The Cayman Islands government is spending $180,000 to $240,000 annually – at least in part – to supply electricity to an office building that has not been staffed in about five years.
The total bill includes electricity for the empty Glass House, as well as for the neighboring George Town Police Station and Radio Cayman buildings.
Planning Minister Kurt Tibbetts said the old government administration building, dubbed the Glass House because its exterior is made of glass, as well as the two other properties, are running Caribbean Utilities Company bills of between $15,000 and $20,000 per month.
“It’s costing government between $15,000 and $20,000 per month for electricity because you can’t turn the power off,” Mr. Tibbetts told the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee on Tuesday. “The condition of that building, as it is, it is unsafe and to completely refurbish it is impractical.”
The reason government cannot simply “turn the power off” to the Glass House is because its meter incorporates the police station and radio station power usage and both of those buildings are still operational.
“There are plans to separate the services in the future,” government facilities manager Troy Whorms told the Cayman Compass. “The data to determine [the exact power bill for the Glass House] is not available today and will require further monitoring to determine the actual usage of each facility.” When the Glass House was still in use, government’s electricity bill for the property was around $55,000 per month, Mr. Tibbetts said.
Mr. Tibbetts said people have “all kinds of ideas” about what to use the 1970s-era building for, but he said the Progressives-led government is unlikely to agree to any use of the current structure in a redevelopment plan. He said the building is “unsafe,” and central public sector operations moved down Elgin Avenue to the modern government administration building in early 2011.
“Nothing … tells me that it is not better to knock that building down,” Mr. Tibbetts said.
The minister indicated that government has received a private sector proposal to build a park on the site, which is in between the new administration building and the George Town Police Station on the north side of Elgin Avenue. However, that plan is contingent on the building’s demolition, he said.
Other plans submitted to government have included ideas to refurbish the interior and lease the building back to government, but Mr. Tibbetts said information from studies done years ago have made those proposals moot.
In October 2015, Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush asked whether the Glass House could be used for a new Royal Cayman Islands Police Service headquarters, since the George Town Police Station has been condemned by building inspectors and needs to be replaced.
Mr. Tibbetts said the Glass House has a number of building code violations that would be costly to fix. The worst example, he said, 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.
“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.
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 the renovation cost 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.
“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 in late 2015.
As of December 2015, the Government Administration Building was occupied at 86 percent of capacity. 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, Mr. Tibbetts said.