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Lascelles Dixon | Parish councils and professionalism

Published:Sunday | November 27, 2016 | 11:00 AMLascelles Dixon

Irrespective of the outcome of the upcoming parish council elections, the Ministry of Local Government and/or parish councils, or municipal corporations, as they have renamed themselves, in the name of public safety, must come to terms with the question of professionalism as it relates to the projects they approve and monitor during construction.

Within recent times, it would appear as though a trend has developed in which several hotel projects have suffered from partial collapse during construction. Still fresh in the minds of many is the collapse of a major portion of the Pear Tree Bottom hotel, Bahia Principe, on the north coast, a few years ago. Since then, there have been at least three hotel projects that have followed suit.

More recently (and here the dust has hardly settled), there was the partial collapse of a hotel building in Negril. If this was not enough, since then, there has been the most recent occurrence of a similar nature, this time at a Trelawny hotel (Royalton). Are these indications that we should see a total collapse of one of our hotel buildings, this time filled to capacity with guests?

While these hotel buildings are getting larger and with more sophisticated requirements to satisfy the needs of the thousands of guests they serve, of equal importance are the smaller buildings and housing developments, which also require the highest levels of professional input.

It stands to good reason that those consultants (individuals or firms) who design today's buildings must be equal to the task by virtue of their professional education and training in order to meet stringent design requirements. Here when we say 'design', this should not be misinterpreted to only mean a response to appearance, function, or aesthetics. We are talking about (but not limited to) the many pages of mathematical calculation in the form of structural analysis (computer printouts), which sometimes take into account simulations of different loading conditions and stress distribution under earthquake conditions.

In most cases, professionals who carry out earthquake structural analysis and see to the preparation of detailed drawings for approval by the parish council (and, ultimately, construction) are specialists who have been trained to the Master of Science degree level in engineering. The same level of training also applies to architects who are currently being educated and trained at the University of Technology to meet present-day architectural complexities.

Notwithstanding the above, it is to be noted that an estimated 90 per cent or more of the buildings in Jamaica are not designed by professionals. Further, most architectural and engineering drawings for those large hotels being built in Jamaica are prepared by overseas consultants (architects and engineers), with very little or no input from local consultants, who, among other things, are more familiar with local conditions, as well as labour-related issues that may arise during construction.

 

Overseas architects

 

Persons who are allowed to submit drawings and other documentation for approval to the parish councils ought to be registered professionals here in Jamaica. Overseas consultants who are operating here should be considered for temporary local registration on a time-limit basis by either or both of the two registration boards - Architects Registration Board and Professional Engineers Registration Board. Jamaica must take full charge of its precinct where the practice of architecture and engineering is concerned.

The preservation of public safety must be the primary consideration of professional practice. We should not assume that every overseas architect and engineer who makes a submission for approval to the parish council is adequately qualified. We must ensure the preservation of professional integrity. To this end, anyone who presents documentation for approval by a parish council ought to be required to apply their professional stamp.

The St Ann Parish Council seems to have opened the gate by introducing a new group of non-professional persons referred to as 'building practitioners'. These persons have no stamp; however, they are now allowed to make applications to that council and are allowed to design any building, although such persons are neither qualified architects nor engineers.

Indeed, the public needs to have answers to the following by either the Ministry of Local Government or the St Ann Municipal Corporation as follows:

1. Is it true that there are little or no set academic requirements or little proven professional training required as a prerequisite to be designated building practitioner?

2. Considering the need for clarity and public information, what are the specific academic and professional requirements of one being designated building practitioner?

3. Is it true that this group of persons can operate on their own, independently of the established professionals - architects and engineers?

4. Is it to be expected that this open-door situation that is now in force at the St Ann Municipal Corporation will become the norm among all parish councils?

5. Why is it necessary for this classification of persons to be established, considering the current oversupply of professional architects and engineers?

Answers to the above questions would be greatly appreciated.

• Lascelles Dixon is past president of the Professional Societies Association and a current member of the Jamaica Institute of Architects. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and ldixarch@hotmail.com.