RECENT delays in the building of the cinema and music venue Mareel have been caused by the tender coming in substantially over the £12.2 million budget allocated for the project.
Although Shetland Arts director Gwilym Gibbons said he could not discuss exact figures, he admitted this week that parts of the tender needed “significant interrogation” and his organisation is now working with the preferred building contractor, local firm DITT, and its sub-contractors to make modifications to bring the project back under budget.
Among the alterations under consideration are shifting from a timber to a steel frame due to major changes in commodity prices over the past 12 months, a radical rethink of how to construct the foundations of the building at the North Ness in Lerwick and looking at different types of insulation.
Shetland West councillor Gary Robinson, a long-time critic of the project, said it had been clear for some time that the tender was way over budget and he was led to believe it had come back in excess of £14 million, though he has not yet been able to verify that information.
Mr Robinson is concerned that if corners have to be cut, the eventual building may fail to meet some of the objectives for which it was designed.
He said: “The worrying fact from my point of view is the fact that we’ve signed up to a project here and we’re expecting it to deliver objectives for the council.
“Prior to June, there had [already] been another round of value engineering aimed at driving the cost of the building down. I have to wonder if we’re still getting what we’ve asked for in the first instance out of the project.”
But Mr Gibbons insisted the design of the building would not be “significantly” modified and that it would still contain all of its key components, which include a 700-capacity music auditorium, two cinemas, recording studios and a bar, and that there would also be no negative repercussions for the acoustics of any of the facilities.
He said: “There are parts of the tender that needed significant interrogation because, when tenders come back, you have to look at how individual subcontractors have priced the job against the plans, understanding why the figures are what they are.
“For example, we’re looking at shifting some of the construction from timber back to steel. We moved from steel to timber about a year ago because steel was so expensive, now it is much, much cheaper.
“We’re sitting down with DITT and exploring what’s the best way of constructing this building, looking at modifications – they won’t change spaces or specifications, we’ll still get the building doing what we want it to do, but there might be different things behind the walls.”
The SIC is contributing around 50 per cent of the cash towards building the highly contentious venue in the form of a £6.1 million grant, but a number of councillors continue to maintain grave doubts about the wisdom of the investment at a time when finances are tighter than ever.
A state aid complaint was also submitted by members of the licensed trade in protest at the business plan, which projects sales across the bar at the venue of around £400,000 a year.
(Continued on page two) (Continued from front page) Mr Robinson this week wrote to chief executive Morgan Goodlad to seek assurances that regular updates on the project which councillors were promised can in fact be provided, as he feels Shetland Arts have been “hiding” information from the SIC, the main sponsor of the project – a problem he says is compounded by the fact that the trust does not hold its meetings in public.
He said he felt the project had not been managed properly and regardless of whether it was being delivered by an external trust, councillors and the public had a right to be kept informed of Mareel’s progress.
“The council has to follow the public pound and Shetland Arts need to appreciate that we need to know what’s going on – we need to know where it’s going,” Mr Robinson said.
Discussions between Shetland Arts and DITT are likely to continue well into the new year, meaning building work – which was initially anticipated to get underway this autumn before a lengthy delay in the announcement of a European grant to part fund the project – is unlikely to commence until some time next spring.
Mr Gibbons added: “It’s always a little bit frustrating at this stage, but it’s very important to pause and make sure everything is nailed down and we’re getting value for money.”
Editorial comment, page 9