Behind the smart blue hoardings on the Gloucester Road, work is proceeding apace on the conversion of the Bristol North Baths into a health centre and the construction of the new Bishopston Library.
These two projects mark the start of a three site contract, between Bristol City Council and developers Chatsworth Homes, the final phase of which sees the demolition of the Cheltenham Road Library to allow the construction of 36 apartments.
Work is well underway in the Baths, and the new first floor, at the level of the old gallery is already in place. It will house the combined Spence and the Nevil Road doctors’ surgeries. This upper level will be open right up to the roof and flooded with daylight from the skylight which runs the full length of the building. The new floor will have large glazed panels letting light down into the community health facilities on the ground floor below, particularly onto the hydrotherapy pool, which has been created within the shallow end of the old swimming pool. A new lift has been planned to fit within one of the old stair towers and the wrought iron balustrade of the main staircase has been carefully restored. The new facilities will include a pharmacy in the entrance area as well as a minor procedures suite in what used to be the changing and boiler rooms at the rear of the building. As the North Baths is a Grade 2 Listed building, permission had to be sought to form discreet new window openings to let light into the ground floor in particular, which in its time as a swimming pool, was a dark brick box. Every attempt is being made to maintain and enhance the character of what has long been a cherished building in the community, with many fond memories for local residents of time spent as children and adults at swimming lessons and galas.
Following not far behind, foundations have been poured for the new library and construction work is getting into gear. The library building also includes a new public toilet facility, and has 10 apartments above it which are now being marketed and enjoying a strong response. Although sited on the old car park area, the design has retained 17 of the 23 original parking spaces within an attractive courtyard, between the two buildings, which could be the venue for community activities such as a farmers’ market.
The new library building is on two floors and extends right back to the old stone wall at the rear of the site. The brief from Bristol Library Services was for maximum openness onto the street; so the design incorporates a huge two storey window down to pavement level as well as cut-outs in the first floor to allow almost uninterrupted visibility into both levels.
On the ground floor we find the main reception desk, lending library and public access computers. There is also a children’s library which is situated around a small planted courtyard at the rear. There is a meeting room adjacent to the entrance, which can be used out of hours when the library is closed. A curved staircase leads to the upper level where there is an area for laptop users plus a reading area. At a time when so many libraries are being closed across the country, we must count ourselves as extremely fortunate to be awaiting this brand new facility.