The government has found a solution to the long-running new Msida primary school debacle in the form of a direct order for Joseph Portelli, who appears to be the only contractor cut out for the job.
The construction of the new school has been something of a comedy of errors.
The 500-student school was meant to have begun accepting students back in 2019 but successive setbacks have left the construction site practically still in its embryonic stage.
It had announced back in 2017 that the old Msida Primary was to be demolished and that a new school on the site would be built by 2019.
Demolition and construction work began in 2018 by way of a €3.3 million tender awarded to C&F Building Contractors Ltd.
But the new building had to be demolished halfway through the project because of severe structural defects found during the construction phase.
According to the government, the issues involved the design and supervision carried out by the project’s architects – MADE Studios.
The original contractors then refused the government’s new completion terms as they felt them to have been unattainable.
Two attempts by the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools (FTS) to award a new almost €6 million contract for the building’s completion by direct order failed and were cancelled in April.
That is until construction magnate Joseph Portelli’s PRA Construction Ltd – run by Portelli and his partners Daniel Refalo and Mark Agius – stepped in and accepted to do what others believed to have been unachievable.
And for just a million euros more, Portelli and his associates have taken on the job, by direct order, at a total cost of exactly €6,998,127.45. The contract was awarded on 25 May.
The project involves EU funds and the contract award notice is listed as ‘Negotiated Procedure for the Design and Build Contract for the Verification of the Constructed Structure of the New Msida Primary School and the Completion of the Construction of the School (Phase 1)’.
In EU terms, negotiated procedure without prior publication means a direct order and, according to EU rules, can be used for public works in certain instances and when “the works can be supplied only by a particular economic operator”.
It is also applied when “no reasonable alternative or substitute exists and the absence of competition is not the result of an artificial narrowing down of the parameters of the procurement”.
According to the government’s justification, there was an “absence of competition for technical reasons”.
The contract, according to the official notice, will “extend the terms of the services/works to be provided by the Contractor to cover all the school area under a design and built basis whereby the Contractor will be requested to provide the 15 years’ structural warranty through his appointed architect”.
Sources close to the FTS had previously told The Shift that the original contractors, C&F Building Contractors Ltd, could not agree on the FTS’ new terms because they feel the targets were impossible to achieve.
“This project has been a complete mess and a waste of taxpayers’ money from day one,” an FTS insider told The Shift. “It continues to highlight, if there was any need, the dire state of mismanagement at the FTS but, so far, no one is being held accountable.”
Demolition and construction work began in 2018 through a €3.3 million tender awarded to C&F, which has now been squandered and a new €7 million contract has been awarded to PRA Construction.