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Volume 31, Issue 4

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Tuesday, 30 October 2007 09:34

Disaster Recovery in Belgium

Written by  Michael Stall, P.E.
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October 24, 1990 is still fresh in the minds of the Center Parcs organization of Rotterdam, Holland because that is the day that the covered swimming pool in their vacation water park in Erperheide, Belgium was completely destroyed by fire. The fire started in the electrical transformer near the sauna building in the pool facility. Bungalowpark Erperheide is located in Belgium just south of Eindhoven, Holland, and consists of about 600 luxury apartments and bungalows secluded in the forest and arranged around several lakes. The park, with a nearly constant occupancy of almost 100%, is one of two in Belgium. Because of its occupancy rate and size, Erperheide generates substantial revenue for the Center Parcs organization.

The Loss of Two Vacation Seasons

One of the major problems associated with the loss was that the fire occurred just before the important 1990 winter vacation season. Because the park was essentially not operable without the pool facilities, most vacationers would be reluctant to make advanced reservations for a park that has primary facilities destroyed and may not be ready for the 1991 vacation season. This situation, coupled with a large time-related insurance policy, demanded that the facility be put back into service as soon as possible.

Center Parcs Construction Experience

The Center Parcs organization, under the guidance of Adjunct-Director J.W.M. Timmermans, is responsible for over $150 million in park construction per year. The organization has their own in-house engineering and construction group and has built a reputation for successful fast-track construction of parks throughout western Europe. The Center Parcs has many long-standing relationship with contractors, equipment manufacturers, and material suppliers throughout western Europe. These relationships have contributed greatly to the success of this reconstruction project because Mr. Timmermans was able to secure material and equipment suppliers’ commitments immediately. Because of the ongoing relationship with several contractors, Mr. Timmermans was able to select the contractors that were well known for their speed and quality.

Reconstruction Project Complexity

The Erperheide Bungalowpark is a complex facility that operationally depends on many system and facility interdependencies. The pool enclosure structure is an advanced technology concrete, wood, steel, and plastic structure that incorporates much of the heating, venting, and air-conditioning ductwork, and would be a challenge to construct in a normal timeframe. The large swimming pool and related equipment, such as the filtration and chlorination systems and the wave-making apparatus, present construction sequencing and coordination problems that are made even more difficult when constructed in an accelerated reconstruction schedule, as is the case with this project.

The auxiliary facilities, such as the children’s pool, the sauna building, and the wild water ride, are additional areas that must be constructed as individual facilities, and yet be incorporated in the overall project such that they may be completed without interfering with construction of the large pool and enclosure structure. The central building heating plant is a support system that must be constructed as an individual facility and incorporated in the overall project plan to support the construction requirements for the other facilities.


Because of the complexity of the facility and the vast number of interdependent systems, a detailed engineering analysis and determination of the systems to be saved and salvaged would be expensive, difficult, and time-consuming. A broad-based demolition plan based on a reconstruction design by Center Parcs was put into place. Because the original elevated slab was complex with many different types of concrete masonry units and bricks supporting an elevated foundation, the determination was made that a simple slab-on-grade would be used to replace the original platform slab, and the demolition was planned accordingly. The extensive damage to the large roof support structure footings precluded reconstruction of the same footings in the same location because of the time required for demolition prior to reconstruction.


The major problem with the original structure was that very large glue-laminated wooden beams that were over 30 meters long were used and could not be immediately replaced by the largest laminated beam manufacturers in Europe. This was partly because the wood treatment pressure vessel that was used for the original beams was no longer available, and the beams could not be moved into the area because of traffic restrictions. Because of this, the decision was made to build the new structure of smaller laminated beams around the original structure. This decision also allowed many activities to begin immediately and be worked concurrently. These activities include the following:

  • Finalize the redesign of the pool enclosure structure and the required mechanical systems as soon as possible based on the design decision.
  • Immediately start construction of the structural footings outside of the original structure while the demolition of the original structure is underway.
  • Order all the destroyed HVAC, mechanical, and electrical systems equipment as a function of the redesign rather than as a function of a long functional testing and rehabilitation program.
  • Develop a project site layout and organization plan as a function of the redesign and the current site configuration. When the structure was originally built, the surrounding park infrastructure was not well developed and posed no problem to construction. Because the park around the pool structure is functional, extensive constraints are imposed on the building of the structure.
  • Select a pool enclosure glazing material that would allow fast manufacture, delivery, quick erection, and ongoing work activities underneath while the roof is being installed.
  • Develop rapid reconstruction methods that were designed for the particular structural components used in the reconstruction project. All design decisions were weighed with respect to quality, safety, and rapid reconstruction constructability.

Major Project Milestones

The project milestones for this reconstruction project are a function of the completion of important structural items, manufacturing and delivery of important equipment, and delivery of materials. Some of the major milestones are as follows:

  • Completion of the central heating building.
  • Manufacture and delivery of the heating systems equipment and associated hardware.
  • Construction completion of the structural footings for the pool enclosure structure.
  • Manufacture and delivery of the main pool enclosure glue-laminated wood and steel beams.
  • Construction completion of the pool enclosure structure and subsequent heating of the building.
  • Installation and completion of the pool area floor heating system that will allow the tile setting operation to start.

Other project milestones were developed in the form of a project milestone summary schedule and were changed as a function of completion of the items.

Catastrophe Reconstruction Processes

Several of the catastrophe reconstruction processes that were utilized to speed the reconstruction project contributed significantly to the rapid reconstruction of this project. Some of these processes included the following:

  • Critical point scheduling: a system of milestone, intermediate, and detailed scheduling that highlights the critical activities (not just the critical path) for daily analysis and problem resolution.
  • Develop a strong project team: working closely with contractors and suppliers in the past has established a good atmosphere for rapid completion. Perform extensive planning and scheduling operations with the project team at the project site.
  • Secure the services of contractors and suppliers through the holiday periods with extra payments that will save time-related expenses that would be caused by an extended schedule.
  • Utilize temporary weather protection enclosures like sprung structures or circus tents to protect selected areas of the project during the winter weather.
  • Make extensive use of equipment that will save labor time and costs. An example is the use of several hydraulic manlifts to reduce the time required for climbing.
  • Materials management techniques utilization. Management of materials from procurement and manufacturing to delivery and storage and final placement in the work area.

The combination of a capable engineering and construction organization in the form of Center Parcs, with the catastrophe management experience of Evans American, helped to considerably reduce the length of the project schedule and hold the line on time-related costs. The project team consisting of Center Parcs, Robins Takkenberg, and The Evans American Corporation worked together to reduce the overall cost of the claim. This type of immediate catastrophe management response and coordination can contribute to reducing the total claim cost for any type of catastrophic project.

Michael Stall is the vice president of construction with the Evans American Corporation.

This article adapted from Vol. 4, No. 2, p. 49.

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