It will take another $2.04 million on top of the $2.5 million already spent for government to complete the Church of God Bodden Town, the large concrete structure on Shamrock Road that is intended to serve as a multipurpose hall and hurricane shelter.
Legislators approved the funds to complete the project during Finance Committee proceedings on Monday.
Before the vote, Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller asked why another $2 million is needed when work on the building structure is largely finished.
“This seems like a lot of money, so can we get a breakdown of what we’re doing?” Miller asked. “Because that building already has a roof on it, windows and doors on it.”
Public Works Department acting director Niasha Brady said the money is to complete the existing building and associated works, including a parking lot and civil works. Brady said $215,000 will also be spent on consultants to conduct structural engineering work on the site.
Miller asked why structural engineering needs to be done when such work was presumably conducted when the structure was first built. He also asked why consultants are being hired instead of having Public Works staff do the work.
Brady responded that the work is being done again because “this is just part of the due diligence to make sure what we have there at the current structure is meeting [Planning Authority] requirements”. The Public Works Department does not have in-house structural engineers, and so government has hired the same consultants that originally worked on the Church of God project.
Miller asked for a complete quantity-survey breakdown of the church’s costs. Infrastructure Minister Joey Hew agreed to provide the breakdown, but asked legislators to keep the information secret because the project has not been tendered yet.
Bodden Town representative Chris Saunders thanked Hew for pushing on with the project, saying it is something that will be useful to his constituents. He asked for a timeline for the development, and Hew said it should start in August and take six to eight months to finish.
The Church of God project is a part of the now-defunct Nation Building Fund, a community infrastructure programme under the government of then-Premier McKeeva Bush that distributed some $13.2 million to various causes, including more than $5.2 million to 26 churches.
Of the churches that received funds for construction, some returned all or some of the money, and most – such as the Church of God Bodden Town – have been unable to finish the projects they started with government’s assistance and assurances.
In July 2015, then-Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick issued a scathing report on multiple aspects of the programme, including poor accounting practices and a lack of record-keeping for 15 of the church projects reviewed.
“Without any accountability back to Government, the risk that funds provided to churches were used for purposes other than the intended purpose was high,” according to the report.
After government announced last year that the project will resume, a joint statement issued by the Premier’s Office, Hazard Management and the Planning Department portrayed the church hall project as a hurricane shelter project.
“In an ongoing effort to increase the total capacity of emergency shelters across the Cayman Islands, work continues to be done to the Church of God in Bodden Town. Updates such as a new roof and windows are currently being installed at the church in order for the building to function safely as an approved Government hurricane shelter,” according to the statement.
The proposed assembly hall at Bodden Town Primary School is also being developed and is expected to provide shelter space for 322 people.
“Together, both locations would create space for an additional 872, which would bring the total capacity of emergency shelters in the district to approximately 1,127 persons,” according to the government statement.
Cost estimates were also not provided for the primary school assembly hall project, and government has not issued any tender documents for that development.