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HDC now opens Trou Macaque project to public

Saturday, December 21, 2013
Short-listed contractors fail to submit proposals…
Flashback: Residents look at the burnt Housing Development Corporation (HDC) apartment building at Trou Macaque, Laventille, after it was damaged by fire in December, 2011.

Short-listed contractors have not responded to a request for proposals (RFP) to renovate the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) apartment building at Trou Macaque, Laventille, damaged by fire in December 2011, because they are afraid for their lives.  “RFPs for the renovation and retrofitting of the burnt building have not attracted any submissions or tenders,” said Maurisa Findley, HDC’s consultant manager of corporate communications. 



Four people died and seven were injured after they jumped from the top floor of the five-storey building, because there was no fire escape. The HDC was criticised as a result. Findley said the HDC invited tenders on October 11, 2013. “Restoration of the fire damaged structure is critical,” she said, “as we aim to increase the availability of units in the community. “The RFP for the Trou Macaque community also included the retrofitting of the existing buildings to facilitate effective emergency exits in each of them.”


Findley said the HDC sent out the RFPs to specific contractors it believed had the capability to do the work, but none has responded. Asked why, she said, “These are typically difficult areas in which contractors are hard pressed, sometimes afraid, or feel intimidated to do business.” She said because of the lack of response from specific contractors, HDC management has now decided to throw out an invitation for the Trou Macaque project to the wider public.


“The HDC has decided to invite Expressions of Interest via public advertisement scheduled for early January, 2014. Any contractor who feels he can do the job can tender. We are determined to do the upgrade work,” Findley said. Laventille is a police listed crime hot spot where gang killings are frequent and Findley added, “Many contractors have reported to the HDC they are ordered to pay protection or entry tax and have to fork up substantial sums of money in order to carry out their work.


“If they don’t pay up, they sometimes face threats, the work is vandalised and they are often forced to abandon the contract for the safety of their families.” Findley said for projects to continue in crime hot spots, the state has to pay increased sums to cover police protection or position defence force personnel in the area. She said it is difficult to find highly-skilled engineering contractors in the community who are needed for a project like the renovation of the Trou Macaque building. 


Asked if no gang leader will, therefore, have a chance of being hired, she replied, “I am not saying residents are criminals. A lot of them are skilled.” Well-known Beetham resident Kenneth “Spanish” Rodriguez had told members of the media he was the contractor for the police post project on Duncan Street, Port-of-Spain, another crime hot spot. The HDC had strenuously denied this. Findley said they had an approved, certified contractor for that project and that Spanish was not on their payroll.


Asked why the HDC took two years to get the ball rolling on the Trou Macaque project, she said they had been doing assessments and developing the scope of work for the renovation and retrofitting of 300 multi-storey buildings throughout the country, including the one at Trou Macaque.  “All the buildings had to be carefully examined from an engineering perspective.” Laventille West MP NiLeung Hypolite said the HDC has not placed sufficient emphasis on the Trou Macaque project.


“Right after the fire, the Prime Minister had promised to start work immediately.” Responding to the safety concerns of contractors, he said there is the option of using the police and members of the Defence Force, as was done for the Duncan Street project.




Fire and Safety Programme
After the Trou Macaque fire, managing director Jearlean John said the HDC planned to spend approximately $174 million on safety equipment and impose rigid building safety codes. Based on the release the Trou Macaque fire emphasised the need to retrofit its older facilities with adequate fire and emergency escapes. It said this was part of an extensive fire and emergency programme undertaken by the HDC, primarily on multistorey buildings.


The HDC said a wide range of strategies had been incorporated into the programme to combat and reduce the incidence and frequency of fires in its 300 multistorey home complexes spread across ten zones. “The HDC conducted condition surveys and a comprehensive assessment of the preventative initiatives required for fire and emergency mitigation in its estates. 


“Collaborative efforts with the T&T Fire Service identified requisite solutions and the scope of work was developed by our project oversight engineer and the Health and Safety Unit of the HDC,” the release stated. The scope of the work includes the design and building of fire escapes in the 300 multistorey buildings, installing fire hose reels, standpipes and detection systems, and tenant training and awareness.


“An evaluation of the submitted proposals has been conducted for presentation to the board of directors at the next meeting scheduled for January 2014. “Structural engineering services were also engaged to conduct condition surveys for the design and construction of the fire escapes and they are currently being assessed. “The results of the condition surveys will be utilised in the development of the RFPs for the commencement of this project, early in 2014,” the release stated.


According to the release after the 2011 fire, the HDC embarked on an aggressive fire prevention awareness strategy aimed at educating and informing residents of the perils of fire and other emergencies. “Our Health and Safety Unit, in conjunction with the Fire Service, conducted several outreach safety and awareness programmes in communities across the country. “Residents of Trou Macaque, in particular, were exposed to fire safety and the use of fire safety apparatus on May 29, 2012. 


“The community was also provided with 20-pound fire extinguishers which are contained in fire safety cabinets along the corridor of every building. “Numerous other communities were also provided with fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and hose reels. Residents were also trained in the use of these apparatus by our health and safety officers.” The release said the HDC also engaged the T&T Electricity Commission and the police to assist  with ongoing investigations into illegal electrical connections among tenants. 


“Official reports on illegal electrical connections, called ‘bridging,’ are sent to the Fire Service, the T&TEC and to tenants who are in breach.


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