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Wedco boss hopeful Victoria and Albert Rows can be renovated

Wedco chairman Ray Charlton has denied there has been a change in direction for the future of Victoria and Albert Rows.

Mr Charlton said he still hoped the historic buildings could be renovated should a viable option be found but that the development of new housing units have made the project more difficult given the lack of available funds.

“Even back in 2012, never did I say that the buildings were fine inside or that they were in good condition,” he said. “It was always my position that I was advocating for the majority of the tenants, who wanted to see the buildings renovated rather than destroyed.

“Now that we have spent $25 million on the new units, it's going to be very difficult to find the funding to renovate them. Had we started back then with renovations and not moved forward with the new units, I think we would have kept more of the money in Bermuda rather than sending it overseas to purchase the prefabricated units. I think we would have gotten more bang for our buck.”

The previous administration announced in 2010 that it intended to replace the ageing Albert and Victoria Rows with 100 new units, but in the lead-up to the 2012 general election the then-Opposition argued the project was too large and the existing buildings should be saved.

At that time Public Works Minister Michael Weeks dismissed the idea of renovating the buildings, saying they were erected in the 1870s, have no firewall separation and have issues with asbestos and termites.

“Any effective renovation of these two sites would cost approximately $20 million to ensure they conform to current building codes,” he said. “Forty two units divided by $20 million would equate to $476,000 per unit.”

Last January, Public Works Minister Trevor Moniz announced that the historic buildings would be saved — although he noted they would require “extensive refurbishments”.

In a Letter to the Editor last week, Wedco chairman Ray Charlton said the organisation still hoped to renovate the buildings but the buildings may have to be razed if no viable proposals are found.

The letter sparked comments from Mr Weeks in the House of Assembly, who called it another example of Government backing down from its pre-election promises. He also stated that based on reports ordered when he was Minister, the project would cost “upwards of $50 million”.

Responding, Mr Charlton said that in 2006 Habitat for Humanity carried out a study of the buildings and at that time they estimated the cost to renovate Victoria and Albert Row was around $87,000 per unit, but added: “I believe that figure, now knowing more information, was probably a bit low.”

Mr Weeks said: “I remember that if the houses were to be renovated then it would cost in the area of $50 million. This came out during the many meetings that we had on this project.”

He said the real question was if there had been an about-face on saving Victoria and Albert Rows.

“When Mr Charlton was out canvassing he assured the residents that he had spoken with he was of the view that the buildings should not be demolished but in fact should be renovated,” he said.

“This was in spite of my repeated advice in this House and the media that no stone had been left unturned. The very competent technical team in Wedco after consultation with experts had ruled that the best option was to demolish the homes.”

Photo by Mark Tatem There is uncertainty about the future of the dated Victoria and Albert Rows in Sandys.

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Published March 22, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated March 21, 2014 at 11:33 pm)

Wedco boss hopeful Victoria and Albert Rows can be renovated

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