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Restoring President’s House

Unicom to renovate historic building
Published: 
Thursday, April 12, 2018
Unicom’s technical director Marcel Labban, centre, peruses the plan for President’s House with company’s director Neela Labban, right, and project co-ordinator Glennder Rooplal at their office in Frederick Settlement Caroni, office. PICTURE NICOLE DRAYTON

Although the local construction sector has suffered a decline of about 50 per cent, that has not deterred the owners and operators of Unicom (Trinidad) Ltd, the firm in charge of renovations at President’s House.

Directors of the construction company, Marcel and Neela Labban, say they are ready to proceed with this massive project, confident of their two and a half decades of experience in the sector. They say they can deliver the project on time despite challenges with labour, the slow down in the economy and fierce competition in the sector.

Unicom—which is based Frederick Settlement in Caroni—is classified as a medium-to-large contractor. The company, which employ 100 workers, offers construction services and also does manufacturing for interiors.

The Labbans, who are working with project co-ordinator Glennder Rooplal on the President’s House renovation, said 95 per cent of their projects are in the private sector.

“We are a firm that is pretty comfortable in our domestic market. We worked in Guyana, St Vincent, St Lucia and Jamaica. We worked for Cable and Wireless when they were rebranding.

We did the rebranding here in T&T when TSTT was re-branding.”

Unicom was contracted to build b-mobile stores on Independence Square in Port-of-Spain, Library Corner, San Fernando and Trincity Mall and managed to deliver those completed projects within four months. The company also constructed TSTT’s dealership stores across the country.

In the case of President’s House, Marcel said only about five per cent of the project involves international consultants and contractors.

“The next step is mobilisation which we have already started, building our team and ensuring we have the right labour force, equipment and material procurement. It’s a modify/design build. We have only been on the site about a few weeks after the new President was appointed.”

He added that the company has been given one month to complete structural and architectural surveys to determine the extent of damage and to formulate a strategy.

“Because the project is a modify, design, build, a lot of the decisions are left up to us and the client, so we are in direct communication with the client (Udecott) at all times. “

Neela said Unicom officials do not feel any pressure over having to hand over the project on time since “that’s what we are accustomed doing.”

She explained: “Almost all of our customers are repeat, even Udecott. We have worked with some of the most demanding corporate customers in the Caribbean. We have worked for all the financial institutions including the Central Bank of T&T, as well as the Parliament.”

Labban said Unicom was able develop the project for $30 million less than other bidders because the company owns its equipment and expertise and does not need to outsource.

She said the fact that they incorporate interior design in their business has made them stand out in the highly-competitive domestic market.

Construction sector declines

In the face of declines in the sector, Unicom has been forced to be more creative to secure more opportunities. Trends are showing that contractors who generally did public sector projects are now competing for the private sector jobs, which Unicom had been targeting for years, Neela said.

“Sometimes it might be perceived that a project is padded but, in fact, most of the time it isn’t.

“The cost of getting things done is actually quite high. To rent a crane or a man lift is high, scaffolding rentals and the safety standards that go with it has to be adhered to,” she explained.

Neela hopes recently introduced procurement legislation will remove obstacles and the red tape that affect the conduct of business in the public sector.

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