By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
AN estimated $1m of taxpayer dollars has been wasted in the part construction of a new building on the campus of Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute which is now “just sitting there out back waiting to be demolished”, Insight can reveal.
In 2016, the Christie administration broke ground at BTVI for the “smart” building, ushering in a new era at the institution which dates back as far as October 1949. A government press release issued at the time said it was anticipated that the new block would be completed in six months at a cost of $2.3m.
A well-placed source told us there were challenges with the construction of the prefabricated building, leading to it being left unfinished after an estimated $1m was shelled out.
The Ministry of Works has been asked to demolish the building because of its current dilapidated and hazardous state.
The Tribune contacted BTVI president Dr Robert Robertson to explain what had gone wrong, however he referred us to BTVI’s chairman, Kevin Basden, saying he would know more about it.
“The best person to contact is chairman Kevin Basden as this started under the previous board and Mr Basden was on the previous board,” Dr Robertson said. “So it (the previous board) was here when they cut the ground for it, but everything has been done before I came, in terms of the agreement. I don’t know all the details of the situation. Mr Basden knows about it.
“He also has been speaking with the Ministry of Works about the demolition of the building as it’s just physically sitting there at the back waiting to be demolished.”
Asked why the building was not completed, Mr Robertson said, “I think it was an issue of finality, but I really wasn’t involved in it to that extent. I think it went for probably about a year after it got started and then came to an end, but again Mr Basden is your best point of contact for that.”
Despite multiple attempts, The Tribune could not reach Mr Basden nor Minister of Works Desmond Bannister for comment.
According to The Tribune’s source, problems occurred during constr
“Originally the building was supposed to be a ‘smart’ building housing the IT department’s classes as well as other IT related services,” said the BTVI source. “It was made from composite wall designs which were manufactured by a company in the US then sent here to be put together by the contractor.
“So the drawings would be sent to the US firm and they cut the walls out with the doors and windows cut into it, places to put the floor connections. That means when the building parts were shipped you just connect it. I saw (a worker) struggle to properly put the building together because it’s like a jigsaw puzzle, you just have to know how to put the pieces together.
“You can force a piece that don’t fit to fit but you damage those parts in the process. That is essentially what happened to the building because the wall parts are sleeved down on each other. (Someone) forced the wall parts together instead of sleeving them using a small crane to drop the pieces together.
“Then the plumber was not aware that his pipes could sleeve through the cavities in the wall so they cut new pipelines into the wall, effectively destroying the wall. It comes where it could sleeve the electrical and plumbing into the wall.”
The building is 6,600 square feet and was to have eight classrooms for interactive learning, multimedia and visual systems. The BTVI source said a building that size would take a contractor on average about eight months to a year to complete, but with the “smart” building, one could complete it in four months.
The BTVI insider said, “So the project started in August 2016 and in February 2017 it got as far as the top floor’s walls and the roof frame - the skeleton for the roof and then the work stopped. It has been sitting there exposed, meaning all of that wood frame which is not designed to endure the elements, has been sitting there for years. The top of the wall, which is a composite wall, is not sealed from the environment.
“The roof is supposed to cover that. So you will have moisture seepage, which means mould, all through those walls. The building’s walls and the skeleton of the roof are no good anymore. We are talking about over about one million dollars’ worth of materials which has just sat there for the past four years and the elements have rendered it compromised. It’s useless now.”
The source expressed concern about the silence from BTVI on the failed project.
“There has been silence on the campus regarding this building,” the insider said. “There has not been any report or any kind of statement or any internal exchange in regards to the status of the building. Then to top it off they built a bathroom block on the side of it using the same material. The bathroom is also sitting there unused. It’s in the same status, just sitting there for the past four years.”
Canadian Jim Boucher of Commonwealth Construction and Development Limited was the contractor for the building. The company is registered in The Bahamas but no longer appears to be operating. We were unable to locate a business address or phone number or any recent signs of it carrying out any projects.
The Tribune made several attempts to research Mr Boucher but without success.
A source on BTVI’s board said Mr Boucher’s company was removed from the project because “the work they were doing was not adding up” and “they didn’t know what they were doing”.
“They had to go, so unfortunately the building stayed there and wasted. Over $1.2m in funds gone to waste,” said the board member.
The source said the manufacturers of the prefabricated building actually offered to come to Nassau to supervise putting the building free of charge but the contractor declined their services
“The company that made the building offered to send men here to make sure the building was erected properly,” the BTVI board insider continued. “Mr Boucher was upset and said he does not need anyone looking over his shoulder because he knew how to put the building together.
“When we started holding off on payments, a politician visited a board member angrily and told him to ‘stop messing with the money and pay the man’. At that point it was getting crazy so we had to fire him and of course he was mad as hell.
“This building that was meant to be such a shining example of modern construction was so ill fated,” the insider said. “We fired Boucher and of course he was mad as hell.”
The board insider said at one point BTVI ordered the building to be painted in an effort to save the surface of the walls as appointing another contractor to complete it was being considered. However, with materials having gone missing at the site and with the prefabricated building ruined by unnecessary drilling, among other things, it was decided to pull the plug on the project.
Daniel Thompson, head of the Union for Tertiary Educators of The Bahamas, said the president needs to pay some attention to the building instead of union busting. UTEB is seeking to represent workers at BTVU.
He said it was a shame that the public’s money was wasted without consequence.
Mr Thompson said, “Four and a half years later, the prefabricated quick construction incomplete smart building sits at the rear of the Soldier Road campus as an eye sore, all under the presidency of Dr Robert Robertson, whose contract was recently renewed.
“Rather than concern himself about the quality of teaching and the completion of the smart classroom block, which is critical during this COVID-19 pandemic era, Dr Robertson has engaged and committed himself to union busting and distraction activities. He ought to engage in the investigation of the lack of accountability in the construction of the smart classroom block which is indicative of gross mismanagement of the institute.”
BTVI has denied claims of union busting.
Meanwhile, Mr Thompson called on Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis to investigate the matter.