FROM the outside, San Fernando City Hall looks aesthetically pleasing. But a walk inside the 91-year-old building tells a story of dismal disrepair.
Termite-infested carpeted floors, a leaky roof, the weakening of the lower floor when the rain falls, are just some of the ills of this landmark and seat of local government power.
It is for these and other reasons that the Mayor of San Fernando, Junia Regrello, sought approval from the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government to renovate the building and make the interior equally visually pleasing and robust.
Money from unspent balances that have been identified for the preservation of the building was estimated to be around $2.5 million last year. Seven months later, work has stopped and the project now has an estimate of around $3 million for completion.
Regrello explained that this project and several others in San Fernando have been put on hold pending auditor approval, and the cost continues to mount.
“We have the money, we have made recommendations. They (the auditors) have followed these recommendations, but I don’t know what is causing the delay. We’ve been at this point for seven months and I can’t say why.
“Is San Fernando sabotaged?”
He said local government minister Faris Al-Rawi is aware of the problem and is working with the council so work can resume.
In the meantime, the top floor of the Harris Drive building, which previously housed the council chamber, is no longer occupied. Termite-infested windows and floors were removed, along with the ceiling, exposing the leaky roof. All the demolished rubble now lies on the ground as the contractors have stopped work.
The company’s monthly statutory meeting was held in the nearby auditorium on Wednesday.
Asked about the halt to the project, Regrello explained that the problem with repairing City Hall, like several other projects undertaken, including a sinkhole on Marriot Street, has to do with money – unspent balances – which have not yet been unlocked.
“Although the unspent balance is in our possession, we cannot use it without the approval of the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government (RDLG). The auditors still have to approve it.
He said auditors had reviewed the recommendations and a presented budget, but continued to identify simple flaws.
He explained that there are 12 auditors assigned to the 14 companies, so they see them once or twice a month.
“It’s really frustrating. We got government approval to start because the town hall was in bad shape. The floor is plywood and carpeted. The ceiling was totally infested with termites and was leaking. We have to redo it .
“We had to erect a wall because homeless people were sleeping in the enclosure. I remember one morning when an ambassador was due to surrender and as we arrived at the building, we were confronted with feces at the entrance.
He spoke of a video of a woman washing her private parts in a sink at the entrance in accordance with covid19 health protocols.
“We had to do a real wall because it’s our signature building, and we didn’t want it to look shabby or second-rate. We also had to pave the grassy area out front as water was seeping into the floor below, undermining the structure.
Regrello said the contractors started work without being paid, but as time passed with no guarantee of when payment would be made, they stopped work.
“They don’t want to invest money here and then have to wait three to four years to get paid.”
Regrello, who is barred by law from serving as mayor after his term ends this year after serving three terms, said he hopes to hand over a completed building to his successor.