, ceiling height, even the light blue of the walls are designed with the three focus sports in mind. A host of accessories, such as electronic scoreboards and state-of-the-art basketball goals and rebound boards can be included. Although too bouncy for hard-ball cricket, general curricular and extra-curricular needs are catered for.
Rachel Stevenson, head of sport at Brookfield high school in Knowsley, which already has one of three built, says: "With two basketball courts, it is at least twice the size of a traditional hall - more like those at leisure centres. This allows us to have several groups using it simultaneously, and offer curriculum time to our feeder primaries."
An interesting part of the concept is its optional management package. For no extra cost, a sports development worker will be employed to generate activity in the evenings and help schools develop community sport. With this in place, the endless procession of adult recreational users would have to find somewhere else to play their four-a-side football. This might give children more time to play sport, but may not be so good for community relations.
So, with a Ball Hall, school targets - increasingly emphasised as part of the Government's partnership ethos - to have an impact in the community and on local sport, can be successfully managed by outside staff. Or can they?
While they will pay for the sports development worker and supervision and maintenance costs accrued in the evening, it is Loxton Leisure Services who will also take the profit. While organised netball, basketball and badminton may take priority, users would still have to pay - and prices would be set with commercial rather than inclusive criteria in mind.
Although it may well do both, the hall is there to make a profit rather than provide a service. And after 4.30pm, the school will have no say in what goes on there or gain any financial benefit.
To date, the three schools that have Ball Halls have opted for the management package. Rachel Stevenson explained why this was an important factor in Brookfield's choice. "I am aware of the potential restrictions, but the three sports in question complement our focus activities, which are gym and dance, along with other sports available locally."
As with any facility, the merits and potential must be considered in context. Durability of the building materials used, the quality of the acoustics, even the reliability of heating and lighting systems. All these will have an effect on the long-term quality, and with higher quality comes greater cost. An aluminium roof, for instance, is likely to last 40 to 60 years before it needs replacing, but will last longer than a steel one, which is guaranteed for between 20 and 30 years.
The initial outlay may be less with a Ball Hall - calculations may need to be adjusted to take into account whole life costs - but matching needs to design is essential.
If the school requires a large space, is short of money and wishes to focus on netball, basketball and badminton, then a Ball Hall is ideal. If not, other designs are available which may be more suited to the purpose.
For general guidance on Ball Hall, visit England Basketball Sports Facilities