Another deadline is looking likely to be missed in the construction of the Eleftheria square, even as the municipality is frantically trying to expedite progress, but at least some of the cost overruns may not end up burdening the taxpayer, the Sunday Mail has learned.
“It is not a matter of dates,” a source close to the project told the Sunday Mail. The latest delay, acknowledged by the municipality’s project director Agni Petridou earlier this week, has been attributed to the contractor’s inability to meet the standards set by the architects on a part of the bridge. A foreign expert will have to be brought in to complete this section, she said.
“The dates are not set by the municipality,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The municipality’s effort right now is for the bridge and Costaki Pantelidi street to be opened to the public. But actually, contrary to public perception, the project is moving along and is in a course of completion.”
According to Petridou’s statement, a part of the bridge and the road running along the northern side of the square will be opened to the public in January.
In a bid to meet the tight deadlines, the contractor has already committed more than 120 workers on the project, with a report in daily Phileleftheros claiming they had agreed to raise the number to nearly double from now on.
The municipality could not confirm the number of labourers committed to the project.
Added costs, incurred by delays and outsourcing construction of parts of the project will be reviewed by the Central Committee of Changes and Claims, the source said.
The committee is a government body comprising the state treasurer, the auditor general, the head of the European programmes directorate, the permanent secretary of the transport ministry and the heads of various other government departments. It approves or rejects over-budget cost or deadline extensions through a “painstakingly thorough process”.
“It reviews extensive reports highlighting the added cost incurred or deadline missed, it examines both sides’ arguments, and makes a determination on whether they should be approved or not,” the Mail was told.
Asked whether the contractor could assume the cost for being unable to meet the standards set by the architect and causing the delay and the need to outsource construction, the source implied that this could be the case.
“You have to understand, these things are governed by a signed contract that provides for every possible contingency,” the source said.
“Before any part of the project is actually constructed, the architect demands a sample of the contractor’s work. If it is not satisfactory, the contractor is instructed to try again – obviously, if he ends up saying he can’t do it, the cost overrun of getting someone else to do it will end up with the Central Committee of Changes and Claims.”
These things are routine in projects this large, the source said, adding with a chuckle that “in Cyprus, we tend to be a little casual about standards and due process”.
The project’s cost was originally budgeted at €23 million, but following the 2014 withdrawal of the first contractor, it was broken down into two smaller ones: construction of the bridge and square were awarded to another contractor for a budgeted €13.5 million, while construction of a two-storey underground parking lot adjacent to the square was awarded to the same contractor via a different tenders’ process for some €11 million.
By April 2016 mayor Constantinos Yiorkadjis said the projected costs were now €32m, excluding construction of the two-storey parking space but including an EAC substation.
Bureaucratic inertia being what it is, any public project of this magnitude could be expected to run over, both in completion time and budget, but the Eleftheria square particularly proved something of a perfect storm.
First it was antiquities found during initial digs that caused a delay; then it was the rocky relationship between the first contractor and the architects, each blaming the other; then it was the municipality’s releasing of the first contractor and deciding to low-ball the new tender budget in hopes of attracting lower bids, which pushed the process further back; then it was the new contractor failing to build things to the standard set by the architects.
At one point or other, everyone involved was blamed of having contributed to the delays – by now almost, if not more than, twice the time initially estimated it would have taken the project to be finished from scratch.
But perhaps the biggest blunder of all through the years is that, despite seeing time and again that it has little control over delays, the municipality insists on cornering itself with hard promises.
“The contractor and the architects are working intensively to implement planning in the best way possible,” Yiorkadjis said in March 2012, announcing the start of Phase 1, which was to last one year.
“We will not stop monitoring and give solutions to any problems that may come up, in order to serve the public as well as possible and make this complex project in our city’s centre a reality.”
Similar promises have been made multiple times since – and broken every time – yet, strikingly, another came this week.
In her statement, Petridou announced a series of “stringent organisational measures” designed to “ensure that there will be no further delays in completing the project”, meaning delivering the bridge by January and the square by July.
This, of course, followed an earlier pledge to deliver the bridge by the end of last summer, and the square by year-end.
Five years of delays and missed deadlines
March 2005: tenders invited for square design
December 28, 2005: Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid and her associates Christos Passas and Saffet Bekiroglu win the competition to redesign Eleftheria square
August 29, 2011: final architectural plans unveiled
December 22, 2011: construction contract awarded
Feb 6, 2012: construction work starts by Miltiades Neophytou contracting firm
July 1, 2012: deadline for completion of Eleftheria square bridge and Eastern moat missed, pushed back to June 20, 2013
June 20, 2013: deadline for completion of bridge missed
July 24, 2013: temporary metal bridge over the Eleftheria square site connecting the walled city and the part outside the walls to address pedestrian movement issues during construction – still in place
Feb 6, 2014: project completion deadline at cost €23m missed, pushed back to June 17, 2014
Feb 24, 2014: amicable dissolution of agreement with contractor in exchange for €530,000 (against contractor’s demands of over €1.5mln)
April 4, 2014: project split into two parts (underground parking and redesign of square), new competition for construction contract opened
June 17, 2014: project completion deadline missed
June-July, 2014: Nicosia municipality cancels tenders process as bids received greatly exceeded budget
November 23, 2014: square redesign contract awarded to lowest bidder at 55 per cent over budget
December 12, 2014: underground parking contract awarded to new contractor
March 2015: municipality cancels decision to award new underground parking contract due to suspicions of collusion among bidders
January 1, 2015: new contractor Lois Builders starts work on a March 2016 deadline
May 11, 2015: €3.5 million’s worth of work, formerly part of the underground parking contract, moved to the square redesign contract without a tenders process
November 11, 2015: project completion deadline pushed back to June 9, 2016
Dec 31, 2015: deadline for project completion for co-sponsorship of 85 per cent by EU structural funds missed, project included into new EU programme
February 8, 2016: project completion deadline pushed back to November 30, 2016
April 13, 2016: Mayor Constantinos Yiorkadjis announces “end-of-year” completion and €32m cost (excluding construction of the two-storey parking space)
March 31, 2017: official deadline for completion of bridge and square
September 1, 2017: deadline for opening the bridge to the public missed
January, 2018: deadline currently in force for opening the bridge to the public
July, 2018: deadline currently in force for delivering the square