Baha Mar

What’s wrong with Baha Mar? Much has been said about the problems at Baha Mar Resort. Hardly a newscast goes by without some reference to their problems in getting the Resort completed and opened. In fact, I am quite tired of belaboring someone else’s problems, since the Resort is not owned by the Bahamian public, nor are any of its shares committed to Government. Like any other corporate citizen, it owes only a commitment to the availability of employment and business opportunities for Bahamians. It does not owe guarantees beyond its capabilities, or being embarrassed over its business losses.

That said, there are, however, lessons to be learned from the exercise. I have been disappointed by the level of the journalism that prefers to confirm rumors of discord rather than seeking clarity.

There are comments, both “on the streets” and in the press, about structural and infrastructural problems that are a major part of the reason for the present delays. Other comments suggest that the quality of the finishes is below standard, that somehow the Chinese are incapable of constructing fine buildings. The rumors are encouraged by the media, who seem to enjoy the idea that problems stemming from a Construction Contract and its administration should be settled by politicians who are not party to the Contract, and that defects in construction can be settled by public negotiation.

This post is about understanding that there is a process building projects, large or small, and that responsibility is not arbitrary.

The Building Regulations Act (the Code) requires a number of inspections during the construction process: the Design is vetted for safety before the Building Permit is issued; during the construction process, the structural and infrastructural elements of the building are inspected several times for compliance with the Code; and prior to completion, the structure and other elements are tested for performance (e.g. concrete strength tests, plumbing pressure tests etc.). These are statutory requirements, and are the responsibility of the Ministry of Works, in the public interest. If there are defects in these basic elements at the completion of the project, it questions the performance of these duties.

On the other hand, there is the fabric of the building, which is the primary responsibility of the Design Team, usually led by the Architect. The straightness of walls, the quality of finishes, the correctness of the installation of fixtures and accessories are required to be approved by the Architect, while the functioning of the plumbing and air conditioning, the correct wiring of the electrical panels are the responsibility of the various Engineers. Payments to the Contractor (in a Standard Construction Contract) is subject to certification by the Architect and his team that the work being paid for meets the required standard. Inadequate finishes after the project is said to be completed suggests inadequate attention to the work during installation. Further, the question of Completion is not for the Contractor to decide. The Architect and his team are required by Contract to determine when the work is substantially completed, and to determine what the Contractor must do before walking away. Completion is arranged so that the Contractor gets to finish defective work after the project is occupied by the Owner (on the assumption that such work is very minor).

These are fundamental functions of Contract Administration, and perhaps the most important part of the job of the Architect and his team to the Owner. The fact that the public are unaware of this important part of the Architect’s role is a testimony to the poor job the profession has done over the years to educate them. On the other hand, one would think that before going to print with multiple stories about a major piece of architecture and construction, journalists would at least seek advice from the relevant professionals.

It is indeed a tragedy that there is such ignorance about the benefits of working with Architects. While we certainly cannot guess what the truth is about the Baha Mar situation, it is obvious that the questions of statutory and Design Team inspections are in question. We have no idea whether the spotlight is justified, but we trust that others seeking to create major installations consider the value of proper Contract Administration, and therefore the services of Architects and Engineers for more than just getting a Building Permit.