Some 400 families need to be relocated from the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) project in Wellington, Debe. That directive is contained in a 119-page report submitted to the Government since 2015. Three years later, no move has been made to relocate residents who have been forced to live in unsafe structures, some of them with gaping cracks in their walls.
According to the findings in that report, deficiencies in the construction was highlighted throughout the project. In its conclusion, the report noted in capital letters that the cold-form steel superstructure is "UN-STABLE".
The housing project which started at $71 million ballooned to $187. Another internal HDC report stated that the project, which began under then housing minister Dr Keith Rowley in 2003 accrued $116 million in variations. However, just three years after families were moved in, substantial cracks and flaws started showing in the houses.
The report, which clearly indicates that there are serious deficiencies in the construction practices as adopted, stated, "The structural analysis showed that the cold-formed steel framing is inadequate during lateral loading, as experienced under seismic and wind loading," the report stated.
The report also noted that the load of the roof structure exceeded that allowed by the code.
"The result of this can be manifested in large deflection of the roof members, a loss of weather-tightness and excessive movement or cracking of non-structural elements."
Under the heading "General Building Performance" the report gauged both the health and safety issues of the occupants, and the quality of the experience the occupants have during the day-to-day occupation of the building.
"In terms of experience in day-to-day occupancy of the buildings, the buildings generally have not performed well as the gypsum joints keep opening, the roofs are generally leaking and the balcony eaves are generally falling," the report noted.
According to the report, T&T does not have a legislated building code, but buildings are designed to international building codes as directed by the Design Branch of the Ministry of Works and Transport (MOWT).
The report said that the Wellington Gardens superstructure does not meet building code requirements or normal performance requirements.
The investigators noted that internal partition walls for the kitchen, bedroom and master bedroom are non-structural gypsum wall frames that do not connect directly to the perimeter structural frames which varied from the MOWT approved drawings in which the internal partition walls of kitchen, bedroom, and master bedroom are also structural frames that are connected directly to the perimeter structural walls using nut and bolt connections, thereby creating a structural tie.
The construction company also did not connect the ground level concrete slabs to the suspended beams.
"The drawings are silent on the need for ties between the contec floor and the suspended floor beams. Typically, shear connectors are included to provide the required tying of members. The lack of ties or shear connection designs in the drawings were carried through to the construction of the buildings," the report stated.
The inadequacy of the shear capacity can lead to cracking and beam failure.
"It is noted that beam cracks are already evident in multiple buildings throughout the development," the report noted.
The HDC was engaged in arbitration with the contractors, Agostini's Ltd over its refusal to pay some of the variation costs. The HDC eventually settled with the company in December 2015 and ended up paying Agostini's Ltd another $24 million in 2016.
Agostini's MD defends work on the project
Managing Director of Agostini's, Anthony Agostini defended the company's work on the HDC project. In response to questions from Guardian Media on Thursday, Agostini said his company was contracted to construct some 320 homes at Wellington Gardens, Debe.
"The project was completed about nine years ago. The HDC withheld monies at the end of the project for the last two valuations and the retention for which we thought they had no good reason," Agostini said.
"We tried everything possible to settle but the HDC at the time did not want to do so, so before our claim became statute barred after the four-year period, we invoked the Arbitration Clause," Agostini said.
He said the arbitration was completed in 2015 and Agostini's was awarded $13 million plus a further $11 million in interests and costs.
"The HDC then settled in the timeframe as directed by the arbitrators," he said.
When asked about the report on the shoddy construction, Agostini directed blame to the residents.
"Many of the occupants of the homes we built have made all sorts of additions/extensions to the homes we provided, by adding additional rooms, garages etc," Agostini said.
"We cannot say if these were done with proper permission from the relevant authorities or taking into consideration proper engineering and building practices.
"We are very happy and satisfied with the work done on the project," Agostini said.
Agostini has since parted ways with the HDC and does not expect to work with them in the future.
"After we were left being owed so much money by the HDC, we decided we would not work for any government agency in the housing construction area in the future. We, therefore, decided to sell our modular home manufacturing equipment/factory and to discontinue low-cost housing type projects," Agostini said.
He confirmed that the arbitration was heard in May 2015 and the judgment was handed down in December of that same year. Agostini said the HDC paid the $24 million by 2016.
No response from HDC's MD
Guardian Media sought contact with HDC's managing director Brent Lyons regarding the project at Wellington, but he did not respond.
PM Rowley: Moonilal bad talking project beyond facts and reason
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley tossed back questions related to the overspending on the Wellington Gardens, Debe project to former housing minister Dr Roodal Moonilal.
Rowley said he believed Moonilal was Guardian Media's source of information on the report. He directed the paper to ask Moonilal, the contractor Agostini's Ltd, and the HDC all questions pertaining to the project and the amount spent.
"Did he (Moonilal) tell you about the amount of payment taxpayers had to pay Agostini for this crusade of his?" he asked
When told that Guardian Media had spoken to the contractor and that the payment was made in 2016, he said Moonilal was "bad talking" the Wellington project for years.
"HDC under Moonilal has been bad talking that project way beyond all fact and reason," Rowley said in a WhatsApp exchange on Friday.
"They were taken to arbitration and the HDC lost their point of repudiation and had to pay for work done, work which Moonilal was bad-mouthing all along," he said.
Rowley said the HDC "had to pay the contractor for satisfactory work done".
"Even after peddling misinformation without exposing you to the history and facts of the project," he said.
Guardian Media asked the Prime Minister whether he knew of the 2015 report which detailed the poor work on the project.
"What do you think the arbitration was about? What was the outcome of the arbitration?" he asked.
- by Renuka Singh. Photo by Kristian De Silva.