Glass House decision set for early July

Cabinet will choose among several options next month to decide the future of the Glass House. – Photo: Chris Court

Cabinet is likely to decide the future of the Glass House early next month, choosing among several options that involve either demolishing the structure or redeveloping it with a private company.

According to Tristan Hydes, deputy chief officer in the Ministry of Planning, Lands, Agriculture, Housing and Infrastructure, the options comprise three choices under the broad rubric of demolition, and another two if planners elect to renovate the property.

While renovation is unlikely because of the cost of fixing multiple violations of building codes and lurking structural damage, “a more detailed response” is due in early July “once Cabinet has considered” competing suggestions, Mr. Hydes said.

In early June, the deputy chief officer said “a timeline, based on that all goes well and there are no postponements, is two weeks to get back [and] evaluate tenderers’ responses, and include [them] in a paper to Cabinet, one week for [a Progressive Party] caucus, and one week to cabinet.”

The tender to replace the building follows the Aug. 28, 2015, ministry request for bids for “demolition and disposal” of the four-story, 35,000-square-foot building of reinforced concrete and steel. Built in 1974, the structure housed government departments and ministries. However, the building suffered irreparable damage in 2004’s Hurricane Ivan, which itself sparked multiple changes in local building codes, rendering the Glass House below standard.

The process of vacating the structure ended in 2011 as the last occupants moved to the newly built Government Administration Building.

Cabinet will choose among several options next month to decide the future of the Glass House. – Photo: Chris Court
Cabinet will choose among several options next month to decide the future of the Glass House. – Photo: Chris Court

The 2015 tender called for demolition to begin in October last year, finishing in January 2016, but competing proposals for replacing it delayed action.

Because the identity of the bidders and details of their proposals remain under wraps, Mr. Hydes declined to discuss costs of each option, although Public Works Department Senior Project Manager Peter Widmer earlier said the price of demolition was likely to run into “the hundreds of thousands” of dollars.

Mr. Hydes would say only that the option for a park “was deemed competitive” and was “at the discretion of the anonymous donor,” who will pay to create the park. The price of a new structure, he said, would be “based on type [and] usage of the building.”

Two choices under “renovation” were to use it as a government facility, although Mr. Hydes did not elaborate, saying only that cost “estimates [were] given, but considered very preliminary as type/usage will need to be decided.”

The last choice was to turn the building over to a “private entity,” which would “lease [it] to a third party to recoup costs, although details were still being weighed by government and “costs seem suspect at present.”

Clarifying some of the proposals, architect Owen Merodon, who helped develop the options for the Public Works Department, said many professionals would like to see the building remain.

“When we put the building out to tender last year, it became apparent that it is a highly political site – apart from its history.

“I believe many architects would like to see it remain. In fact, I believe there are a few in government who want it to stay as well. The tenders were interesting and the whole process brought out a lot of sentiment.”

Mr. Hydes added, “I believe a design competition among Cayman’s finest [designers] could provide some interesting ideas. The bottom line [is that] the building would need to be gutted and assessed structurally. The ground floor, in one concept, would be open-sided with washrooms; the second and third floors would be a creche and art gallery, and the top floor could be opened up to the sky with a rooftop restaurant and viewing platform.”

The option would require leasing the site to a third party who would fund it, Mr. Merodon said.

Mr. Hydes said only that the ministry and Public Works Department had put together reports, costs, etc., “to better assist” the tenderers, which are still being evaluated, and additional information sought.

“Once we receive feedback from them, the ministry will provide this information to government for a decision,” he said.

The government, he added, wants “to be sure it [is] making a sound and justifiable position.”

On Tuesday, Minister for Planning, Lands, Agriculture, Housing and Infrastructure Kurt Tibbetts told Finance Committee that government is paying for electricity at the Glass House. The building is on the same distribution and metering system as the adjacent Radio Cayman building and the George Town police station, while some government records remain housed at the site.

“You can’t turn the power off,” Mr. Tibbetts told the committee. “The condition of that building, as it is, it is unsafe and to completely refurbish it is impractical.”

People have “all kinds of ideas” about uses for the building, Mr. Tibbetts said, but “nothing … tells me that it is not better to knock [it] down.”

He rejected proposals to refurbish the interior and lease it back to government, saying years-old studies made the suggestion impractical, and that building code violations disqualified it as an alternate for the George Town Police Station.

A decade ago, one quantity surveyor pegged at $10 million the cost to renovate the building, while a subsequent study added another $3 million to $6 million to that.

Late last year, Mr. Tibbetts said, “It is not considered practical or value for money to renovate the Glass House for any other use.

“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.”

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  1. Such a unique beautiful place with history that stage marches on its front lawn to even hunger strikes.
    Hate to see it demolished but something important should be put in the place, like a new police station, ideal spot.