The murders of at least six men and other gun violence delayed the completion and increased the cost of the Bon Air Community Centre, which was officially opened on Saturday.
The $19 million two-storey structure was built to foster community togetherness and growth amidst gun violence.
Speaking with Sunday Newsday at the opening, officials at the Urban Development Corporation (Udecott) said there were six murders linked to the project during the construction phase and at least one other shooting incident which scared off one contractor and forced the hiring of police officers at the site.
Two contractors were hired for the job. The first, Zion Construction Ltd, abandoned the project after several threats were made by criminals demanding employment or money to allow the work to continue.
The second contractor, Sphinx Ltd, was hired to complete the project, which at the sod-turning ceremony in September 2017 was estimated at $10.4 million.
During the construction, gunmen opened fire at workers on the compound and since then, police were paid to be on site.
This shooting took place during the tenure of the second contractor.
A Udecott official said this inflated the cost of the centre included the cost to hire police officers 24 hours.
Police were paid at least $56 per hour for the lowest-ranked officer. Police were stationed at site for at least five months, the official said. When Sunday Newsday asked an officer whether an adjacent police unit was still active, he said, he could not answer that as it was a security issue and questioned why that was relevant.
In August 2018, Dwight Richardson, Salim Dominique and Kadeem Williams were all killed on Nightingale Drive. They were murdered one week after Ronald “Tek” McKie was shot dead a stone’s throw away from his Kiskadee Crescent home.
A day later, at McKie’s wake, 27-year-old Anderson Forbes, and 32-year-old Anderson James, both of Kiskadee Crescent, Arouca, were shot dead.
The murders were linked to work on the community centre, police said.
Councillor Paul Leacock in a telephone interview on Saturday reiterated much of what he said in 2018.
“There has been a sudden upsurge in murders and that has the whole community worried,” he said then. At the time of the six killings, Zion Construction had already abandoned the project with just structural work being done.
Leacock said then that the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation had trouble securing a contractor to complete the project. At the time of the sod turning, the project was estimated to be completed by August 2018. Another sod-turning was held in 2010 but the contract was cancelled.
During her speech, Social Development and Family Services, Minister Camille Robinson-Regis, lamented that the 40-year-old community had to wait 30 years for a community centre.
“This community centre does not belong to phase two, three or phase one. The community centre belongs to all the residents of Bon Air Gardens. Given the historical lessons where people believe the community centres are their own fiefdom, their personal property, I sound a warning today that such behaviour will not be tolerated by me as your MP and the Ministry of Community Development. Let me tell you, I will tell on you if you misbehave yourself,” she warned.
At the beginning of her speech Robinson-Regis, the MP for Arouca South, thanked Community Development Culture and Arts Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly for heeding her call for the refurbishment of the Maloney and Arouca community centres. She said soon Trincity would get their own.
“I wish to advise the residents that it was not for want of trying by your representatives that we have had to wait this long. It is not a lack of advocacy on your part but a matter of prioritising the inflow of funds to the national treasury could have been spent,” she said.
Present were past MPs for the constituency, Jarrette Narine, Neil Parsanlal and Alica Hospedales.
According to the World Bank’s inflation calculator, the original cost of $10.4 million in 2017 when the sod was turned, would have cost between $4 million to $6 million between 2002 and 2008 during the country’s natural gas economic boom.
Robinson-Regis said community centres were part of the vision of Dr Eric Williams who in conceptualising the best village competitions understood the need for safe and dedicated space for those participating in the competition to develop their craft. Community centres, she added, was also used to settle community issues.
In her feature address, Gadsby-Dolly lamented that 30 years must have been a long time to wait for the community as they envied others who had a community centre. She said it was a celebratory moment for the advocacy of past MPs.
Gadsby-Dolly said while community centres are important and can be used to foster togetherness, a lack of them can be seen as a good thing as those without can interact with another community.
She added: “We must be grateful for what we have. It is an investment of over $16 million in the people of Bon Air in difficult times. It is hoped that the people of Bon Air will use it to better their lives and make the community a better place. This is for our children and our children’s children and we want them to benefit from this. Use it with care and love and what it is used for is to benefit the community itself. If we have that attitude then the centre will have the right benefit and the country will benefit since making the communities better we will be making the country, in a holistic way, better. This investment is not one for us only now, but for the future.”
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