The $85 million government office accommodation project officially got under way Friday with a groundbreaking ceremony on its site next to the Glass House.
Master of ceremonies Carson Ebanks called the project monumental, and Governor Stuart Jack agreed.
‘This is a momentous moment in the Cayman Islands, particularly for those in government and the civil service,’ he said. ‘[The new building] will provide a much better working environment for our civil servants and our ministers, and a more pleasant place to visit for members of the public.’
Chief Secretary George McCarthy called the commencement of construction on the building a ‘long, long, long awaited occasion’.
‘I can’t understate the positive impact this new building will have on members of the civil service,’ he said, adding that it would improve communications and customer service, and foster greater synergy within the civil service.
With vastly improved working conditions, Mr. McCarthy said the new building would also make a huge difference in the health, production and professionalism of civil servants.
The new building would also have a state-of-the-art security system, Mr. McCarthy said.
‘This building is our legacy to the next generation of civil servants,’ he said, noting he will retire before the building is completed.
Long-time senior civil servant Kearney Gomez, who has seen many plans for new government accommodation projects come and go without fruition, said the building site was the first park in George Town years ago, and that it was sometimes referred to as the pastoral lands.
Mr. Gomez said the quest to build more government office space began almost immediately after the completion of the Glass House in the mid-70s. Many projects of different scope were proposed over the years, and one even cost the government $500,000 in plans.
‘But nothing happened,’ he said. ‘Then came [Private Financing Initiative]… and it progressed farther than all the other proposals put together. Again, nothing happened.
‘Then a major developer arrived on the scene and made offers only government could refuse. Again nothing happened.’
However, the dream was now becoming a reality, Mr. Gomez said.
Acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Planning, Jennifer Ahearn, praised Project Manager Jim Scott – who had worked on the PFI project plans as well – for his persistence in staying with the project.
‘Sometimes he’s like a terrier with a bone,’ she said, admitting that she and Mr. Scott don’t always see eye-to-eye.
Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said the building was scheduled for completion in 34 months, which would mean it would be ready for occupancy by January 2011.
‘There has been a need for a purpose-built government accommodation,’ Mr. Tibbetts said, explaining that government has some 57 leases for space right now. He also noted that the Glass House was a very inefficient building, which costs approximately $6,000 per day to operate.
Mr. Tibbetts said it had been forecasted that without the new building, government’s lease cost per annum by 2013 would be about $10 million, which he said made the $85 million cost of the building well worth the price. The projected life of the building is 65 years.
The five-storey building will feature 185,000 square feet of air-conditioned space, plus an underground parking structure and a service deck.
Thirty-four government entities, including the governor’s office, all of the ministries and portfolios, the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority and even a sub-post office, will move into the building when it’s completed.
Mr. Tibbetts said the building will become one of the largest government buildings in the Caribbean.
The building is being constructed by McAlpine Ltd and designed by OBM Ltd. Mr. Tibbetts called the collaboration – along with others involved – a ‘dream team’.
Built with enhanced hurricane resistance, the GOAP will also be constructed to LEED specifications to make it environmentally friendly. It will also make it more energy efficient.
Even though the energy efficiency elements will cost about $6 million more, Mr. Tibbetts said the cost would be paid back in five years through energy savings.
‘We’re not only building green, but I dare say we’re building smart,’ he said.
The net cost of the building will actually be about $6 million less because McAlpine will be given a duty waiver on the materials for the building. Mr. Tibbetts explained that the contract was being handled that way because it saves government about $600,000 in contractor mark-up on duty costs.