Gardaí starting to count cost of building conundrum

Plans for a new Garda centre in Dublin were based on the numbers of personnel which existed years ago. It may well be too small by the time it is built
Gardaí starting to count cost of building conundrum

In  2016, the current Garda command centre on Harcourt Square in Dublin’s city centre played host to just under 1,100 workers. It’s understood that the numbers have only increased since.

The rumblings surrounding the build of a new command centre for An Garda Síochána in south Dublin are getting louder.

To start us off, it’s important to put into context the news reported by the Irish Examiner last week, that the new building, at Military Rd in Kilmainham, will be too small in size to fully accommodate all personnel stationed in the present command centre.

The Office of Public Works, the body with responsibility for managing the State’s property portfolio, previously confirmed the new build will have space for just 850 office-based staff.

Five years ago, in 2016, the current command centre on Harcourt Square in Dublin’s city centre played host to just under 1,100 workers. It’s understood that the numbers have only increased since.

The OPW has now explained that the plan put in place for the new centre was based on “the numbers of An Garda Síochána personnel which existed back then”.

Think about that for a second: For most of us, the biggest financial commitment we will make is the purchase of a house.

For those looking maybe to raise a not-yet-in-existence family there are two considerations: Is there enough room now, and will there be enough room later should it be necessary to extend.

What the OPW has managed to do with possibly the most important Garda building of them all is to fund an extension that will see the whole house eventually end up being significantly smaller than it was before the builders first knocked down the back porch.

It’s a decision that makes little sense, to put it mildly. Put less mildly, it beggars belief. But then there isn’t much about the Military Rd deal that does make sense.

For the uninitiated, the only reason the gardaí are moving from their home of 40-plus years in the first place is because the rented building at Harcourt Square, which the force has occupied since the 1970s, was subsumed into Nama before eventually being sold, first to US firm Starwood and then to Hibernia REIT, one of Ireland's biggest corporate landlords.

Hibernia wanted to redevelop it, not extend the lease on the four buildings it comprises.

It wasn’t until 2013 that both the OPW and gardaí realised the clock was ticking on the leases in place, and contingency planning began for alternative sites in the event the rental agreement couldn’t be renewed.

At this point, it’s understood that the OPW also declined the opportunity to bid on the site, along with other interested parties, for a sale price of in the region of €50m. The current budgeted cost of the Military Rd build is €86.3m.

When it became clear that not enough time existed to build a replacement centre before the final lease on Harcourt Square expired in 2016, the tenancies had to be renegotiated with Hibernia — for six years, at a cost of €6m per annum, an increase of €1.1m per year on the previous terms.

That revised lease expires at the end of next year.

Construction at Military Rd began early in 2020, just before the onset of a global pandemic which put paid to most of the construction in Ireland for much of the ensuing 12 months.

The OPW has repeatedly insisted that the build will be finished on schedule for September 2022, though it’s unclear if that accounts for the full fit-out of the finished construction — the current command centre plays host to some of the most specialised and sensitive equipment the Garda deploys.

Regardless of whether that timeline can actually be matched, the project is under significant pressure to finish on time — because otherwise it leaves the State open to a penalty.

There is no precise metric for what that figure might be. Anecdotally, suggestions have ranged in size from anything between €50m and €80m. The truth is the final figure, should the deadline be missed, will come down to the courts, but whatever results is pretty much guaranteed to be enormous.

And amid all this, the finished replacement building is going to be significantly smaller than it needs to be. This doesn’t appear to be an accident either. The initial size of Military Rd quoted in media reports back in 2015 and 2016 was to be 11,100 sq m. At the request-for-tender stage in 2019, that size had reduced by 10% to 10,060 sq m.

That presents the OPW with a further problem: Where to house the gardaí for whom there’s no room at the inn. Wherever they go, the cost of that accommodation will need to be factored into the whole.

Sources from all sides of this pickle indicate that dissatisfaction is beginning to mount.

The OPW has been presenting the fact that there isn’t enough space for the gardaí at Military Rd as being endemic of its “evolving workforce planning needs”. Nothing about how the build has only enough space for the Garda’s needs circa 2015.

Meanwhile, sooner or later people, are going to start asking how such an obviously unsuitable location was plucked from obscurity to be An Garda Síochána's new command HQ. And the blame game will start in earnest.

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