Vehicle and Licensing gets new digs

The new home of the Department of
Vehicle and Drivers’ Licensing officially opened its doors 1 March with a
ribbon-cutting by Premier McKeeva Bush and Works Minister Juliana O’Connor Connolly.

Located on Crewe Road near the
Hurley’s roundabout, the new premises provide a spacious new facility for the
public and the 33 Department employees who work there.

Department Director David Dixon
noted former Works Minister Arden McLean began initiating changes to the
Department in August 2006 and the project was taken up by the current ministry
responsible.

“The complex encapsulates what we
have set out to achieve in providing the public with a first class facility for
their day-to-day transactions that features enough amenities to meet demand,”
said Ms O’Connor Connolly at the opening.

“We realise at a time like this we
need to emphasise service and this new facility allows us to do it,” she
continued.

“It also addresses the lack of
space we had at the previous facilities.”

Indeed it is a far cry from the
premises occupied by the department on Walkers Road and Elgin Avenue.

Sean Evans, the Public Works
architect tasked with the job of coming up with a new home for the Department, said
the project was an enjoyable challenge.

The building is designed to handle
not only the vehicle inspection and registrations aspects of the Department’s
remit but also drivers’ license issuing and exam centres.

Built by Edgewater Development, the
complex also features ample parking with 85 spaces for both staff and customers,
and two inspection bays.

“The working conditions for the
staff have improved tremendously,” said Department Deputy Director Richard
Simms.

He’s delighted that not only are
the offices a pleasant place to work, now there is enough room for such
amenities as a proper kitchen where staff can prepare lunch, as well as
necessities like two dedicated file storage areas.

“Before we had to lease warehouse
space for some of our documents,” he notes.

Aside from the spacious new home
replacing the department’s cramped conditions, other problems have been
alleviated as well.

“We used to have problems with
odours from exhaust fumes, now that is not an issue; the facility’s inspection
now has a proper extraction fan for exhaust.”

“Things are going much better now
that we have this new facility,” said Mr. Simms.

“We are handling customers faster,
and it is definitely not as congested as we used to be,” he continued.

“When you look at what we had
before, there were three facilities but they were still inadequate to meet
demand.”

There are more cars that need to be
licensed, and more people who need drivers’ licenses.

Mr. Dixon has noted that 20,602
vehicles had been registered in the Cayman Islands by the end of 1997. By
January 2010, this figure was 54,745.

“The previous facilities proved
inadequate for the required functions,” said Mr. Simms.

He said that since the move, the
Department has seen a marked alleviation in congestion, particularly with
regard to vehicle inspections.

“Before, we had cars lined up,
stretching out onto Elgin Avenue causing traffic flow problems,” he said.

“Now the inspection process is much
quicker because we have two pits instead of one and a bigger site.”

 “The concept was to get it off the flood
plain, so we did need to fill the site, but the location was deemed appropriate
because it is not right in the middle of George Town,” he said.

The staff appreciate the large site
and location as well.

“A lot of our staff live to the
east of George Town, so it is closer to get to work, and now thanks to ample
parking there is no need to leave home very early to ensure you get a parking
spot,” says Mr. Simms.

The building’s shape is unusual, to
the point that Mr. Evans noted it has spurred controversy in some corners.

“Some people say they like it, some
say they hate it,” he said.

“A lot of people wonder about the
shape, especially the bow trussed roof.”

He says the building’s appearance came
from the idea of an airplane or mechanical hangar to reflect the building’s
use.

The shape is also tailored to
withstand Cayman’s weather conditions.

“We did some research and found wind
tunnel tests show it is the best shape aerodynamically for hurricanes,” he
said.

“It has really small overhangs as
well, as it has been found that buildings with larger overhangs suffer more
damage in less severe hurricanes.”

Ian Washbrook of Halcrow Yolles,
the project’s structural engineers of record, said the roof is framed with
pre-engineered timber trusses.

“The framer used attic trusses
allowing for a service corridor inside the roof,” said Mr. Washbrook.

“It’s a unique design, but we were
able to frame the roof to the satisfaction of the architect.”

In addition, while the central beam
of the roof is structural, he explained it is trough-shaped for drainage.

“As the roof slopes inward, you
need somewhere for the water to go.”

Hydes and Sons was behind the
roof’s construction.

“It is one of the first roofs of
that shape on the Islands, with arched as well as flat components,” said Junior
Hydes.

“It was very challenging and
somewhat complicated but it was very interesting project to work on.”

He said the roof took about six
months from start to finish but the physical work done at the site took about
four weeks.

The building also has a green
element, reflecting a modern design approach.

“The building’s design is very efficient
in its use of energy through its materials use, building form and consideration
of site orientation,” said Mr. Evans, the architect.

“This is the design feature I’m
most proud of.”

In this hot region, a building’s
heat gain requires cooling. Thus, not surprisingly, air-conditioning is the
biggest factor for energy consumption.

“Therefore buildings with high
energy conservation or efficiency factors are desirable,” said Mr. Evans.

In terms of materials used, the
facility uses insulated glazing, cooler finish colours and reflective roof
finish to minimize the building’s heat-gain.

With regard to building form, more
compact massing of the building is the best design form to resist heat-gain in
a hot region.

“In addition, consideration of the
sun’s path and minimizing of glazing facing the sun was made where possible to
prevent additional heat-gain,” Mr. Evans said.

Mr. Washbrook noted the building’s
walls are reinforced concrete and the block wall is designed to withstand
hurricane force winds and missile impact.

It has some other interesting
structural features as well.

“The building rests on a shallow
soil bearing slab on grade,” he said.

“There was hardly any peat on the site,
and what was there was removed and filled, so the slab did not have to be
structural,” he explained.

The inspection area had its own
challenges, as it was designed to accommodate not only cars but large and
therefore heavy trucks.

“We had to take that into account
when designing the pits,” said Mr. Washbrook.

“The walls of the pits will see a
lot of pressure from large trucks so we had to make sure that they were
constructed to support it.”

Junior Hall of Ghezzi Mechanical
said the building offered ample space for the company to complete its work.

“It went very well as a project,”
he said.

He noted that unlike building a
house, a building’s tenants have numerous and varied requirements. Making
everyone happy is the key to success.

“On this project, however, if we
had any issues there was a clearly defined chain of command,” he said, ensuring
everyone involved was informed of any concerns or changes that needed to be
made.

“In the end, going through this
process allows us to make sure that everything is fully functional when we are
through.”

One half of the ground floor is
used for receiving customers and conducting the licensing service, while the
other half houses the staff that facilitate those services, as well as providing
much expanded, and much needed, document storage.

Upstairs houses the administrative
aspects of the department, with furnishings supplied by Workplace Environments.

Mr. Washbrook said the second floor
is designed as a reinforced concrete flat plate, meaning there are no beams
interfering with the installation of ductwork making it a fairly simple process
for the contractors.

Among the features that make
working more pleasant, Mr. Evans noted the building receives a lot of natural
light especially in the customer areas.

Mr. Bergstrom of Edgewater explained
the building is built in a flexible way to accommodate developments in information
technology.

For instance, the Department plans
to implement electronic testing, so customers can come in and write their exams
on computers.

“We have made sure that the
structure can easily accommodate more wiring and some of the rooms downstairs
can be used for testing,” he said.

The building itself is built to the
latest Category 5 hurricane specifications, elevated to the appropriate height
to withstand flooding with  a hurricane
resistant roof and walls.

The building incorporates
efficiencies like a queue-matic system similar to the one in use at the
Immigration Department.

Also in the interest of
accommodating clients, the department will soon be launching its new customer
service website, which among other things, will enable users to renew their
vehicle licenses online.

In addition, the interior of the
building has also been fitted out to accommodate physically challenged staff and
clients.

“Great care was given to ensure
that the building met American Disability Association guidelines allowing
disabled public visitors or disabled staff to access both floors,” said Mr.
Evans.

While a building may be attractive
in its own right, the right landscaping and attention to exterior features can
add tremendously to its overall appeal.

“We are happy the decision was made
to keep the retention pond in the front, so native plants can begin to grow in
there,” said Craig Stewart of Vigoro, the company charged with installing
the landscaping and irrigation.

“We tried to use as many native
plants as possible and overall it was a pretty straightforward undertaking,” he
said.

Mr. Evans said the design incorporated
landscaping and water features to maintain the site’s cooler microclimate,
which again minimizes the building’s heat-gain.

The overall objective was to make
the property as attractive and user-friendly as possible. Mr. Stewart and his
team added touches like installing walkways to various access points of the
building to make the property easier to get around.

“We also landscaped around the
gazebo so people can have a nice place to review paperwork or take a break,”
said Mr. Stewart.

Lachlan Dyett of ARCP was in charge
of paving, and was involved not only in laying down the asphalt but also filling
in some areas.

“Part of the turnaround for the
trucks exiting the inspection area needed to be extended,” he said.

“Overall it was a nice project to
work on.”

Braynard Watler of Watler & Hislop
oversaw construction of the 14 drainage wells that dot the property.

“The exciting part was the fact we
had to go deep, 100 feet at 8 inches,” he said.

“The water table was quite high but
underneath it there was a lot of very hard rock, it was a challenge,” he said.

“We made sure those wells were
property dug and lined as regulations require.”

He, like many contractors involved
in construction of the Department’s new headquarters, was pleased to be part of
the project, and summed up his impressions succinctly.

“The facility is
great, quite an improvement in terms of the building over the previous
premises.”

LOCALdvlSTORY

The new queue-matic system keeps things running smoothly.
Photo: Basia Pioro
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