Contractors: affordable housing possible

Three local contractors met with the Caymanian Compass Tuesday to discuss building systems that could be used for the construction of apartments on the Affordable Housing Initiative’s site off Eastern Avenue.

Gilles Langlois of KCoast Construction/CI Precast, Howard Finlason of Royal Construction Ltd. and Clarence McLaughlin of C&R Building and Renovation Company spoke of the kinds of products and services they could provide for the building of the planned 72-apartment, three-storey project.

Staunch Limited, the only company to submit a bid during the original tendering period that ended 1 April (now extended to 4 May) was also invited to attend the briefing.

However, after saying last week it would send a representative to the briefing and then confirming the attendance of a company engineer on Tuesday morning, no one showed up from Staunch.

Mr. Finlason’s company uses the Royal Building System, which features solid reinforced concrete walls poured into rigid polymer forms.

‘These forms remain part of the structure and provide the finish,’ said Mr. Finlason.

The Royal System has been used in many projects on Grand Cayman, including many of the Morritt’s buildings, classroom blocks at government schools, Ocean Pointe Villas, Cobalt Coast Resort and the second phase of the Mirco Centre, which remained in tact after Hurricane Ivan.

Mr. Finlason said structures built with the Royal System have been proven to withstand severe storms very well, not only in Cayman, but all over the world.

The company’s literature shows photos of houses that withstood the 190-mph winds of Typhoon Paka in Guam in 1997 with no reported damage.

Mr. Finlason commented that most of the completed homes at the Affordable Housing site off of Eastern Avenue were destroyed in Hurricane Ivan by what the National Housing and Community Development Trust has said was a floating container.

‘Our houses would not have been hit over by an empty container,’ he said. ‘I don’t know the exact life expectancy of a concrete house, but I know it’s a long time, a lot longer than any of our lifetimes. And they can be built for a comparable cost,’ he said.

Mr. Finlason said Royal buildings also are built to withstand earthquakes.

The system has been used in many countries around the world, in many different applications, including residential, commercial, hotel and resort, institutional and even by the military.

A test by the United States Air Force showed that 8-inch concrete walls made with Royal System could withstand a blast from 1,000 pounds of explosives placed 75 feet away.

Mr. Finlason said Royal had been operating in the Cayman Islands since 1998 and that he uses local labour and mostly local materials to build his system. The polymer forms, however, he said come from overseas.

CI Precast’s Gilles Langlois detailed a system called Waffle-Crete.

With the Waffle-Crete system, moulds are used to precast concrete forms that are joined to a poured-in-place column and beam grid.

This hybrid system can be developed for areas of severe seismic activity and high wind loads.

Developed in 1976, the Waffle-Crete system has been used extensively in a wide variety of applications in North and Central America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, South Africa, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Guam and other Pacific Ocean countries.

Mr. Langlois said systems like the Royal System and the Waffle-Crete system are essential for keeping costs down.

‘The economy comes in the control of costs like wastage, materials and labour,’ he said.

Mr. Langlois said the Waffle-Crete system allows a developer to take out a lot of the cost of labour.

‘We can use unskilled and semi-skilled labour as opposed to skilled labour,’ he said.

Other systems, like the In-steel system that require the spraying of concrete over mesh, purport to be affordable but are labour intensive.

While such systems might work well in other countries where labour is paid significantly less, they cannot be used profitably in the Cayman Islands, Mr. Langlois said, unless an unscrupulous developer uses cheating labour by paying less than Labour Law prescribes, or by such practices as not paying for work permits.

‘Everyone should have to obey the Labour Laws, especially on a Government project,’ he said.

Mr. Langlois said using the Waffle-Crete system allows the money spent on the project to remain in the country.

The Waffle-Crete system is also already being used extensively in the Cayman Islands, Mr. Langlois said.

‘I use the system in all my floors currently,’ he said. ‘It’s already been looked at by Planning and approved.’

Another advantage of the Waffle-Crete system is it can be used to build multi-story residential complexes, exactly what the AHI Eastern Avenue project calls for.

‘They’re building a three-storey apartment complex in Trinidad right now using the system,’ Mr. Langlois said.

Another reason why local contractors should be used for the AHI project is because they already have strong ties with local suppliers, which can help with both the time element and the pricing elements, Mr. Langlois said.

‘It’s a fallacy that locals can’t compete,’ he said. ‘There is a community out there that is willing to help get affordable housing here.’

Mr. Langlois said local suppliers can be very competitive with their prices, especially if they were given import duty concessions like the company Vetromeccaniche received when it brought in materials for the AHI houses from Italy.

As far as time is concerned, both Mr. Langlois and Mr. Finlason said systems allow for faster building.

‘Systems save at least 25 per cent of time,’ Mr. Langlois said.

The decision to choose a contractor to build the AHI apartment project should not be based on price alone, Mr. Langlois said.

‘It should also be based on factors such as experience, financial strength, staff, plant and equipment,’ he said.

C&R Building and Renovation Company’s Clarence McLaughlin said he did not have the resources to put in a bid for the entire project, but that he would like to be included in some aspects of it.

Mr. McLaughlin did a lot of the concrete slab work for the AHI houses in Windsor Park and West Bay, he said, adding that he has the ability to supply concrete at lower prices.

‘I can control the concrete delivered in such a way as to cut down on the wastage,’ he said. ‘It could mean the price is two to three dollars less per yard.’

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