Minister: Glass House cannot be reused

The former Cayman Islands government administration building, known as the “Glass House,” would cost more to refurbish and reuse for government office space than it will to demolish, Planning Minister Kurt Tibbetts said Friday.

Mr. Tibbetts’s statement came in response to a parliamentary question asked by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, who wondered why the 1970s-era office building on Elgin Avenue could not be used for overflow office space for government, which he said was “still paying rent for various departments,” despite the new administration building’s opening in early 2011.

Mr. Bush also questioned whether the old Glass House could not be used as the new operations headquarters for the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, whose current central police station is in a dilapidated state and needs to be replaced.

“The Glass House is an inefficient building by modern standards as it is some 45 years old,” Mr. Tibbetts said in response. “It would cost more to refurbish it than what it’s worth.”

For instance, the building has a number of building code violations that would be costly to fix. The worst example is the placement of the building’s elevators and staircases in the central core of the structure. Additional staircases would have to be built, reducing the available office space area, Mr. Tibbetts said.

When it was still being used, the average monthly power bill for the Glass House was about $55,000, Mr. Tibbetts said. The average monthly bill for the new Government Administration Building is $85,000 per month, but the new administration building is about six times larger than the old one.

“Even with major renovation, it would not be able to match the energy efficiency and seismic and hurricane resistance of … the new [government] administration building,” Mr. Tibbetts said.

The government’s current plan is to demolish the old office building and create a park in the area now bounded by the new administration building, Radio Cayman and the George Town Police Station.

Nearly a decade ago, a quantity surveyor estimated it would cost nearly $10 million to renovate the Glass House to an acceptable standard. In 2009, a further review put those renovation costs even higher – between $13 million and $16 million. Mr. Bush, the former premier, had plans at one stage to turn the building into offices for his Ministry of Financial Services, but that never happened.

That put the question of using it for the new police station site out of the question, Mr. Tibbetts said.

“In light of the findings in the 2006 and 2009 reports … it is not considered practical or value for money to renovate the Glass House for any other use,” Mr. Tibbetts said.

The planning minister said the current government administration building is now 86 percent occupied. As more agencies move into the building, the government is expected to save money on annual lease costs in other buildings, which are still costing millions each budget year.


  1. Sadly, the reports sited in the above article are most likely accurate. Generally, it is always more costly to renovate and restore to modern standards than it is to simply build anew.

    This sounds strange, but simply talk to anyone who has done a major home or commercial remodeling. In the case of the Glass House, the building really would need to be retrofitted with hurricane energy efficient glass. That would mean the entire building would need to be clad in this expensive covering. That is, if the structure itself could handle the extra weight of such glass walls.

    Too bad, since this in an excellent example of modern architecture.

  2. The Glass house is a good looking building, however if it NEED to go than it should go.
    Keeping in mind that plans in the making for the spot should be well utilized and comfort to all residents.
    I would say we need a good park in George Town, however I am wondering if the cost to build a park on the spot will be more expensive than refurbishing the Glass house to a point, even to expand the police station which is needed. If it is six of one and half a dozen of the other then some considerations are necessary.

  3. I cannot believe I am saying this, but it has occurred to me that perhaps the government should put the building on the market. With an honest attempt to sell this valuable asset, it would be interesting to see how the private sector would address the issues with the construction of the building.

    The government would need to assure the potential owners that it would not install outrageous standards and requirements for adaptive reuse. Instead hold the developer to realistic standards of safety and efficiency. Then step back and see what the private sector can do with the building, and government could then take the revenue produced by the sale to develop a part is a less costly manner. After all, if the building is worth say, two million dollars, the starting cost of the part is two million, and then add the park construction costs.

    Is this cost cost a responsible use of public dollars for a park of limited use?

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